In 1994 I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which led me to create Celiac.com in 1995. I created this site for a single purpose: To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives. Celiac.com was the first site on the Internet dedicated solely to celiac disease, and since then it has become an invaluable resource to people worldwide who seek information about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.
In 1998 I created The Gluten-Free Mall, Your Special Diet Superstore! which was also another Internet first—it was the first gluten-free food site to offer a shopping cart-style interface, and the ability for people to order gluten-free products manufactured by many different companies at a single Web site.
I am also co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.
Thats because people with celiac disease are intolerant of the protein gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley (oats contain a type of gluten that may be safe for most celiacs), and is found in the soft, white inside of the grain, its what makes dough, and flour and water paste, sticky and gooey.
When people with celiac disease eat food made from these grains, even in small amounts, their immune systems seem to treat the gluten as foreign invader, and basically create a massive defensive action against what might be, for most people, part of a good healthy diet. The immune reaction that is triggered by gluten causes inflammation of the intestines, which leads to many problems that are associated with malabsorption, and ultimately to the general gastrointestinal malaise associated with undiagnosed celiac disease, or with gluten contamination in otherwise mindful celiac patients on a gluten-free diet.
Unless celiac is treated, it becomes difficult for the digestive system to absorb enough nutrients from food to carry on proper body functions, and resulting vitamin deficiencies can cause a wide range of symptoms, including a condition known as malabsorption. Weight-loss, listlessness, feeling or looking malnourished, are all signs of the nutritional malabsorption associated with untreated celiac disease.
Left untreated, celiac disease can become life-threatening. People can waste away. More likely though are higher instances of certain cancers, particularly of the intestines, and other diseases associated with untreated celiac disease. Thats why its advisable for people with any of these symptoms to check with their doctor to ensure a proper diagnosis, and to have follow up wellness checks.
Even a negative blood test for celiac disease doesnt mean youre fully out of the woods. For a long time, research put the number of celiac patients at around 0.5% of the worlds population, or around 1 in 200 people. Recent studies however, have shown that to be a low estimate, and incidence is more likely around 1% of the population, or 1 in 133 people. Celiac Disease, however, is looking more and more like a very small part of the much larger Gluten sensitive picture.
More ominous still, new evidence shows Non-Celiac Gluten intolerance to be around 30 times more prevalent than celiac disease, and if could affect up to 15% of people worldwide. 1 in 7 people are gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant. These people test negative or inconclusive for Celiac Disease, but suffer most of the same symptoms and long-term problems associated with celiac disease when they ingest wheat. This group of people are sometimes referred to as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive.
Because the symptoms overlap with many other ailments, Gluten intolerance can easily be missed or misdiagnosed; especially in light of negative blood or biopsy tests--and this may lead many to miss out on discovering the simple and drug-free remedy of a Gluten-free diet for a dramatic recovery. If classic screening techniques for celiac disease do not identify the disease in someone who is in the Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitive category, or if the test results are borderline or inconclusive, often the only other approach to discover the problem is via the Elimination Diet.
Once the cause is understood, and the necessary adjustments are made to the diet, celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are easily treated. A diet free of gluten usually brings both short and long-term improvement. This isnt always quite as easy as it sounds, as so many processed foods contain hidden forms of wheat that are used as binding or flavoring agents.
Once you become aware of damaging foods and avoid them, a gluten-free diet can restore small intestine function within a few weeks to a few months. Once the mucosa of the intestine is no longer inflamed, most absorption issues will usually subside. The inflammation in the intestine will subside as gluten is eliminated.
Echinacea and goldenseal may help to speed this process along. These two immune system boosters are often packaged together in capsule form. You may also find Echinacea and goldenseal in combination with slippery elm, marshmallow, geranium, and other herbs. This combination goes by the generic name of Roberts Formula, and is made by a number of manufacturers. Roberts formula treats the digestive tract by creating a beneficial layer of slime that is healing to digestive tissues. Check your local health food store.
Echinacea and goldenseal are important healers because they have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. One cautionary note, however: Dont take these herbs continuously. Generally, two weeks on and two weeks off for a period of up to two months.
At the very least, most celiacs will benefit from a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement that includes calcium, 1,000 milligrams, along with 400 milligrams of magnesium (note that too much magnesium can cause diarrhea). Lack of vitamin B6 is partly to blame for symptoms of celiac disease, Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (P-5-P) is often a good choice, as it requires no conversion to make vitamin B6, and can be easier on the stomach.
Vitamins can also speed healing. Because the absorption of fats is particularly poor in celiacs, many celiac patients commonly suffer deficiencies of vitamins A, C, D, E, and benefit from taking these in supplemental form, along with a chelated form of zinc supplement. As with any supplement, read the directions and keep your doctor fully informed about what you are taking and how much.
A typical dose, for example, is 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A in the form of fish oil (too much can have toxic effects so discuss this with your doctor), 100 to 200 IU of vitamin D also in fish oil, 500 to 1000 milligrams of vitamin C, 100 to 400 IU of vitamin E, and 15 to 30 milligrams of chelated zinc.
Check with your doctor before taking more than 20 milligrams of zinc. Beta-carotene, 10,000 I.U. daily, can also be helpful, as can Iron, 60 mg. daily, if a blood test indicates iron deficiency.
In addition to a good multivitamin/mineral for support, and other vitamins, digestive enzymes, which digest gluten, may also be helpful. To improve nutrient absorption and assimilation, these should be supplemented.
Celiac patients also often suffer a deficiency of vitamin K., which can be supplemented through green foods, especially alfalfa. Green food supplements contain many essential nutrients, including trace minerals. Evening primrose oil is a good source of the omega-6 essential fatty acids that celiac patients often lack.
Silica soothes inflammations in the gastrointestinal tract. It is available in both capsules and gel form.
Medicinal clay is excellent in promoting healing of the walls of the colon and protecting it from irritation by toxins and dry, abrasive matter.
Herbal remedies can help soothe intestinal irritation and inflammation and heal damaged mucous membranes.