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  • Tina Turbin
    Tina Turbin

    Probiotics: A Future Answer to Celiac Disease?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Alessio Fasano, M.D. (photo courtesy of University of Maryland)

    In my work as an author, researcher, and gluten-free advocate, I strive to raise awareness for celiac disease and gluten intolerance because I know that with increased awareness will come more research, more proper diagnoses, and even improved treatment. Illustrating this, studies linking the onset of celiac disease to changes in microbes in the digestive tract are not only addressing the question of delayed onset, but they may lead to new research that could eventually result in a probiotic treatment for celiacs. 

    Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. The source of this being gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, affecting about one percent of the population of 300 million Americans. It works by attacking the villi, the finger-like structures which line the small intestine, resulting in stomach problems and malabsorption of nutrients. Left untreated, the disease can cause severe health conditions and complications such as mental illness, osteoporosis, anemia, miscarriage, and even cancer.

    Alessio Fasano, professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology as well as the director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has been researching celiac disease, paying particular attention to the way intestinal “permeability” influences the development of disease. In an article, published in Scientific American, called “Surprises from Celiac Disease,” Dr. Fasano poses the question of why some celiacs, who are born genetically predisposed to develop the disease, develop symptoms later than others. He suggests that reason for this is associated with the microbiome—the community of bacteria or microbes—living in the digestive tract.

    According to Dr. Fasano, the digestive tract microbiome varies among individuals and even in the same individual over the course of a lifetime. What’s more, Dr. Fasano says they can also have an effect on the genes which are active in their host. Therefore, someone genetically predisposed to celiac disease may have been able to handle gluten for quite some time, but upon shifting of the microbiome, and a subsequent activation of the gluten intolerance gene, the symptoms of celiac disease will show themselves.

    Not only do Dr. Fasano’s studies shed light into a question that has been perplexing researchers, but it also opens the door to a treatment for, or even prevention of, celiac disease—good bacteria for the digestive track, otherwise known as “probiotics.”

    I spent years running in circles from doctor to doctor trying to find the cause of my painful symptoms, finally driving me to research my symptoms on my own. I’m grateful to have been properly diagnosed, but managing the gluten-free diet can be a challenge. The prospect of a treatment such as probiotics to offset genetic factors will appeal to many celiacs like myself. Although the treatment for celiac disease is simple, it calls for a lot of work and can be disheartening at times, requiring a total lifestyle change.

    With Dr. Fasano’s celiac disease research, we can look forward to more research, more awareness, and perhaps another treatment option. Meanwhile, let’s keep doing our parts to raise awareness and funds for celiac disease research.


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    I am a 50 year old female and I am having problems digesting all starchy foods. and any thing with milk. I'm not sure if this is called celiac? But it affects my breathing and my bathroom habits also! I have been on a gluten free diet but I'm still having problems. not as bad but i still do. I have lost weight. that's a plus. I just need help knowing the difference?

    I think your problem has to do more with your female hormones. Menopause causes what your describing.

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    I am 38 and was diagnosed with celiac two years ago after years of fighting vague symptoms that started right after college. What is interesting about the probiotic treatment theory to me is that a year before my diagnosis, I started probiotics on my own to treat severe heart burn. I have always marked that as the beginning of my healing because it was my first autonomous act of taking control of my own health rather than completely relying on doctors. But, I never connected it with my celiac when later diagnosed. Now I'm wondering if there is connection between alcohol consumption and the microbiome. As I mentioned, looking back, my symptoms started as my college days were winding down. I never touched a drop of alcohol in high school, but I made up for 'lost' time in college. Now I wonder if the binge drinking was not only immature, stupid and pointless, but also the initial gunshot to my system.

    Of course you know that beer is made with barley? Which is a no no for celiacs.. so yes likely your body had so much for so long and just showed itself because of the mass consumption you gave it. But I'm happy your diagnosis came!

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    I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 8 years ago. The gastro doc was wrong. I lived with so much pain, even at times contemplating suicide. So 7 months ago (9/2014), I went gluten-free for the heck of it, because nothing else worked. The pain left me, the bloating was gone and for once I had actual formed poop. Well, after years of water diarrhea that caused me to have hemorrhoids from the feeling of severe upper abdominal pain, I was overjoyed and finally could live a better life!! Of course the change in eating habits was very welcomed, it took away the pain!! However, there are foods popping up saying gluten-free but are not. I discovered using a premixed spice, such as 'taco' spice had contained wheat to keep the spices from sticking together, so now anything that list 'spice' or 'spices' I stay away from because of this fact. If they list the spices separately, garlic powder, onion powder, ect..I can consume it, but its very rare. I had it happen with Sams Club brand daily chef say its chicken/ mozzarella sausage was gluten-free, I had a bad reaction to it, then "after" I read the ingredients (a big no no for celiac survivors!!) and it contained 'spices'. also ketchup and any salad dressing, any...has 'spices' in it. so best with oil n vinegar, but be careful some restaurant vinegars have malted barley in it. Which is the worst for me. Also corn products, grits, and jiffy pop corn mix and taco shells...contain wheat as a filler. Chex is best and brand name Quaker grits is all corn. I even picked up a different brand of gluten-free wraps 1 time and it caused a reaction. im still looking into the ingredients on it listed and contacting the company. my best gluten-free wraps are Toufayan bakeries original brand. I haven't found them in flavors, but then again it would be with different spices, so I would be scared to try. I also discovered caramel color effects me. so nothing with caramel color, or any coloring. I switched to clear soda and that helps, even chocolate has caramel coloring..ugh!! But happier days for me none the less...my question was how would probiotics help when it's the villi being destroyed by the gluten protein? I can't understand why or how probiotics (good bacteria) would help grow villi?..or even protect a celiac from the immune system response to ingesting gluten?? I am now back to water diarrhea because the 3rd mo. on learning I had it, I consumed my fave bratwurst, barley killed my villi the worst! so now 3months now I have been trying to be careful on being gluten-free, and to no avail. now I'm trying 3000mg vit c and Echinacea to help boost my immune system to help grow my villi back faster, and yet I'm thinking because I have no villi, how will my body absorb the vitamins anyways???

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  • About Me

    Tina Turbin is a world-renowned Celiac advocate who researches, writes, and consults about the benefits of the gluten-free, paleo-ish, low carb and keto diets, and is a full time recipe developer and founder of PaleOmazing.com. Tina also founded and manages the popular website, GlutenFreeHelp.info, voted the #2 .info website in the world. Tina believes that celiacs need to be educated to be able to make informed decisions and that Paleo needs to be tailored to the individual’s physiology to obtain desired results. You can reach her at: INFO@PaleOmazing.com.

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