An estimated three million Americans are living with celiac disease, a chronic condition in which an individual has a severe intolerance to gluten. There are many diet and lifestyle changes that can be made to manage the symptoms of this disease and it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Understanding Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a serious condition that requires daily effort. For someone with celiac, their body views gluten (in all of its forms) as poison. As a result, the body's immune system react, however, instead of attacking the foreign invader, as it normally does, the immune system seeks to shut down the delivery channels for the gluten.
To explain this point further, when someone with celiac disease eats a slice of bread, the villi, which are small, hair-like projects that move food through the small intestine, absorbing nutrients, become rigid and stop working. This action damages the villi as well as the intestinal lining, resulting in pain and digestive distress, as a result of inflammation.
The resulting symptoms include weight gain, even though the patient is technically malnourished, anemia, headaches, bloating and fatigue. Documenting these symptoms thoroughly (when they occurred, for how long, what food was consumed, etc.) can be crucial in making an official diagnosis and designing the correct treatment plan.
How to Treat Celiac Disease
Because there is no “cure” for celiac disease, it’s important to follow a new set of dietary and lifestyle guidelines following diagnosis.
First and foremost, all gluten must be removed from the diet. While the obvious foods to remove are those containing wheat, like bread or pasta, gluten is found in many processed, packaged foods as well and even skincare and other health and beauty products. Reading labels is paramount in avoiding gluten.
Some options for substituting grains are quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth, which are used to make everything from bread to pasta. Be careful of products advertised specifically as “gluten free” because they may contain excess fats or sugars from other sources.
Supplements for Celiac Disease
Working closely with a medical professional (or more than one) can help someone with celiac disease better manage their condition, finding the right balance of foods and therapies to reduce inflammation and symptoms. There are several supplements that can be useful for management of the symptoms:
Ginger and turmeric are anti-inflammatories that can be taken in potent forms as supplements.
Glutamine is an amino acid that may be helpful in repairing damage to the gut lining caused by chronic inflammation.
Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), typically taken as evening primrose or borage oil, can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of celiac disease.
Probiotics can also help regulate inflammation in the gut.
While the management of celiac disease requires permanent dietary changes that can appear overwhelming at first, it is important to remember that the only restricted food is wheat. Gluten-free substitutes for just about anything are available, and the choices are growing every day.