As man went from a hunter gatherer style diet to learning how to domesticate crops and animals new food groups were added into our diets. Foods previously unknown to us like cows milk, goats milk, eggs and cereal grains were added into our diets. Some adjusted well, others did not, this is when celiac disease was born.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. When gluten is eaten damage to the small intestine is done by an immune reaction. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley or rye grains. Celiac disease is believed to affect about a little less than 1 percent of all adults. Going on a strict gluten free diet is the only known treatment for celiac disease as of now.
Only about 15 to 17 percent or so of the expected celiac cases are actually known, so roughly 85 percent of those that have celiac disease are not diagnosed(1). Why is this? Two of the main reasons are a lack of awareness from physicians and the fact that celiac disease can have elusive symptoms like headaches or aching joints.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
When a child is diagnosed with celiac disease and treated with a gluten free diet, many (around 90%) will go into complete remission, where as with adults it's a different story. 30 percent of adults experience complete remission, and the remaining 60-70 percent may have partial remission of their symptoms. What does this mean? 60-70% of adults with celiac disease will continue to have some intestinal inflammation and symptoms after implementing a gluten free diet.
Why is this? It's thought to be because many are still consuming small amounts of gluten causing symptoms or that they have had so many years of damage it takes many years to go into remission.
What does holistic health mean?
Holistic health means looking at health from a whole perceptive. Holistic comes from the word "holism". Holism comes from the Greek work holos. Holos means all, entire, complete. An approach to wellness that includes the mind and body. Focusing on addressing, mental and physical health issues through diet, nutrition, changes in lifestyle and awareness of environmental toxins. The advice is meant to empower and motivate change towards a healthier, happier life.
Holistic Health and Celiac Disease
The only way to treat celiac disease is through a gluten free diet. Going on a strict gluten free diet puts the disease into at least partial remission for most with celiac disease. Going beyond a gluten free diet it's important to keep your gut healthy, reverse nutritional deficiencies, decrease your toxic burden and improve your nutrition.
Many people with celiac disease continue to experience symptoms on a gluten free diet. Studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that a fairly high percentage of people with celiac, it's not clear exactly how high, but possibly upwards of half, continue to have symptoms even though they believe they're following a strict gluten-free diet. This is most likely because of accidental ingestion of gluten, but there are many associated conditions that may be causing a continuation of symptoms (like parasites, SIBO, bacterial overgrowth).
Since celiac disease is an autoimmune disease there is no cure, but you can minimize symptoms and rebuild the immune system but going on a strict gluten free diet, nourishing your body with nutrient dense foods, and improving your overall health.
The Holistic Approach
1. Naturally Gluten Free Foods
Eating a lot of processed foods (even if they're labeled "gluten-free") and to many "gluten-free" grain products might lead you to ingest more trace gluten than your body can tolerate. You may need to eat only certified gluten-free products or to avoid most grains, since they tend to be quite contaminated with gluten.
Processed gluten free foods are usually high in sugar, refined flours (like rice flour) and low in nutrients. Eating a diet in naturally gluten free foods, meaning little to no packaged foods, has many benefits. Focusing on fruits, vegetables, some starches, nuts, seeds, fish and some grass fed meats and avoiding excess grains, sugar, processed foods (including gluten free) and vegetable oils is benefical for those with celiac disease.
Benefits Of Eating A Whole Foods Diet:
1. Decreased chance of gluten exposure
2. Higher intake of nutrients
3. Better immune health
4. Healthier weight
5. Increase intake of fiber
2. Gut Healthy Foods
An imbalance of gut bacteria is common in those with celiac disease. Studies have shown that patients still suffering persistent symptoms on a long-term GFD also show an altered microbiota composition (2). Eat foods that feed the good bacteria and starve out the bad bacteria like fiber rich fruits and vegetables, and fermented foods to support the health of your gut. Drinking bone broth and potentially supplementing with L- glutamine powder can be beneficial for strengthening your gut.
3. Probiotic Foods
People who have just been diagnosed with celiac disease are 40% more likely to have been prescribed antibiotics shortly before diagnosis. Probiotics are good bacteria that primarily line your gut and are responsible for nutrient absorption and supporting your immune system. Eating foods that contain live probiotics is extremely beneficial for those with celiac disease. Foods high in probiotics are cultured vegetables (like kimchi and sauerkraut), kombucha, coconut kefir and yogurt.
Stress is typically defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Short term stress isn't necessarily bad, what you have to worry about it chronic stress.
Many studies have documented a link between symptoms of depression and celiac disease, even in people who have been following the gluten-free diet for a long time. Some researchers have speculated that depression in celiacs may simply stem from having a chronic health problem, in the same way people with chronic health issues such as arthritis and diabetes tend to get depressed.
However, there's some evidence that depression in people with celiac disease is connected to changes in the brain -- potentially changes that are triggered because intestinal damage precludes absorption of certain nutrients that are important for brain function. One recent study involving women with celiac disease found that 37% suffered from clinical depression.
What can be done to reduce stress, anxiety and depression? Follow a strict gluten free diet, correct nutritional deficiencies, practice breathing techniques, try yoga, eat healthy and surround yourself with positivity. Figure out what the stressors are in your life and starting working towards a solution.
If you're suffering from persistent depression despite following the gluten-free diet, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a mental health expert.
Exercise is an essential component of a balanced lifestyle. Balance is required to maintain the physical well-being needed to heal. Those with celiac disease need to take special care to heal. Fitness can combat secondary issues that result from celiac disease. Weight fluctuations are common. Prior to diagnosis, one may have lost an unhealthy amount of weight and muscle and exercise can rebuild muscle lost.
Weight training helps achieve a healthy muscle-to-fat ratio. It also helps strengthen bones, which may have been weakened by celiac diseases effect on calcium levels. Osteoporosis and osteopenia (lower than normal bone density) are frequent secondary outcomes of celiac disease. Weight-bearing exercises can help prevent further weakening of bones and joints.
A recent study in celiac adults suggests sleep issues are extremely common. The study revealed a 50 percent of newly diagnosed celiacs had sleep disorders, more than twice the rate of study participants without celiac disease.
Some tips for better sleep are:
Try to go to bed and get up at the same time everyday and avoid daytime napping unless/until you are sleeping well at night. Avoid watching television or using the computer in bed (this stimulates the brain). Avoid anything with caffeine (coffee, black tea, soda pop, energy drinks, chocolate) or alcohol at least six hours prior to bedtime. Consider supplementing with melatonin (a natural hormone essential for sleep), magnesium and/or herbal remedies such as valerian root or chamomile, which are available as tea. Meditation, yoga, massage and acupuncture are alternative therapies that can help promote restful sleep.
The main takeaway from this post is to reduce your gluten intake as much as possible, even if it means eliminating processed gluten free foods and not eating out. Increasing your fiber and vegetable intake, finding ways to reduce stress, trying gentle exercise, and practicing better sleep habits will all improve your health for the better.