Are you one of many on a gluten-free diet but still experiencing pain and discomfort due to arthritis, headaches, numbness or diabetes? Are you frustrated, rightfully so, because your doctor wants to prescribe medications that mask the symptoms but don’t cure the problem? The average length of time it takes for a symptomatic person to be diagnosed with celiac disease in the U.S. is four years. Imagine if you are asymptomatic- the time could be double, even triple. In Dr. Fasano’s landmark prevalence study on celiac disease (1), 60% of children and 41% of adults diagnosed during the study were without symptoms. A lot is happening in the body during those undiagnosed years and it takes more than replacing wheat bread with gluten-free bread to heal the damage and achieve good health.
For years your body was a war zone- literally. If you have an autoimmune disease like celiac, your immune system launches an attack on the lining of the small intestine. The small intestine is lined with tiny fingerlike projections called villi, which secrete digestive enzymes and absorb nutrients. With celiac disease, the villi are damaged or destroyed, resulting in the poor absorption of nutrients such as magnesium and zinc, which can lead to collateral damage in other systems because everything in the body is interconnected. Think of a spider’s web- if there is a kink in one area, there is tension and stress somewhere else- and then that area affects another part until the whole web is contorted and out of balance. This phenomenon explains why people who are gluten intolerant experience over 200 symptoms such as headaches, skin rashes, thyroid problems, fatigue, and fertility issues.
All this destruction takes place in the form of inflammation because the immune system battles invaders by releasing toxic chemical molecules. In the gastrointestinal tract, the release of these chemicals causes inflammation of the gut lining, and as the gut lining becomes inflamed large foreign particles, such as proteins, bacteria, viruses and yeast, are allowed to slip through the damaged intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. The body then recognizes these substances as foreign and releases further antibodies in an attempt to expel the intruders from the body, causing more inflammation, further increasing the permeability of the intestinal wall, and resulting in a leaky gut.
A growing body of evidence suggests that virtually the same trio of factors underpins most, and perhaps all, autoimmune diseases: an environmental substance that is presented to the body (in the case of celiac disease the trigger is gluten), a genetically based tendency of the immune system to overreact to the substance, and an unusually permeable gut. Going gluten-free will repair you intestinal villi, but what about the rest of your battered war torn body? Once diagnosed it is important to eat not only gluten-free, but an anti-inflammatory diet of healing foods so your body can repair, rebuild, and rejuvenate. Restoration could take years depending on the damage done due to years of misdiagnosis.
How can you eat a healthy healing diet? Eat more plants! Focus on fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean protein, whole grains such as quinoa and buckwheat, and good fats such as coconut oil- not a diet filled with gluten-free processed foods made from oxidized oils. Junk food is junk food, whether made with refined gluten-free flours or wheat. Yes it takes planning, time and a little extra effort but the reward is fewer sick days and doctor visits. Once you feel better, you will have the time and energy to continue to eat healthy. The tension and stress on the spider web will begin to release and you will experience a high quality of life. Feeling good is happiness. And luckily, there are more and more gluten-free, vegan and raw food options available to help make us happy. For more information go to http://www.hailmerry.com/changeyouroil and http://www.foodphilosopher.com/.
(1) A. Fasano, I. Berti, T. Gerarduzzi, T. Not, R.B. Colletti, S. Drago, Y. Elitsur, P.H.R. Green, S. Guandalini, I. Hill, M. Pietzak, A. Ventura, M. Thorpe, D. Kryszak, F. Fornaroli, S.S. Wasserman, J.A. Murray, K. Horvath. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States: a large multicenter study. Arch Int Med 2003;163:286-292.