September 13th is National Celiac Disease Awareness Day. Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that occurs in nearly one in 100 Americans, but only about 150,000 people have been diagnosed formally. It is triggered by an autoimmune response to a protein in wheat, barley and rye called gluten, and affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients in the small intestine.
Research into the causes of celiac disease indicates that this disorder develops when a person exposed to gluten also has a genetic susceptibility to celiac disease, and an unusually permeable intestinal wall. The symptoms of celiac disease were documented as early as the first century A.D. by a Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia. British physician Samuel Gee is credited as the modern father of celiac disease. Although he surmised that errors in the diet may be a cause, identification of gluten as the trigger didn’t occur until after World War II. Dutch pediatrician Willem-Karel Dicke noticed that a war-related shortage of bread in the Netherlands led to a significant drop in the death rate among children affected by celiac disease. Following this observation, other scientists discovered that gluten was the culprit in celiac disease.
Celiac disease is associated with higher rates of numerous nutritional deficiencies. B vitamin supplements were shown in a study by a team of Dutch researchers to be effective in increasing the levels of vitamin B6, folate and vitamin B12 in individuals with celiac disease. Regular supplementation with B vitamins also resulted in lower levels of plasma (blood) homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood. Epidemiological studies have shown that too much homocysteine in the blood is related to a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
Currently, gluten avoidance is recommended to eliminate symptoms of celiac disease. However, supplements to support good general digestive health are suggested.
Digestive enzymes such as protease, amylase and lipase support optimal digestion in the small intestine. Betaine HCl helps to support digestion that occurs in the stomach as well as in the small intestine by supplying diluted hydrochloric acid. The stomach manufactures hydrochloric acid required for digestion. However, hydrochloric acid levels often decline with age. Supplementing with HCl helps maintain optimal digestion.
By the time food reaches the large intestine, it is mostly composed of indigestible material and water. Here excess water and any residual minerals are absorbed. Fiber aids this process by promoting the movement of the remaining debris through the intestine and easing the passage of waste also known as stool. In addition to promoting elimination, fiber also helps to support friendly bacteria.
About 100 trillion bacteria reside in the digestive system. Friendly bacteria, or probiotics, perform several essential functions. They promote good digestion, support the immune system, inhibit the growth of pathogenic microorganisms, and produce vitamins such as vitamin K and biotin. Research by Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, indicates that the microbiome, or the community of bacteria living in the digestive tract may have an effect on gluten sensitivity and intolerance. Future research may determine which probiotics are involved in delaying the onset of celiac disease. Until then, supplementing with probiotic products is a wise choice for supporting digestive health.