It can be difficult to adjust to a gluten-free life after being diagnosed with Celiac disease, especially if the only thing your doctor has told you about your new diagnosis and lifestyle is “don’t eat gluten.” Thankfully, now there are many groups and organizations to help the newly diagnosed find the information they need. There are also many more food choices available in the marketplace and they are more accessible now than ever. Even most large chain grocery stores have a gluten-free section now.
It wasn’t always this way. I remember when my mom was first diagnosed with Celiac disease. There were only one or two organizations providing reliable information. The ‘can have’ and ‘can’t have’ lists changed rapidly, especially regarding certain food additives like ‘modified food starch’ and its ilk. But the worst was the few gluten-free foods available. Pastas and breads made with brown rice flour that tasted like eating sand. I still remember attending a meeting of a local Celiac support group and a woman holding a gluten-free product in her hands, exorting the group “this is not a health food.” That stuck with me.
As I started to study more functional medicine, and learn more about leaky gut- what causes it and how to heal it, and why its such a key part of addressing all autoimmune disease, including Celiac disease- I finally started to understand what this woman meant.
If you have Celiac disease, going gluten-free may be enough to make your GI symptoms go away. You might not feel the bloating or have the constant diarrhea that you experienced before, but that doesn’t mean its enough to heal the damage caused by the Celiac disease in the first place. That’s the part your doctor probably left out. So if you really want to heal- to get to the root cause of the issue- these are a couple things you need to keep in mind.
Other grains can cause cross-reactions of the immune system that still lead to antibody formation.
In fact, its not uncommon to see patients on gluten-free diets develop sensitivities and intolerances to other grains. I’ve seen patients become sensitive to corn, amaranth, tapioca, even rice. In general, when I have a patient with Celiac disease report to me that they are stilling having symptoms of inflammation, even on a gluten-free diet, I have them do a trial elimination of ALL grains right away.
Gluten-free processed foods are no healthier for you than their wheat-laden counterparts.
I’m sure you’ve looked at the ingredients on the package of a gluten-free bread or pasta. (You do still read the ingredients even though its labeled gluten-free, right?) Potato starch and tapioca starch are often used because they have a finer texture than rice flour- which often gives the product that aforementioned ‘sand’ texture. The problem with these starches though, is that they are highly processed- most of the nutrients are processed out and what is left is the pure carbohydrate. This changes the speed at which the carbohydrate is digested and usually leads to a high blood sugar spike afterward. The higher the blood sugar goes, the higher insulin needs to go. Over time, this mechanism leads to insulin-resistance or what many refer to as “pre-diabetes.” Along the way, this increase in insulin may make it harder to maintain your weight, lead to increased cortisol production and belly fat, and cause imbalances in several hormonal pathways. It doesn’t matter that these products are gluten-free. Gluten is a protein; the refined and processed starches in these products are the often the real problem.
Your Celiac diagnosis is the end stage of a long process that has been going on in your body for years.
It is now accepted that gluten-intolerance and its symptoms are better represented by a spectrum. There are folks in the middle who have various negative symptoms when they eat gluten and feel much better when not eating it, but have not yet reached the threshold for a diagnosis of Celiac disease. Current research from Dr. Alessio Fassano’s lab (he’s the guy publishing a bulk of the research on Celiac disease today) suggests that if these people continue to eat gluten despite their reactions to it AND have the gene the express Celiac disease, they will eventually express full-blown Celiac disease. (Note here that even if they don’t have a gene for CD, but for perhaps another autoimmune disease, this gene may be triggered the same way). If you look back at your own health history, its pretty likely that you’ve known something wasn’t right for years before your diagnosis. Chronic depression, severe PMS, chronic diarrhea or stomach upsets, anxiety about eating out or whether there would be a bathroom nearby when you needed it, acne or chronic skin issues, headache or brain fog, unexplained neurological symptoms- you’ve known these things weren’t ‘normal’ but nobody could tell you what they were. Once you were diagnosed with Celiac disease, a lot of those chronic symptoms began to make sense. They were subtle ways your body was telling you something was wrong.
Because this has been a drawn-process, happening over years, true healing is going to take time to work through. And very likely it will take more than just going gluten-free. The damage in your gut has lead to poor nutrient absorption and there may have even been negative compensations that have developed over time in response to the lack of key nutrients. Vitamins and minerals will need to be replaced. They will need to be replaced in a smart and efficient way, not by just taking a multi-vitamin pill and calling it a day.
The best way to go about this is to work with a functional medicine practitioner who understands Celiac disease and will help you find an integrative, whole-body solution to healing. If you’re ready to start the journey to a deeper level of healing and want some experienced guidance, give me a call at 845-687-6387. I work with patients locally in the Hudson Valley region, but I am also available to consult with non-local patients via telephone or Skype.
Not sure if you’re ready to commit yet? That’s OK too- I still want to do what I can to help you.
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