Beyond Gluten-Free: A Functional Medicine Approach to Treating Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition in which the consumption of gluten damages the small intestine.
Gluten is a protein that can be found in some of your favorite grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, that triggers an immune response with patients who have a predisposition to Celiac disease.
That’s right, the sandwich you eat for lunch everyday could be wreaking havoc on your digestive system. This autoimmune response causes the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine, which can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb crucial nutrients no matter how many healthy foods you eat. This can lead to a ripple effect that causes further health conditions due to a lack of adequate nutrients. The most common symptoms of Celiac disease include:
- Abdominal pain
- IBS symptoms
- Chronic diarrhea
- Nutritional deficiencies
Research shows that two million Americans have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, although many others are living with the condition without a diagnosis. As many as 1 in 133 Americans may have Celiac disease, with or without a formal diagnosis. Some of the primary risk factors for developing this condition include:
- European ancestry
- Being diagnosed with other autoimmune diseases
- Having type 1 diabetes
- Struggling with infertility
- Pre-existing gastrointestinal issues such as IBS
- Family members who have been diagnosed with Celiac disease
Celiac disease can show up at any age and can be triggered by stress, pregnancy, surgery, infection, and other events that inflict trauma to the body. If it is left untreated, it can lead to further health complications and a diminished quality of life, which is why it’s so important to seek a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible! Continuing to eat gluten-containing foods despite having Celiac disease can lead to serious vitamin deficiencies, infertility, anemia, neurological conditions, dental issues, mood disorders, osteoporosis, and other health conditions that interfere with you living your best life!
Why a Gluten-Free Diet May Not Be Enough
If you suspect that you have Celiac disease, you’ve probably considered adopting a gluten-free diet in the hopes that it will help get your symptoms under control. While this way of eating may alleviate some of your symptoms, a gluten-free diet may not be enough to treat Celiac disease on its own. Many patients report that they still struggle with chronic, debilitating symptoms even after they eliminate gluten from their diet, but why is that?
Many people make the mistake of replacing their favorite bread, crackers, cookies, and pasta with gluten-free options that are widely available today. These foods are typically still made with other grains like corn and rice, and are loaded with refined carbohydrates, seed oils, gums, fillers, additives, and other ingredients that are difficult to digest when your intestines are already damaged! While eliminating gluten will help to ease the immune response, the most important part of your treatment plan should be repairing your digestive system and restoring depleted nutrients.
At Five Journeys, we use a functional medicine method for treating Celiac disease and use a multi-faceted approach to eliminate symptoms, heal the body, and get you back to feeling your best!
We’ve designed an innovative Celiac quiz to help you uncover your risk factors, assess your symptoms, and determine if it’s time for you to seek the help of a team of experts. Our mission is to help you feel freaking amazing! If your assessment shows that you are at a high risk of having Celiac disease, here are a few things you can do in the meantime as you wait for your upcoming appointment.
To put the kibosh on the autoimmune response, the first step is to eliminate gluten from your diet. Opting instead for fresh, whole foods, and gluten-free whole grains like buckwheat, brown rice, quinoa, and millet. Although this step may seem nearly impossible (we all love a big bowl of pasta or a chocolate chip cookie here and there!) rest assured that we’ve come a long way with gluten-free foods in recent years, and chances are you can find a delicious replacement for your favorite pasta, bread, or dessert! The transition to gluten-free has never been easier, and most grocery stores are fully stocked with a variety of products that will help make the conversion painless.
While there are countless gluten-free substitutions available today, keep in mind that most of them are highly processed and should be consumed in moderation. It is better to opt for recipes that are based on fresh, whole foods that will help restore your depleted nutrient stores. Plus, eating too many gluten-free carbohydrates takes away the opportunity to put more nutrients on your plate, so consider swapping that gluten-free dinner roll for a baked sweet potato instead!
As we mentioned above, replacing gluten with highly processed gluten-free alternatives is great once in a while, but it is important to focus on replenishing your body with nutrient-dense meals. This is a great opportunity to find exciting new recipes that will fill your belly, satiate your cravings, and most importantly, nourish your body. A diet that is rich in protein, dark leafy greens, a wide range of veggies, and healthy fats like avocado and olive oil will give your gut some diversity to help it heal and repair itself from the damage inflicted by Celiac disease.
Heal Your Gut
Speaking of your gut, it’s about time you showed it some love! Step one is eliminating gluten to halt the autoimmune response, step two is to eat a nutrient-dense diet, and the third step is to help support your gut on its road to recovery.
In addition to a diet that is rich in nutrients and diversity, you may want to consider incorporating pre- and probiotics to feed your gut with healthy bacteria. If you are considering supplementing, it is best to wait until you see your healthcare practitioner. They will be able to recommend a supplement that will address your unique needs. In the meantime, consider adding fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut into your diet to feed those happy gut bugs!
Take our Celiac quiz today to learn more about your risk of Celiac disease, and for guidance on the next steps you should take if you find that you are at high risk!