The small intestine is a part of the digestive tract located after the stomach and before the large intestine. The inner surface of the small intestine which comes in contact with semi-digested food from the stomach has some small finger-like projections called villi that not only help to move food through the digestive tract but are also instrumental in the absorption of nutrients from food.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a mixture of proteins that is found in certain grains like wheat, rye, and barley. The name gluten is derived from the Latin “Gluten” which mean glue or in other words sticky substances. In some individuals, the consumption of gluten triggers an immune response in the body. The immune system sees gluten as a harmful foreign body and produces antibodies to destroy it. Unfortunately, a disastrous side effect occurs wherein these anti-gluten antibodies start attacking the villi in the small intestine causing severe damage. This results on Celiac Disease.
Many persons who suffer from the autoimmune disorder known as Celiac disease will at some point seek medications to relieve its symptoms.
The disease damages structures in the small intestine whenever gluten is consumed, and over time can result in a plethora of unwanted complications.
Some of its most common symptoms include gastrointestinal problems such as chronic diarrhoea, abdominal distention, malabsorption, loss of appetite, and among children, failure to grow and develop normally.
These symptoms range in severity and are understandably quite difficult to bear for many persons.
Currently, for millions of people around the world suffering from Celiac disease, maintaining a gluten-free diet is their only proven form of treatment.
Fortunately, when gluten is avoided, persons can begin to see improvements in as little as 48 hours.
Reversal of the damage caused by eating gluten can also be achieved. Finger-like structures in the small intestine (known as Villi) that help facilitate the absorption of nutrients also oftentimes reappear when gluten is removed from the diet.
Some persons eventually experience a complete normalization of these structures, however many adult patients only have partial regeneration of the intestinal villi.
A life-long adherence to a gluten free diet is really the best course of action to combat this disorder.
While there is currently a definite lack of drugs for those afflicted by Celiac disease, there are currently some in clinical trials that seem promising.
One promising drug called Larazotideacetate has been demonstrated that it might be able to help with accidental ingestion of gluten, and lingering symptoms in those who maintain a gluten-free diet. Patients have experienced much less gastrointestinal issues, headaches, tiredness, diarrhea, and stomach pain, while on the drug when compared to those taking a placebo.
Persons who suffer from Celiac disease produce excessive amounts of a specific protein that spreads gluten across the gut. This in turn triggers immune cells to attack one’s own body, causing numerous uncomfortable symptoms.
Larazotide acetate works by blocking this protein, preventing gluten from leaking across the gut, and therefore preventing the harmful immune response.
The drug is not yet available for purchase, but is estimated to be made available for purchase publicly sometime in the year 2018.
What Else Can I Do?
Because Celiac disease is known to cause a variety of nutritional deficiencies, people recently diagnosed are oftentimes deficient in fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folate, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, as well as in calories and protein.
Vitamin and mineral therapy can be added to a gluten free diet to combat and disease and speed up recovery times. However, some ingredients in medications can contain gluten so persons must be meticulous when consuming them.
Avoid dairy products. Celiac disease can also lead to lactose intolerance because the digestive enzyme lactase is produced by the villi. Damaged villi resulting from Celiac disease cannot produce lactase which results in celiac patients being unable to digest dairy and experiencing symptoms like diarrhoea and bloating. Once the villi have regenerated after being on a gluten-free diet, dairy might be reintroduced in the diet, but this will depend on from individual to individual and each level of tolerance.
Stay well informed. In some cases, even up to six months after going on a gluten-free diet, patients might experience symptoms. It is important to be aware of all the places that gluten can be present and unknowingly consumed and to revaluate one’s diet. Talk to doctors, dieticians and support groups to keep you informed of where and how gluten might be sneaking into your diet.
It is important to speak to a physician prior to taking any supplements. A good doctor will be able to order the necessary tests to see which deficiencies a person suffering from Celiac disease might have and make the most suitable recommendations.
At present, there is still no available cure for celiac disease. The best treatment is to avoid gluten altogether in the diet, and this includes avoiding foods like bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and even beer. Be aware of sources of gluten and check all labels of processed foods to identify any hidden gluten that might enter your diet. Avoid other foods like dairy and soy that also cause intolerance till your gut has healed completely. Consult with your physician regarding adding supplements to your daily intake as and where you might be deficient. Remember that there is no one size fits all formula and each case has to be assessed individually to determine a course of action. Secondary disorders like osteoporosis which results from an inability of celiac patients to absorb calcium will also have to be treated separately.
Be proactive! It is certainly not a bad idea try and keep abreast of all the new and exciting developments in Celiac disease research.
For now, avoiding gluten is still definitely the way to go but hopefully as medical advances continue to speed along, more new and exciting drugs will continue to emerge to fight this disease. We may even achieve a cure one day.