In the recent years, gluten rose up in popularity because of the increasing emergence of gluten-free foods, believing that it is a healthier alternative. Gluten-free foods are targeted for people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that leads to damage of the small intestine whenever gluten is ingested. It has been believed that this disease is genetic, but recent studies show that a very common virus found in most Americans can trigger celiac disease.
Overview of Celiac Disease
Celiac disease or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, also called celiac or sprue, causes damage to the small intestine. Whenever a person ingests gluten, a protein mostly found in wheat, rye, and barley, and its products, this triggers a response to the linings of the small intestine, specifically the villi.
The disease makes the body consider gluten a threat. As a response, white blood cells are deployed by the immune system to destroy it. This results in the intestinal cells called villi to be damaged, and eventually, the body cannot absorb the nutrients from food that they eat. Symptoms will occur such as nausea, bloating, and fatigue. This disease takes a lot of time before it can be diagnosed properly, and by then, the disease caused permanent damage to the intestines. This will lead to several complications such as anemia, osteoporosis, lactose intolerance, infertility, and others.
Celiac disease is found in 40% of people that have a specific genetic biomarker that indicates a person might develop the disease, but only 1% have actually developed the disease. Currently, there is no cure for this disease, but eating gluten-free foods can offset the symptoms.
The Link Between Reovirus and Celiac Disease
A common virus called reovirus is found in most Americans, but it is harmless. Being infected by this virus shows no symptoms whatsoever, but researchers claimed that this might cause problems to the immune system.
They tested this out with genetically engineered mice susceptible to celiac disease. They injected the mice with reovirus. They fed it with gluten afterward, and symptoms found on gluten intolerance manifested in the reovirus-infected mice. Dr. Terence Dermody, one of the proponents of the study, claimed that exposure to the mice of the virus and gluten must be simultaneous in order to develop celiac disease. To further their research, they observed the antibody levels of people with the disease. They found out that people with the disease contained 5 times more types of antibodies of the reovirus strain.
Nonetheless, this is solid evidence that reovirus is linked to celiac disease. The virus sets up the immune system to be vulnerable to developing celiac disease. This suggests that aside from the factor that genetic biomarkers containing the disease found in children can be a trigger to the disease, their weak immune system also plays an important factor. The reason for this is because children still have an immature immune system that makes them susceptible to any viruses, reovirus included. Once they stop being breastfed, they start to be fed with food containing gluten. This triggers the reovirus to act the same way as it did in mice.
What Could This Mean?
By pinpointing the source of the problem, researchers can formulate a vaccine that could prevent the disease to be developed. This can be injected to children in order to prevent future complications. While the disease cannot still be cured totally, this discovery is certainly an advancement for celiac disease treatment.
Rising Popularity of Gluten-Free Diets
Despite the steady number of people with celiac disease, the popularity of gluten-free diets rose in the recent years. Between the years 2009 and 2014, there are no changes in the percentage of the people who have the disease, and at the same time people without the disease that are applying gluten-free diets went up. These diets are popular among females and young adults.
However, this trend does not really mean anything critical. Because of the media hype, people believe that gluten-free foods are healthier. Studies have been conducted in addressing questions that are being raised amidst the trend. Some people directly benefit from this kind of diet, saying that their overall health became better, but some reported that switching their diet to gluten-free had no effect whatsoever. Researchers are studying whether the removal of gluten in their diet has a direct effect on their health or not.
Treating Celiac Disease
There are four steps that the sufferer needs to undergo in order to reduce the symptoms brought by celiac disease.
Removing gluten: This is the main problem of having celiac disease, so this step is of the utmost priority. Throw away all gluten products from your shelf. The protein is abundant in most foods, so always check the label or the contents if it contains gluten. Some people believe that gluten can be also absorbed through the skin. The celiac disease only triggers if the gluten is absorbed through eating, so you don’t have to worry if your skin care products contain gluten in it as long as you don’t accidentally swallow it. If you want to eat out, make sure to ask if they serve gluten-free meals. Take the time to conduct a quick survey if this restaurant serves gluten-free meals and scrutinize the details of the ingredients used. It can be really annoying if there is actually an amount of gluten in the meal that can hurt your intestines. You can also research through the Internet.
Adding nutritious foods: You need to add highly-nutritious foods to aid you in treating the disease. As the linings of the intestine become damaged, nutrients are being less absorbed. To offset this, you need to increase your nutrient intake. At the same time, this can help to ease your pain that you are experiencing. You will need to eat a lot more seafood and meat. Adding more fruits and vegetables will bring more nutrients to your body as well as food with a natural starch such as sweet potato. You will also need to eliminate all products made from grain because this is the primary cause of leaky gut.
Taking supplements: Now, if you avoid taking grain products, your intestine will slowly start to heal. To speed up the process, you need to take supplements to heal faster. L-Glutamine is one of those supplements that help cure the intestine. Start by taking little doses of it, eventually rising to 20g every morning and night. There are other supplements that are recommended for those who have celiac disease. Ask your doctors about it.
Change of lifestyle: In order for you to have a complete turnaround and finally start to heal, you need to adjust some of your lifestyle habits; avoid going to the gym a lot, drinking lots of coffee and alcohol, sleeping for fewer hours, etc. It is not really necessary to remove your habits entirely. Reduce all of your habits that might potentially make your condition even worse to allow yourself to heal first.
Celiac disease is still a major problem in the health care industry. While this disease cannot still be completely cured, researchers are relentlessly formulating ways in order to prevent its development. People are still struggling and suffering from its symptoms, and there are myths surrounding its treatment. However, there are many ways to ease their pain. Until then, we could only hope that there will be a cure in the near future.