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The month of May is Celiac Awareness Month and the focus of my column on will be on the naturopathic approach to diagnosing and treating celiac disease and grain sensitivities.

Celiac disease is one of the most commonly overlooked medical conditions in North America. In fact, the average celiac has dealt with the disease for up to 10 years before accurate diagnosis is made. Grain sensitivities are even more likely to be neglected and overlooked. The purpose of this series is to raise awareness for celiac disease and grain sensitivities so that people suffering from these conditions can seek appropriate medical support.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks any grain containing gluten (mainly wheat, rye, spelt, barley, and triticale). This attack causes collateral inflammatory damage in the intestines and leads to poor digestion and absorption of nutrients. Celiac disease increases the risk of anemia, malnutrition, osteoporosis, skin disorders, certain bowel cancers, and other autoimmune diseases.

How Common is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease effects about one to two percent of the North American population. However, due to the lack of awareness and testing, it is difficult to say how accurate these figures are. As more research is conducted, we are learning that there are different types of grain sensitivity. While celiac disease involves an autoimmune attack on the gluten molecule, immune system sensitivities to other grain protein molecules do exist.

What is a Grain Sensitivity?
Grain sensitivity is a broad category of conditions that involve an allergy, sensitivity, or difficulty with the digestion of certain grains. People who test negative for celiac disease may have these reactions to other grains or other molecules in a glutencontaining grain. This sensitivity may involve an immunemediated reaction or may be due to poor digestion and breakdown of the grain.

What Symptoms are Associated with Celiac Disease and Grain Sensitivity?
There are so many potential symptoms associated with celiac disease and grain sensitivity that it is impossible to discuss all of them. For some people the symptoms will occur soon after wheat or gluten consumption. However, for many people the symptoms will not seem to be correlated with food consumption. This is because the symptoms may occur continuously or occur hours after food consumption. The most common symptoms include abdominal symptoms like gas and bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and steatorrhea; skin conditions like dermatitis herpetiformis, psoriasis, eczema, and rashes; pain symptoms like joint pain, muscle pain, weakness, headaches, and wondering pain; systemic symptoms like weight loss, fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, anemia, and edema; and mental/emotional symptoms like depression, fatigue, irritability, and anxiety.

What Causes the Symptoms of Celiac Disease and Grain Sensitivity?
Many of the symptoms of celiac disease and grain sensitivity are caused by inflammatory damage in the lining of the intestines. When a white blood cell of the immune system attacks a gluten molecule it creates something called an antigen-antibody complex. This is the combination of a white blood cell and a gluten molecule. The white blood cell tries to destroy the gluten molecule by creating free radicals and oxidative products. Unfortunately, many of the antigen-antibody complexes created in the intestines lead to collateral damage to the intestines. Many of the complexes leak through the intestines and end up in the arteries. As the antigen-antibody complexes float through the bloodstream they become lodged in the areas of the body with the smallest blood vessels like the joints, eyes, kidneys, and other capillaries. This is why celiac disease and grain sensitivities can cause so many systemic and generalized symptoms.

Another main complication with celiac disease and grain sensitivity is malabsorption in the small intestine. This is the inability for nutrients like proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients to be properly absorbed in the inflamed small intestine. This leads to malnutrition and systemic symptoms and diseases associated with malnutrition.

Finally, many grain sensitivities are caused by the production of an inflammatory molecule called immunoglobulin G (IgG) by white blood cells. IgG is produced in an immune-mediated response known as a delayed sensitivity reaction. The symptoms of delayed sensitivity reactions typically occur 2.48 hours after consumption.


Visit my blog where we will investigate how celiac disease and grain sensitivity are diagnosed and treated in the conventional system.

Dr. Brent Barlow

Dr. Brent Barlow is a naturopathic physician and author of the book series, To Feel Well. The first book in the series is now available. Click Here for more information or to purchase Improve Your Digestive System. He is an expert in the field of integrative and holistic healthcare and has a special interest in treating cardiovascular, hormonal, inflammatory, and digestive system disorders. He is board certified to utilize advanced integrative procedures like intravenous nutrient infusions, prolotherapy, neural therapy, and hormone prescription. Dr. Barlow is a graduate of the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver and practices in Kelowna, British Columbia.