The “surprising” truth about celiac disease

Somebody pinch me, because I must be dreaming. Are the powers that be actually coming around to the reality of gluten sensitivity?

It’s certainly starting to look that way: A team of researchers presented their findings at the World Congress of Gastroenterology late last year. They reviewed a database of nearly 36 million patients. And they discovered what they call a “large undiagnosed burden of celiac disease” — comprised primarily of “atypical presentations.”

Or, as the headline I read put it, “a surprising number of conditions” are now linked to celiac disease. Which brings me to my first question… Why are they so surprised?

This finding shouldn’t surprise anyone who doesn’t live under a rock. Some doctors might need a study to tell them what the rest of us already know — but those of us who are on the front lines actually treating patients were seeing this trend long before researchers decided to publish any studies about it.

And let me tell you, celiac disease — the most severe form of gluten sensitivity — is just the tip of the iceberg.

As you might imagine, I could discuss this topic for eons. (And I have addressed it in this space many, many times before.) But today, I want to focus on one aspect in particular — and that’s the notion of a celiac “spectrum,” so to speak.

I am fully convinced that you don’t need to test positive for full-blown celiac disease in order to suffer from symptoms associated with wheat proteins like gluten and gliadin. I see it in my practice every day. And not just GI upset, but depression and anxiety, skin and auto-immune issues… even issues like liver disease, pancreatitis, and autism.

So the fact that these researchers found significant links between celiac disease and 13 different auto-immune disorders — including type-1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis? Well, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t be less surprised.

I’m also quite aware already that the rate of celiac disease is almost 20 times higher in autistic patients. It’s why I advise each and every child that I see on the autism spectrum to go on a gluten- and gliadin-free diet immediately.

I can’t tell you how many of these children I’ve seen respond to just this one dietary intervention. I have witnessed children who didn’t speak start talking again… all within just one week of being on a gluten-free diet.

I’d call that pretty impressive, wouldn’t you? Yet you won’t see this approach as part of the routine of care for autistic children. A lot of doctors still won’t even suggest gluten elimination to their IBS patients (much less to patients with chronic skin issues, fatigue, or problems losing weight).

And, well, why would they? If there isn’t an expensive drug involved, conventional medicine usually can’t be bothered.

So you can see why I find it hard to believe that anyone in the mainstream medical community might concede that there’s more to celiac disease than the classic laundry list of digestive complaints.

And let’s face it —t his one study isn’t likely to change a bunch of minds overnight. (Or to change them at all, for that matter.)

Nevertheless, gluten restriction is a necessary starting point for anyone suffering from chronic GI issues. And a smart idea for anyone dealing with inflammatory conditions of any kind. (And yes, that includes obesity.)

If you’re one of these patients, and you haven’t already ditched wheat — not to mention all those other “healthy” whole grains — there’s no time like the New Year to start.