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I’m often asked, Is there a cure for celiac disease?”
I hate to say it, but the answer is, “No.”
Believe it or not, though, doctors once thought a banana-based diet cured celiac disease (no joke), according to this article in NPR.
Today, we know bananas do not cure celiac disease; rather, the “cure” was that this so-called banana diet forbade starches (and gluten is found in starches such as wheat, rye and barley).
Once children on the banana diet healed, their doctors mistakenly told them they were “cured,” much to the detriment to the lifelong health of these children.
In fact, once doctors told them they were cured, the children resumed their normal eating habits. Many of these banana-diet children continue to suffer from lifelong, chronic issues, never realizing that celiac disease is a lifelong affliction with no cure and no treatment options except for lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet.
Why No Cure for Celiac Disease?
The Celiac Disease Foundation (in this article) says it believes the reason there is no cure is complicated.
For starters, it says celiac disease has been a marginalized by the medical community as a rare childhood disorder (something we know is not true at all!). As a result, the Celiac Disease Foundation says that over the last several decades, celiac disease researchers have been “denied the adequate resources needed to understand the basic biochemistry of the disease, must less cure it.”
Related Article: What is Celiac Disease?
The Foundation goes on to say that the reason there is no cure for celiac disease is because the disease lacks funding. Drug development is extremely costly.
“Because the primary treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet, the private sector has not been able to project the return on investment (ROI) needed to convince their shareholders to pour the hundreds of millions of dollars needed into celiac disease research to produce a treatment or a cure,” according to a report called iCureCeliac, published by the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Remember, pharmaceutical companies do not operate as charities. They are part of a multi-billion dollar industry. Pharmaceutical companies put money into research if they think it might result in billions of dollars in ROI.
While the private sector doesn’t see celiac disease research as profitable, the public sector also might be negatively impacting research for celiac disease.
A proof point came in Q4 of 2017 when a team of researchers questioned how the National Institutes of Health makes spending decisions for gastrointestinal research. Their findings were published in Gastroenterology and discussed in detail in Reuters.
The National Institutes of Health is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and decides how Federal (public money) is spent on health and medical research.
In the article, researchers found that celiac disease, which affects 1 percent of Americans, consistently received the LOWEST amount of research dollars (about $15.4 million over a period of five years). On the other hand, researchers found that Crohn’s disease, which has the second lowest prevalence of all the GI conditions included in the analysis and afflicts about 0.25 percent of the American population, received the HIGHEST amount of funding ($77.5 million over the same five year period).
On top of that, another GI disorder known as Barrett’s esophagus, which, like celiac disease, impacts about 1 percent of the population, received $64 million in funding dollars over the same five year period. This is more than $48 million more than what is allocated to researching celiac disease despite the condition afflicting the same number of people.
Researchers also found a similar pattern in the number of research grants awarded towards various GI disorders. Crohn’s disease received the greatest number of research grants (about 40 grants per year), and celiac disease received the fewest number of grants (eight grants per year).
I don’t share this information to make it seem like one disease is more important than the other, nor should funding decisions be based solely on the number of people afflicted (other factors should be considered, like quality of life, other treatment options, etc.). I only share this information to help you understand why there may be no cure for celiac disease on the horizon.
How Do You Manage Celiac Disease?
Not all is gloom and doom.
Despite no cure on the horizon, there are solutions to help you manage the symptoms associated with celiac disease and deter future damage.
In my prior post, What Causes Celiac Disease?, I wrote about three factors that contribute to the development of celiac disease: Genetic predisposition, consumption of the trigger food (gluten), and intestinal permeability (aka, leaky gut).
While we cannot control our genes (sorry, you inherited a wonky gene), you can control your diet and restore your gut health.
Implement a Gluten-Free Diet
The best way to manage symptoms associated with celiac disease is through diet (read 30 Tell-Tale Signs that You Have Celiac Disease).
After you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, you must follow a strict, gluten-free diet (no cheating) for life. While this diet feels restrictive at first, it gets easier with time and as more resources become available.
For example, there is a lot of gluten-free information available to you today. You can find information in bookstores and online, like what you’re finding here at Good For You Gluten Free.
Also, you can find restaurants that offer plenty of gluten-free options (restaurants are far from perfect, but they’ve come a long way). I highly suggest you read this ebook, Eating Out Gluten Free, to learn how to safely eat at restaurants.
On top of it all, there are thousands of gluten-free products adorning grocery store shelves (and not just at speciality grocers, mainstream grocers are in on the gluten-free action!). These readily available resources give the gluten-free community the opportunity to easily enjoy products like bread, cookies and pasta again.
Eat Plenty of Anti-Inflammatory Foods
While avoiding gluten is the only approved “treatment” for celiac disease, many celiacs continue to suffer from painful symptoms for months and years after going gluten-free.
When this happens, we know that either that person is still eating gluten (perhaps unknowingly, or maybe they allow themselves a cheat day) and/or they are still suffering from some sort of intestinal permeability (aka, their gut has not healed properly).
Think of it this way.
Let’s say you’ve been stabbed with a knife. If you remove the knife, are you suddenly normal and healthy again?
You must take the time to heal the wound left behind, right?
The same is the case with gluten.
Think of gluten as the knife. You remove the gluten, but you still have to take the time to nurse the wounds left behind.
In order to expedite gut healing, someone with celiac disease must eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Fresh and whole are always best.
You also may need to remove other irritant foods like sugar, dairy, corn or grains altogether (and for a period of time until you are healed). You can also take an at-home food sensitivity test by Everlywell to explore your individual food sensitivities to identify other potential irritant foods.
Don’t Forget the Supplements
You can get the rest of the nutrients you need by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (juicing is nice, too!), as well as by sipping on delicious bone broths that are loaded with nutrients that aid in sealing and strengthening the gut.
Celiac Disease Treatment Options
While there is no cure for celiac disease, there are some promising celiac disease treatment options on the horizon.
Potential treatment options include a possible vaccine, a pill that is capable of breaking down gluten before it reaches the small intestine, and another that tightens the loose junctures in your gut.
None of these treatment protocols have passed FDA muster – at least yet – but there are many clinical trials underway with the aim at treating celiac disease or at least helping people feel better upon accidental exposure to gluten.
None of these treatment options currently being developed, as far as I’m aware, will allow someone with celiac disease to eat gluten again.
If you’d like to read more about treatment options under development, please read my article, Celiac Disease Treatment Options on the Horizon.
So What’s a Celiac To Do?
Celiac disease researchers have not delivered a cure to the millions of people battling celiac disease daily; they have only come up with a single approved treatment option: The gluten-free diet.
I know this is disheartening to you (it’s disheartening to me), as being gluten-free is a constant struggle in a world filled with gluten. I wish there was more a celiac could to do treat and battle this disease, but alas there is not.
However, take solace in knowing that YOU control YOUR own fate and you’re not dependent on some (likely) overpriced drug to fix you. You hold the power to make yourself healthy and strong again… just as Dorothy had the power to go home all along:
Bottom Line: Is There a Cure for Celiac Disease?
Bottom line is there is no cure for celiac disease – especially not eating a banana diet!
You can only manage the disease and put it into a remission by avoiding gluten for life.
For additional information about celiac disease, please visit my post, Celiac Disease Awareness Month: What You Need to Know about Celiac Disease. This post links to all my articles about celiac disease.
Thank you for reading, Is there a cure for celiac disease? Please note that nothing in this article should be construed as medical advice. Please consult your team of health care professionals before making changes to your diet. Please read my disclaimers and disclosures before reading Is there a cure for celiac disease?