This article, Why Gut Health Matters in Celiac Disease, contains affiliate links.
The gut microbiome is something that researchers and doctors are finally taking more seriously. Cutting edge research is confirming what holistic practitioners have known all along and that is that gut health is extremely important. In fact, the great Hippocrates (Father of Modern Medicine) once said, “All disease begins in the gut.” Unfortunately science and research has been slow to catch up with something that early doctors already knew.
Your gut bacteria are diverse and plentiful, however, because of their small size, these microorganisms only comprise about 1 to 3 percent of your body mass (or 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria in an average 200-pound adult), according to the Human Microbiome Project. And while many people think of “bacteria” as a bad thing, the truth is that diverse gut bacteria is an essential ingredient in maintaining good health.
The Human Microbiome Project says that these little microbes:
- Produce vitamins we do not have the genes to make
- Break down our food to extract nutrients we need to survive
- Teach our immune systems how to recognize dangerous invaders
- Produce helpful anti-inflammatory compounds that fight off other disease-causing microbes.
Many experts believe (with good science behind it) that if you change the composition of the bacteria in the gut, you’ll not only be able to prevent many devastating diseases, but also you’ll be able to better manage autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, and even many behavioral disorders like ADHD and anxiety, for example.
Related Article: What is Celiac Disease?
There’s a Reason We Say Trust Your Gut
Our guts are our second brains. It’s true.
Have you ever had a bad “feeling” about something or someone? You feel it in your gut, right?
Ninety percent of serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin, as you may know, is responsible for regulating our mood, sleep, digestion, memory, appetite and memory. Dr. Liz Lipski, author of Digestive Wellness, says that when we have enough serotonin in our gut, we experience things like good digestion and easy bowel movements.
Many people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities are in poor gut health because a) they eat a SAD diet and their gut has finally reached its tipping point, and b) once diagnosed, they haven’t taken the time to rebuild and strengthen their guts (or they continue to damage it with gluten and/or sugar and other inflammatory foods).
I see so many celiacs needlessly suffer from brain fog, chronic fatigue, poor energy, constipation, acid reflux, indigestion, headaches, cramping, constipation, gas, bloating and/or diarrhea. I also see many celiacs get diagnosed with additional autoimmune diseases. This may be poor gut health at play.
Furthermore, studies indicate a correlation between gluten sensitivity and low levels of bifidobacteria. Bifido is so strong that researchers believe it could be used to prevent gluten sensitivities from ever occurring and it can reverse damage that has already occurred in the gut.
Taking Out Gluten Isn’t Enough
Something I have always said is that you can’t just take out gluten from your diet and expect to be healed from celiac disease.
There are many reasons, but the main reason is that your gut health is in shambles.
Biopsies of those with celiac disease show that the small intestine is damaged and the villi, or the hair like follicles responsible for nutrient absorption, are flattened. This is because gluten has slowly chipped away at a celiac’s intestinal lining. The intestinal lining is highly permeable. This means it’s thin and easy to break through. If you have celiac disease, most likely the lining to your small intestine is shot. Kaput. Rode hard and put back wet. (You get the picture, right?)
Unfortunately, gluten chips away at EVERYONE’S intestinal lining, not just those with celiac disease, but this is a topic for another blog post.
For those of us with celiac disease, while it’s widely accepted that you have to take out gluten, the healing your gut part isn’t as widely accepted. In fact, when I asked my doctor what I needed to do to manage celiac disease and feel better, she said to follow a strict gluten-free diet and my symptoms would go away. No other advice followed. This is far from the truth. You MUST nurture the wounds left behind (Read: How I Healed Myself from Celiac Disease.)
Healing your gut requires a lot of effort, but I’d like to talk about two most important steps to healing:
(1) Remove Offending Foods
The first step is to take out the offending foods. Gluten, of course, is first to go. It’s what got you in this mess in the first place.
In addition to gluten, you must take out the sugar – or at least severely limit how much of the sweet stuff you eat. Sugar damages your gut in so many ways. Every time you eat sugar, you feed the bad bacteria (actually yeast) in your belly.
Not only that, but sugar depletes your nutrition reserves and sidelines you from ever completely healing. I encourage you to read more about sugar addiction and how to overcome your sugar cravings here, especially if you are serious about healing your gut.
Now, mind you, you don’t have to take out sugar FOREVER. No one is taking your sugar way from you for good. I’m saying eliminate or severely limit your sugar for a few weeks. Give your gut time to heal. Your intestinal lining with restore itself. Once it’s stronger, you can eat some sugar without experiencing digestive symptoms.
(2) Rebuild Gut Microbiome
The next step, once you remove the offending foods, is to rebuild your gut microbiome. To do this, you need probiotics. There are two kinds of probiotics you can take.
The first type of probiotic is found in fermented foods and cultured foods – things like kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented pickles, yogurt, kefir and my personal favorite, kombucha (fermented tea). These live foods promote healthy gut flora and will not only introduce good bacteria into your belly, but also they will help the good bacteria already in there proliferate.
The second kind of probiotic is found in a capsule at your natural grocery store. It is going to help you repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria. There are two types of bacteria strains you want in your probiotics, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria (and lack of bifido has been correlated to gluten sensitivities). Billions of lactobacilli are found in the small intestine and trillions of bifidobacteria are found in the large intestine. You can restore your gut health by repopulating your intestines with these strains via a daily probiotic. (Read: The Benefits of Probiotics for Women)
Your Gut Can Help You Rebound After Accidental Gluten Exposure
According to Dr. Tom O’Bryan in an podcast from Underground Wellness Radio, (Dr. O’Bryan is the author of The Autoimmune Fix, required reading for anyone with a gluten disorder) the stronger and healthier your gut microbiome, the more resistance you will have to accidental gluten exposure.
Think of it this way. If you walk down the beach and toss a lit match into the sand, it will burn out. But if you light a match and toss it into a pile of timbers soaked in gasoline, then you have a bonfire! This is what Dr. O’Bryan says is going on in your gut. If you have a strong gut microbiome, a tossed match won’t catch fire. But if you have a gut microbiome in shambles and then you toss a match, well my friends, you have fire!
In other words, the stronger your intestinal microbiome, the more resilient you’ll be to something like an accidental gluten exposure or other inflammatory experience.
If you’ve followed a gluten-free diet for awhile, you know it’s near impossible to be 100 percent gluten-free. You will try and you will be diligent… but even products that are labeled gluten-free contain up to 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. When you eat at a restaurant or a friend’s house, you might get inadvertent gluten exposure. The good news is if you have good gut health, and you’ve worked hard to strengthen your intestinal lining, your gut will be better equipped to bounce back from a gluten episode.
A Healthy Gut Matters
Remember, your gut matters. Do yourself a favor… take time to heal your gut and then work hard to keep those gut bacteria happy. Got it?
Want to heal your gut? Take my free 7-Day Heal Your Gut Challenge.