Are You Really Treating Your Celiac Disease by Going Gluten-Free?

You’re probably looking at your computer with a quizzical look right now thinking “of course I am! What is this doctor talking about?”– but hear me out.

Everybody knows that the first thing required for the management of celiac disease is the avoidance of gluten- I am not disputing that. However, it is of my opinion that going gluten free is not the end-all-be-all in proper celiac disease treatment. Much like treating Iron deficiency anemia with an Iron supplement and not addressing the root cause of the anemia, I believe we have done the CD community a great disservice to imply that their treatment is so simple. Gluten is not the cause of celiac disease, but rather, an inability to tolerate gluten (and the resulting malabsorption and inflammation) is simply the main symptom of a much bigger problem. Going gluten free is absolutely essential if you have celiac disease, but perhaps it is less of a true treatment and more of a band-aid than we ever realized.

As with all autoimmune diseases, celiac disease only manifests itself when just the right combination of genetic and environmental triggers come together.

“But wait! Celiac disease is a genetic condition!” you may be saying to yourself. For years the conventional medical world has been keen to tell you this, but this is not exactly true. You do, indeed, need to have the right genes to be susceptible to CD (namely the HLA-DQ2 and DQ8 genes). However, a shockingly small number of people with those genes will go on to develop celiac disease. It is estimated that 30-40% of the general population has either the HLA DQ2 or DQ8 gene- the “celiac genes”, with about 30% of the Caucasian population possessing the HLA DQ2 gene. This stands in stark contrast to the number of people who go on to develop celiac disease- 1% by most estimates (although I personally think that number is a bit on the low side). So why then, does celiac disease only afflict 1% of the population and not 30-40%? There must be something more to it than simply genetics.

It is important to treat the cause of a disease, not just mange the symptoms.

So what is the real cause of celiac disease? And more importantly, how do we go about treating it?

There is no way to know for sure what may have caused an individual’s case of celiac disease… but we can make some pretty good guesses. As I mentioned earlier in the article, there are a number of lifestyle and dietary factors that come in to play in various degrees in different people. Some things to start with (or rule out) include:

  • Infections (both acute and chronic)
  • Dysbiosis (in the gut as well as elsewhere)
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Exposure to toxic substances (including glyphosate)
  • Exposure to different drugs (such as NSAIDS)
  • Antioxidant depletion (namely, glutathione)

A good functional medicine doctor will be the best equipped to help you solve this puzzle and get you on the road to true healing. If you don’t know how to find a functional medicine doctor in your area, please see my previous articles on the topic here and here.

If you know someone with celiac disease in the Raleigh-Durham “triangle” area of North Carolina, please don’t hesitate to have them call our office at (919) 238-4094 to set up a free phone consultation. We are located in Chapel Hill, NC off of Fordham Blvd near Whole Foods Market and Trader Joes.

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About Nicole DiNezza, DC

Dr. DiNezza is a functional medicine practitioner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her passion is helping those with chronic inflammatory conditions such as autoimmune diseases, chronic digestive problems, and hormonal imbalances manage their conditions more holistically and naturally. Dr. DiNezza incorporates nutritional therapy, high quality supplements, essential oils, chiropractic care, lifestyle advice, and cold laser therapy in her office in Chapel Hill.