Reviewed by Sandy Cho, MD
Also known as celiac disease, celiac sprue is a condition that results in damage to the small intestine when people eat foods containing gluten. The intestine takes in nutrients through tiny villi but when individuals with celiac sprue eat foods with gluten, it triggers an immune reaction instead of healthy digestion. The resulting immune reaction can harm the villi which may lead to malabsorption of important vitamins and minerals.
The following is information on celiac sprue natural treatments.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Symptoms can vary by individual but often include a variety of gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, gas, indigestion, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea/vomiting and/or unusual stools (floating, bloody or bad smelling).
Celiac sprue can also cause other health problems such as fatigue, malnutrition, anemia, joint pain, muscle cramps, mouth ulcers, osteoporosis, depression, irritability and/or unexplained weight loss.
What Causes It?
While the exact cause is not known, experts believe there is likely a genetic component. It is believed that about 1 in 100 people suffer from celiac sprue but that number climbs to 1 in 22 individuals who have a parent, child or sibling with it (and 1 in 39 who have an aunt, uncle or cousin with it). It is possible that environmental stress can contribute to activating the ailment.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Diagnosis is typically made by a gastroenterologist. Frequently, a blood test is ordered to detect the presence of certain antibodies (ie. antiendomysial and antigliadin antibodies). This may be followed up with the doctor viewing the small intestine with an endoscope and taking a tissue biopsy. One or both of these tests may be done again several months after treatment has begun to make sure improvement has occurred.
How Is It Treated?
Avoidance of gluten is the only treatment for celiac sprue. It is important to note damage to the intestine can occur even if there are no symptoms so education and vigilance are key.
Meeting with a registered dietitian who has a specialty in celiac sprue can be very helpful in learning how to shop and eat.
What Should Be Avoided?
Anything that contains gluten should not be eaten (or drunk in the case of beer). This includes foods that have wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and some oat products as ingredients.
The list doesn’t stop there, however. Some processed foods can also have gluten and it may not be obvious (“modified food starch” for example). Certain vitamins and medicines can also be culprits and should be studied carefully before taken.
Cross-contamination is another concern. It can happen anywhere from the factory where machinery is shared among various products to the kitchen where gluten-free food may come in contact with non-gluten free crumbs from the toaster or cutting board.
What Can Be Eaten?
Plain meat, poultry and fish along with fruits, vegetables and rice are naturally gluten-free. Flours made from soy, rice, corn or potato are also generally safe as well as certain grains like buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa. (However, check the packaging carefully to make sure the labels say they have been manufactured in a gluten-free facility.)
Should Additional Vitamins & Supplements Be Taken?
Malnutrition can be a side effect of celiac sprue due to the malabsorption of nutrients. (This can be a particular concern in children who may experience a delay in growth and pregnant women who might have a greater chance of suffering a miscarriage or having a baby born with birth defects.)
Levels of calcium, iron, folic acid, vitamins D and B12 and others may be deficient in people with celiac sprue. Working with a healthcare professional can help determine if or when supplementation is needed.
Written by Kristen Stewart