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How to Heal Gut from Gluten Damage

Gluten is the name for a group of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. While gluten improves the texture, moisture, and elasticity of bread and other baked goods, some people experience unwanted symptoms after eating gluten-containing foods.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most common cause of gluten-related damage and how to heal your gut after diagnosis.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of their small intestine after eating gluten-containing foods. Only one percent of the population has this condition; however, experts suspect that many people remain undiagnosed. Plus, around 25 percent of individuals with one autoimmune disorder will eventually develop a second autoimmune condition (1).

Symptoms of celiac disease can vary significantly, and some individuals may experience mild symptoms or even remain asymptomatic. 

Common celiac symptoms we see in our Root members include:

  • Digestive problems i.e. constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nutrient deficiencies (iron, B-vitamins, zinc, etc.)
  • Fatigue
  • Skin issues
  • Mood disorders
  • Infertility and/or recurrent miscarriages
Unfortunately, it is estimated to take 6 to 10 years from the onset of symptoms for a person with celiac disease to receive a proper diagnosis. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor can screen for celiac disease with a blood test to look for antibodies called anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTGA). We also offer this test in conjunction with our functional medicine lab testing at Root.  

Once diagnosed, the primary treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. Removing gluten allows the intestinal lining to begin to heal. When following a proper gut healing protocol, it may take up to a year to fully heal your gut from gluten damage.

If you have removed gluten from your diet but continue to experience symptoms, there may be other underlying gut issues that need to be addressed. For example, food sensitivities are common in people with celiac disease because of the “leaky gut” that occurs as a result of this condition. We can test for additional food sensitivities and create custom meal plans based on those results by using MRT food sensitivity testing for our members.

Maintaining a gluten-free diet requires careful attention to avoid cross contamination, which occurs when gluten-containing foods come into contact with gluten-free foods or surfaces. 

If you have celiac disease and follow a gluten-free diet but suspect delayed healing, pay close attention to these causes of cross contamination:

  • Shared kitchen surfaces where gluten-containing foods are also chopped/prepared
  • Toasters and toaster crumbs
  • Shared condiments (like peanut butter) that have been used with gluten-containing foods and then double-dipped with the same knife 
  • Dining out at restaurants that do not have a separate gluten-free prep area
  • Foods with “hidden” gluten like soy sauce,  soups/gravy mixes, french fry seasoning, and bottled marinades.
Our Root dietitians can help you find hidden sources of gluten and cross contamination in your diet.

Correcting Nutrient Deficiencies

Due to the malabsorption caused by the damaged intestinal lining, individuals with celiac disease are at risk of several nutrient deficiencies. For example, iron deficiency is common in celiac disease. Iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, white beans, spinach, and lentils can help address this deficiency. We may also recommend our gentle iron supplement that can raise iron levels without the usual digestive discomfort of this mineral.

Vitamin D is another nutrient commonly deficient in people with celiac disease. While some dairy products offer vitamin D, individuals with celiac disease may not tolerate dairy (especially in the initial stages of diagnosis and treatment). We find that most people require at least 5,000 units of vitamin D daily, but we prefer to recommend doses based on your own vitamin D blood levels. 

Furthermore, most packaged gluten-free foods are high in added sugar and low in nutrient value. After receiving a diagnosis, you may be tempted to stock up on gluten-free bread, cookies, cereal, and more. 

However, in order to optimize gut healing and overall well-being, we recommend prioritizing naturally gluten-free foods and following an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free whole grains & starches (like quinoa, sweet potatoes, & brown rice). 
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Specific Nutrients for Gut Healing

Apart from eliminating gluten, specific nutrients can play a crucial role in promoting gut healing. These nutrients aid in repairing the damaged intestinal lining and supporting overall digestive health:

  • Zinc is crucial for immune function and gut healing. Foods like oysters, beef, and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc.
  • L-glutamine is an amino acid known for its role in gut repair and rebuilding the intestinal lining. Our Gut Health Rebalance powder contains glutamine, zinc, and other soothing ingredients to optimize gut health. 
  • Probiotics are usually one of the last steps in a gut healing protocol, but are essential supporting a healthy gut microbiome.
Note: All supplements in the Root shop are gluten-free.  
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Key Takeaways

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that requires lifelong management through a strict gluten-free diet. While healing the gut after removing gluten can take time, adhering to a nutritious diet, correcting nutrient deficiencies, and supporting gut health with a proper gut healing protocol can aid in the recovery process. Whether you are still investigating your symptoms or have lived with celiac disease for years, our Root functional medicine team is here to support your health goals and help you treat the root cause of your symptoms.

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