Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sun-dogs-in-South-Dakota-photo-by-Joe-Unterbrunner

Sun Dogs, Celiac, and Gratitude

The sun was setting as I was driving to meet a friend for dinner last night, and I noticed that there was what looked like a multi-colored beam of light going almost all the way around the sun. I was so enthralled with staring at it that I missed my exit twice! When I got home I searched the internet and found that the phenomenon, called a parhelion (plural is parhelia), is due to atmospheric ice crystals which act like giant prisms. When the beams are not totally connected, they are called “sun dogs.”

My friend and I shared a fabulous meal and as I drove home I reflected on how grateful I am for my family, friends, faith, health, and the foods and beverages that I can (and do) eat and drink.

Here is my list of foods I am thankful I can eat (in no particular order):

fruits (apples, berries, clementines, grapes, peaches, melons) • vegetables (kale, spinach, sweet peas, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini) • chocolateeggs (and bacon) • fish, shrimp, and non-processed seafood • fresh squeezed lemonade • aged cheese • meats such as chicken, pork, lamb, and lean beef • sweet potatoes, squash, and yams • Jelly Bellies • homemade chocolate, cranberry scones (adapted from this fabulous recipe) • popcorn and kettle corn • Against the Grain baguettes • green, leafy salads • all types of nuts (as long as ordered from nuts.com) • GF oats and oatmeal • gelato • corn tortillas and many Mexican foods • organic wine • chickpeas, rice, and other beansfresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and rosemary • GF Thin Mint cookies from Happy Bellies Bake Shop

I will leave you with the Shin Buddhist Food Prayer (in Japanese and English):

Before meals recite: Ita Da Ki Masu. I take this nourishment in gratitude (to all beings).

After meals recite: Go Chi So Sama. Thank you in deepest gratitude (to sustain my life).

Thank you for reading! What foods are you thankful to be able to eat?

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“Potential” Celiac Disease

I celebrated the 3-year anniversary of my Celiac diagnosis by attending a Celiac support group meeting in a nearby city. I was a bit hesitant to attend, as my initial experience at a Celiac support group meeting in 2010 was nothing short of a disaster (probably worthy of a blog post in itself, but in short, involved the woman sitting next to me eating a gluten-rich Subway sandwich and chocolate chip cookies throughout the meeting and getting her crumbs on me when she coughed.)

Despite my reluctance, I am grateful that I gave this other support group a chance. The guest speaker was a Gastroenterologist who is also board-certified in Integrative Medicine, so he seemed to have a true understanding of the effect of nutrition on our bodies’ healing.  He presented top notch information on Celiac Diease, and as he spoke I scribbled notes on a manila folder. Upon reviewing my chicken scratching, the phrase “Potential Celiac Disease” jumped out at me because it is a term that I have heard of but did not know much about.

Potential Celiac Disease (PCD) is diagnosed when a patient has abnormally elevated TTG IgA and Endomysial (EMA) antibodies on blood screening tests (the 2 main celiac antibodies) but normal bowel mucosa on biopsy. There is no evidence of the villous blunting seen in Celiac Diease (CD).  PCD often pops up when people who are at high risk for celiac disease are screened, such as first degree relatives of Celiacs, Type 1 diabetics, and/or patients with other autoimmune diseases. Many patients with PCD have no symptoms and do not feel ill from eating gluten. It is essential for the Celiac screening to be done while a patient is still on a gluten-containing diet. If a person is already gluten free when tested it is difficult to tell if the positive celiac antibodies and normal biopsies are from PCD v. full blown CD which is already being treated.

There is a lot of controversy over what to do if a patient is diagnosed with PCD. Some experts believe that if Celiac antibodies are elevated, that one should go gluten free, even in the absence of symptoms. Others believe that asymptomatic potential Celiacs should continue on a gluten containing diet, with close monitoring and follow-up of with small bowel biopsies at regular intervals. The rational behind this 2nd line of thought is that a lot of patients with PCD may never actually go on to develop full CD.

Unfortunately, Potential Celiac Disease has been so under-researched that we really don’t have good information on what percentage of “Potential” Celiacs become actual Celiacs.

A group of researchers in Italy recently studied 47 patients who were diagnosed with PCD. They found that those with PCD did not differ from those with CD in terms of age of diagnosis, digestive symptoms, anemia, or other associated problems. They broke the 47 PCD patients into 2 groups for analysis:

Group 1: 23 patients who immediately went gluten free after being diagnosed with PCD, most due to digestive and other autoimmune complaints. Follow-up biopsies to screen for CD could not be performed since all of these patients were GF.

Group 2: 24 patients who stayed on a gluten-containing diet after being diagnosed with PCD. 14 had repeat biopsies at 1 year. Of these 14, 5 had villous blunting (full celiac disease) and 9 did not. Of the 9 who had normal biopsies at 1 year follow-up, 4 went GF due to symptom development and 5 remained without symptoms and had normal biopsies 3 years later.  The 10 patients with potential celiac disease who remained on a gluten-containing diet and refused follow-up biopsies are described as being in “good clinical condition,” however 5/10 had anemia, 3/10 had thyroid disease, 3/10 had diarrhea, 1/10 had alopecia, and 1/10 had rheumatoid arthritis on follow-up. While these problems might be perceived as being better than having full blown Celiac Disease, I wonder if so many symptoms would be present in this group of potential Celiacs had they gone GF.

The concept of non celiac gluten sensitivity was largely ignored in this paper. There is also no comment on how many intestinal biopsies were taken. The speaker that I listened to last night reiterated that at least 4-6 biopsies need to be taken from the duodenum in order to confirm a diagnosis of CD. If less than 4-6 biopsies are taken, CD can be missed.

In summary, we are in a gray zone as to how to advise others with “potential” celiac disease in terms of the gluten free diet. If one has PCD and feels lousy after eating gluten, then the decision to go gluten free is an easy one. For those who have PCD but do not have any ill effects from eating gluten (at least outward symptoms), I can see how the decision may be quite a bit more difficult.

After living so long with undiagnosed Celiac Disease, I would be hard pressed to not recommend the gluten free diet for those with Potential Celiac Disease. We currently have no idea how high the real risk of Celiac Disease is for this group. I personally know that it is a risk that I would not want my own family members to take….whether or not they would take my advice is an entirely different question!

Reference:

Prevalence and natural history of potential celiac disease in adult patients. Federico Biagi, Lucia Trotta, Claudia Alfano, Davide Balduzzi, et al. Scandanavian Journal of Gastroenterology. Posted online on March 19, 2013. (doi:10.3109/00365521.2013.777470)

*Also, a quick reminder that this is a blog. I am summarizing medical literature, but also adding in my own thoughts and opinions on what I have read. I am not trying to tell anyone what they should do for their own health, nor am I giving medical advice through this page. Thank you!

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Let’s Talk about Celiac Disease and Infertility

One of my favorite Celiac Disease-related pages on Facebook is that of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center. One of the first “tidbits” that I read on this page, after discovering it last fall, was the following statement: “Women who have experienced persistent miscarriages or infertility without a known medical cause should be tested for celiac disease.” I had no idea that there was such a strong association between Celiac Disease and infertility until I read this sentence.

I have encountered tons of women, both professionally and personally, who have struggled to get pregnant and/or carry a pregnancy to term. Recent estimates have shown that up to 10.9% of women of childbearing age (15-44) in the U.S. seek treatment for infertility in any given year. I wrote a post about the effects of Celiac Disease on pregnancy in January 2013, and since then have read quite a bit more about topic. Here are some things which I have learned about Celiac Disease and infertility:

-Studies published within the last two years have shown that between 6 and 10% of women with unexplained infertility have (undiagnosed) Celiac Disease. Previously, it was believed that the numbers were much lower, around 2-4%.

-Many women with Celiac-related infertility do have a prior history of irritable bowel syndrome or other GI complaints, but they do not necessarily have these symptoms while undergoing treatment for infertility.  It is well known that signs and symptoms of Celiac Disease can appear and then disappear for years (and even decades) before diagnosis.

-It is believed that Celiac impacts fertility due to a combination of malnutrition (nutrient deficiencies interfere with sex hormone function) and the formation of small placental blood clots (thromboses) due to Vitamin B12 deficiency. It has also been shown that anti-TTG antibodies do bind to placental tissues and can interfere with placental formation and function.

-If a woman has infertility due to Celiac Disease, fertility should resume between 3 to 9 months after going gluten free.

-Many researchers conclude that all women with unexplained infertility should be screened for Celiac Disease. Based on discussions with several people, this does not seem to be happening in all parts of the U.S.

The average cost for one cycle of IVF is $12,400. Many women go through multiple rounds of IVF before conceiving. Surrogacy can cost up to $100,000. If the research studies are correct, many women who are paying for these expensive treatments may actually have undiagnosed Celiac Disease. We need to continue to inform and discuss this with our families, friends, and neighbors as so many are potentially impacted.

General infertility statistics are found on the CDC site: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/fertile.htm.

Other references which may be of interest:

1. Undiagnosed celiac disease in women with infertility. Machado AP, Silva LR, Zausner B, Oliveira Jde A, Diniz DR, de Oliveira J. J Reprod Med. 2013 Jan-Feb; 58(1-2):61-6

2. Increased prevalence of celiac disease in patients with unexplained infertility in the United States. Choi JM, Lebwohl B, Wang J, Lee SK, Murray JA, Sauer MV, Green PH. J Reprod Med. 2011 May-Jun; 56(5-6):199-203.

3. Immediate effect on fertility of a gluten-free diet in women with untreated coeliac disease. Raffaella Nenna, Maurizio Mennini, Laura Petrarca, Margherita Bonamico. Gut 2011;60:1023-1024.

4. Anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies from celiac patients are responsible for trophoblast damage via apoptosis in vitro. Di Simone N, Silano M, Castellani R, Di Nicuolo F, D’Alessio MC, Franceschi F, Tritarelli A, Leone AM, Tersigni C, Gasbarrini G, Silveri NG, Caruso A, Gasbarrini A. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010 Oct; 105(10):2254-61.

5. Infertility Treatment in a Population-Based Sample: 2004–2005. Sara E. Simonsen, Laurie Baksh, Joseph B. Stanford. Maternal and Child Health Journal. May 2012, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 877-886.

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Delay in Diagnosis of Celiac Disease

This is my first grade photo. This was taken right before I began to show signs and symptoms of Celiac Disease. Although it takes, on average, 10 to 13 years after the initial onset of symptoms for a patient with Celiac Disease to be diagnosed, in my case it took almost 30 years.

Undiagnosed, and hence, untreated, Celiac Disease is associated with anemia, osteoporosis, arthritis, infertility, central nervous system damage, and the development of other autoimmune diseases. Celiacs with longstanding exposure to gluten are also at an increased risk of cancer of the digestive system. Although some of these problems, such as anemia and infertility, are reversible once gluten free, others are not. My autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), which I suspect is due to decades of gluten exposure, will never go away.  Through the internet I have interacted with tons of other people with Celiac Disease with long delays in diagnosis (some not until their 50s or 60s). Anecdotally, it seems like a lot of us have multiple autoimmune issues, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and/or irritable bowel syndrome, as well as multiple food intolerances. It is unclear whether or not we would have developed these additional autoimmune problems had we removed gluten from our diets decades earlier, when we first started to show signs and symptoms of Celiac Disease. My gut tells me that we would have…

There was an interesting study published in Wales in 2007 in which the medical records of patients with Celiac Disease were reviewed. Celiac patients had a significant increase in number of subspecialist consultations in the years before diagnosis, seeing on average 5 different consultants. People with Celiac Disease also had symptoms of depression, anxiety, anemia, and diarrhea in much higher numbers than patients without Celiac Disease prior to diagnosis; 41% had a history of depression and/or anxiety. Swedish researchers examined the quality of life of 1500+ patients with Celiac Disease, both pre- and post-diagnosis, and found, not surprisingly, an improved quality of life for Celiac patients once diagnosed and treated (see link).

Last of all, a case report of a women diagnosed with Celiac Disease in her mid-forties (named Mrs. J) was published in a large medical journal called JAMA in 2011. Mrs. J’s main symptoms of Celiac Disease were recurrent miscarriages and chronic anemia. While I highly recommend that all of you read the article if you can, I am going to cut and paste a few of Mrs. J’s questions after diagnosis and the experts’ answers to her:

Could my miscarriages have been related to celiac disease? Currently the typical newly diagnosed patient with celiac disease is a woman around the age of 40 years who has had symptoms of celiac disease for over a decade. Given that active celiac disease has nutritional and direct inflammatory consequences on fertility, the reproductive life of many patients is irreversibly affected. In particular, the risk of miscarriage appears higher in women with untreated celiac disease compared to the general population. For these reasons, clinicians should maintain a very low threshold for celiac disease testing in this population.

Has my body sustained any irreversible damage from celiac disease over the years? The small intestinal mucosa has enormous regenerative capacity in both health and disease. Even individuals with longstanding, severe celiac enteropathy can expect to achieve complete or near complete intestinal healing with gluten avoidance and nutritional support, although the length of time to healing varies from less than one year to more than five years and healing is associated with younger age at diagnosis and improved GFD adherence. Outside of the intestine, however, healing is not always assured. A number of extraintestinal manifestations of celiac disease such as dermatitis herpetiformis, anemia, and joint pain, typically improve significantly or resolve within the first year of treatment, as was seen in Ms. J. One of the most common associations with celiac disease is reduced bone mineral density (BMD) which is seen in at more than 50% of patients at diagnosis. Although there is often a significant improvement in BMD over the first year of treatment with a GFD, up to 21% of patients will have persistent osteoporosis. There are multiple neurologic manifestations of celiac disease, some of including peripheral neuropathy and headaches which resolve, while case studies suggest that other manifestations including ataxia, may stabilize but rarely improve. Finally, there is a potential increased risk of secondary autoimmune disorders related to longstanding untreated celiac disease, and once triggered, these will not respond to gluten withdrawal.

My hope is that no child with current symptoms of Celiac Disease will have to wait 20+ years for diagnosis, like so many of us did. We need to prevent Celiac-associated problems, such as infertility, neurologic complications, and other autoimmune diseases, from developing in the first place, so that children with Celiac Disease can have an improved quality of life as adults!

References:

1. A case-control study of presentations in general practice before diagnosis of coeliac disease. Cannings-John R, Butler CC, Prout H, Owen D, Williams D, Hood K, Crimmins R, Swift G. Br J Gen Pract. 2007 Aug; 57(541):636-42.

2. Delay to celiac disease diagnosis and its implications for health-related quality of life. Norström F, Lindholm L, Sandström O, Nordyke K, Ivarsson A. BMC Gastroenterol. 2011 Nov 7;11:118.

3. Celiac disease diagnosis and management: a 46-year-old woman with anemia. Leffler D. Source Department of Gastroenterology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA. dleffler@caregroup.harvard.edu. JAMA. 2011 Oct 12;306(14):1582-92.

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The Gluten Contamination Elimination Diet

As many of us already know, there are some celiacs who are “refractory” and continue to have ongoing symptoms after going gluten free. In addition, there are a bunch of us who are “super sensitive” in terms of reactions to gluten cross-contamination. I am one of the super sensitives. Not too long ago I had a reaction from eating one bite of a Trader Joe’s “no gluten ingredients” brownie which I had prepared in my own gluten free kitchen for a potluck.

Just last week, Dr. Fasano and colleagues published a research paper on the effects of 3-6 months of a diet of exclusively whole, unprocessed foods on the symptoms of celiac patients who had no improvement while eating strictly gluten free. In this study patients were considered to have non-responsive celiac disease (NRCD) if they failed to respond to the gluten free diet or had a recurrence/relapse of symptoms despite being gluten free. Steroids are currently the standard of care for treating NRCD, which as we know can have serious side effects.

The researchers coined their diet the “Gluten Contamination Elimination Diet.” Here is the breakdown of foods with are allowed and prohibited on this diet:

Allowed: brown and white rice; all fresh fruits and vegetables; fresh meats; fish; eggs; dried beans; unseasoned nuts in the shell; butter; plain yogurt; plain milk, and aged cheeses; oils; vinegar (except flavored or malt); honey; salt. Beverages allowed include 100% juices, water, and Gatorade.

Not allowed: millet, sorghum, buckwheat or any other grains, seeds, or flours; frozen, canned, or dried fruits and vegetables; lunch meats; ham; bacon; seasoned or flavored dairy products; processed cheeses; flavored and malt vinegars.

Basically, all processed foods are eliminated. Of note, dairy is not reintroduced until week 4 of the diet.

17 patients with NRCD, all female, were placed on this diet for an average of 3-6 months. 14 of the 17 (82%) significantly improved on the Gluten Contamination Elimination Diet. Of those who did have biopsies performed after the diet, all but one had resolution of their villous atrophy. This is important information as there have been a lot of recent studies showing that persistent villous atrophy is common in celiac disease. Most of the patients in this study were able to eventually resume a “traditional” gluten free diet.

It has taken me over 3 years, and a lot of trial and error, to figure out the foods which my body loves and hates. Interestingly enough, my body’s food preferences are almost identical to the foods on the “allowed” list in this diet. Had I known about this diet, and adhered to it when I was first diagnosed, it would have saved me a ton of pain and anguish. I am optimistic that this diet (or a similar version) will become the standard of care for those newly diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and I hope that this happens sooner than later. If we work together, we can get the word out!

Reference: “Trace gluten contamination may play a role in mucosal and clinical recovery in a subgroup of diet-adherent non-responsive celiac disease patients.” BMC Gastroenterology. 2013. 13:40 (e-pub).