It seems like a new food-related bad guy comes along every decade or so. In the past, it was fat. Then it was cholesterol. Then it was carbohydrates. Today, it seems like more and more people are cutting gluten out of their diets, whether they experience any negative health effects from eating gluten-containing products or not. While removing gluten from your diet might be the current dietary fad, there are some people who have a medical reason for doing so. Sufferers of celiac disease cannot eat gluten, or they suffer a host of negative symptoms and side effects.
What Is Celiac Disease?
According to the National Institutes of Health, celiac disease is, “a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine. People with celiac disease cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The disease can cause long-term digestive problems and keep you from getting nutrients you need.” Ultimately, celiac disease is not caused by gluten itself. Instead, it’s the body’s immune response to the presence of gluten in the body. It’s more of an allergic reaction, such as a food allergy to peanuts or shellfish.
What Causes Celiac Disease?
The cause of celiac disease is the body’s immune response to the presence of gluten. The reaction begins in the small intestine, and can damage the villi that line the intestine. Over time, that damage can become significant. Ultimately, not only does this cause pain and discomfort, but it can also prevent the body from absorbing the nutrients needed from the foods we eat.
While celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, it is genetic. Predisposition is passed down through families, so if a parent or other direct family member suffers from it, there is a good chance that you and your children may, as well. It does not affect every generation, though, and does not present the same way in everyone who suffers from it.
Celiac disease can sometimes begin after pregnancy, or after a viral illness. It is also more common in those with diabetes (type 1), as well as those with Down’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
It’s important to understand that the symptoms of celiac disease can vary wildly from one patient to another. In fact, two patients with the disease may not experience the same symptoms at all. There is also a great deal of difference in symptoms between children and adults, and many of the symptoms may also relate to other conditions, so a true medical diagnosis is necessary. Note that this may require taking a tissue sample from the small intestine (biopcy).
Some of the more common symptoms of celiac disease in adults include fatigue, weight loss and diarrhea, as well as abdominal pain, constipation and bloating. However, note that many symptoms do not relate to the digestive system, such as skin rash, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and even osteoporosis. In children, symptoms can include muscle wasting, swollen stomach, vomiting, lack of appetite, irritability, delayed puberty, and failure to thrive.
What Are the Conventional Treatments for Celiac Disease?
There is no cure for celiac disease, and the only conventional treatment is to eat a diet that contains no gluten. Even then, some symptoms may persist. It’s also important to note that gluten can be found in an incredibly wide range of products, not just breads and other baked goods. Pasta, cold cereals, beer, and even many medications and toothpaste formulations use gluten to thicken them. These products must be avoided by celiac disease patients at all times. Even a very small amount of gluten can cause serious symptoms.
Stem Cell Therapy for Celiac Disease
Stem cells have been used in medical studies and laboratory settings to treat any number of diseases and medical conditions, ranging from scoliosis to COPD, to heart disease, and more. These cells are increasingly being studied for their potential to help celiac disease sufferers live healthier, more comfortable lives.
For instance, in a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic, a 51-year-old woman with celiac disease was treated with mesenchymal stem cell infusions, with four infusions spread four months apart. The result was
“gradual and durable amelioration of her general condition, with normalization of stool frequency, body mass index, laboratory test results, and mucosal architecture.”
Another study involving mesenchymal stem cells, this one published in the journal Gastroenterology and Hepatology from Bed to Bench, noted,
“Stem cell transplantation is an effective treatment for patients with severe refractory autoimmune diseases comped to conventional treatments like ineffective GFD regimens for patients with refractory CD.”
Finally, a study published in the World Journal of Stem Cells noted,
“Celiac disease (CD) can be defined as a chronic immune-mediated disease that is triggered and maintained by dietary proteins (gluten) in genetically predisposed individuals…Stem cell transplantation has become an option for celiac patients with complicated or refractory disease.”
In several studies, only autologous stem cells were used. It is important to note that these are largely ineffective due to their age and the damage sustained to the cells, which limits their regenerative capabilities. (Autologous stem cells are sourced from a patient’s own body, usually from fat tissue). Instead, allogeneic stem cells should be used. These cells are sourced from umbilical cord blood and wall, and are not only highly energetic, but carry no damage or mutations that might further incite the immune system, and to ensure a lifetime of self-renewal, regeneration, and healing.
Ultimately, stem cell therapy for celiac disease may become the primary treatment method. As the building blocks of the body’s regenerative system, they hold enormous promise. However, at the time of this writing, no stem cell therapies are FDA approved, and all such treatments are considered experimental. This also means that they are not covered by health insurance plans.