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Digestive Health

Celiac Disease and Sprue

*Ed’s note: From time to time some customers send us questions regarding Celiac disease and Sprue so we asked Joanna Machin, our Medical Nutritionist, to write an article about these digestive conditions.

Celiac disease used to occur mostly just temporarily in infants and small children, but it is now on a constant increase amongst the adult population. It may also be heard of by names such as Idiopathic steatorrhea, Gluten enteropathy, and Non-tropical sprue. It appears to result from difficulty in digesting gluten, a protein found mostly in wheat, but Celiac disease is a typical malabsorption syndrome, and is associated with higher rates of numerous deficiencies, including folate and some vitamin B complexes. People with Celiac disease face higher rates of Hyperhomocysteinemia than do healthy controls.

Of course each case may differ, but generally speaking, when gluten is eaten by persons with Celiac disease, diarrhea becomes severe, most of the fat intake is lost in the faeces, the appetite decreases, vomiting may occur, and eczema, or seborrheic dermatitis, is also common. Gas distention and abdominal pain is usually acute. The digestive villi clump together, become sore and inflamed, or may completely disappear, making the absorption of food practically impossible.

Complete fat-free diets have been formerly used, but it is important to remember that oils, such as fish oils – see our Omega 3/DHA range - but not solid fats, are well absorbed by persons with Celiac disease, especially when taken with lecithin and many other general vitamins and minerals lacking as a result of the malabsorption issue (see our Total Balance formula range).

Regarding actual diet, the entire emphasis is placed on avoiding foods containing gluten: wheat, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, and prepared foods containing these grains. Even wheat starch is highly toxic to some people with Celiac disease. After gluten has been avoided for a length of time some patients can eat foods containing this protein and gradually reintroduce it without adverse effect. This is especially so if concentration on rebuilding body balance and normal metabolic structure has been adhered to with good supplementation and concentration on the immune system and sensitivities. Our Omega 3/DHA, Total Balance, and also Immu-Stay (formerly Viral-Protect) can all help with this process for longer-term benefit along with other treatment aids.

The finding that Celiac patients are severely deficient in vitamin B6 - the lack of which causes vomiting, eczema, much gas, and diarrhea – may be of great significance, and this is an area of more research and concentration. However, probably no less than 5mg of this vitamin should be given daily to infants with Celiac disease, and no more than 30mg or more to adults, for the shorter-term more immediately.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Magnesium - necessary to utilize vitamin B complexes, such as B6 - is thought to perhaps play an additional causative role in this condition as it is often found as deficient in persons with Celiac.

As with other kinds of diarrhea, deficiencies of magnesium, potassium, proteins, fats, calories, and practically all vitamins quickly develop. Many symptoms of patients with Celiac disease, including changes in the intestinal walls, are similar to symptoms shown by patients with folic-acid deficiencies, so proper diagnosis is essential to differentiate between these two. In either case malnutrition, as a cause and result, is a significant factor, as well as generalised internal inflammation. The use of both our Omega 3/DHA and Total Balance range together on a daily basis could begin to help correct this, along with dietary concentration along and anti-allergy/sensitivity regime, fluids and general strengthening of the body and immune system.

Furthermore, the body's reaction to the diarrhea is similar to that of any stress. At first too much salt is retained and potassium is lost. When prolonged, too much salt is lost and salty foods should be eaten. For many reasons, therefore, the diet should not only be gluten-free but concentrated on a healthy variety of all nutrients, including basic vitamins and minerals from a good highly varied diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, fish, white meats, and whole grains; as well as increased natural energy drinks of natural blended vegetable juices and purified water.

The problem, of course, is not gluten itself; grains are excellent foods, which have sustained nations for centuries. Probably persons with this disease have unusually high requirements for certain nutrients necessary to utilize gluten. It is known that Celiac disease is triggered by nutritional deficiencies, intestinal infections or parasites, and psychological trauma.


Another related intestinal disease, Sprue, is characterized by sore mouth and tongue, anemia, severe diarrhea, and large amounts of fat in the stools. This is a much more severe form of Celiac disease and is more specifically caused by the lack of the B vitamin Folic acid. The digestive villi become shortened, fuse together, or may be absent, thus decreasing the absorption of food to only a fraction of that of a healthy individual.

In this severity of condition usually an initial injection by your doctor of around 25mcg of folic acid are need because at this point food is so poorly absorbed that a diet containing high amounts of folic acid or a high dose supplement wouldn't be able to absorb. However, after an injection is given patients can improve rapidly and quickly move onto an absorbable supplement form within a few days.

A diet for Sprue must concentrate on making up for the multiple severe deficiencies brought on by the diarrhea and general lack of absorption. As mentioned above, oils such as fish oils should be used to help with anti-inflammation and general balance, and the diet varied in essential fats but not solid fats, as well as a full variety of nutrients (see information above for Celiac disease). Diets may need to be individualised to cater for certain sensitivities which can vary from case to case. Total Balance and Omega 3/DHA at full doses can help tremendously for these purposes following the initial acute injection. If required individually, an additional 2 tablespoons of lecithin daily can increase the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

An anti-stress program should be followed as well as a hormonal balancing formula such as the above supplements, as these can help to re-stimulate the natural production of hormones and digestive juices. The recovery regime is then similar to that for Celiac (also Colitis and IBS come within this category) and should help a more complete recovery. Because the problem is one of absorption rather than digestion, enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and bile are usually not needed.

1 Comment

  • “Thank you for such a well written article. I have been a celiac for 18 years and had thought this was purely a genetic thing. The information on different causes was enlightening.”

    Teresa May 10 2012

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