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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

The Relationship Between Nutrition and Celiac Disease: Dr. Andrea Purcell at Longevity Health describes the importance of early diagnosis

Mar 02, 2013 07:29AM ● By Andrea Purcell, NMD

March is National Nutrition Month, a reminder for us to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and reduce the carbonated drinks, artificial sweeteners and refined and processed foods in our diet. Twenty percent of all cancers could be prevented if everyone just ate one more serving of vegetables. Nutrition and health go hand-in-hand, and proper body nourishment equals a healthy life. Our food is our gasoline, so what we eat and drink determines our performance throughout our lives.

Although proper nutrition is essential for every living being, it seems that many people deprive themselves of essential nutrients in the short term and still appear to be well. This is not the case in the celiac disease population. Celiac disease is triggered by gluten proteins found in certain grains and can affect the entire body, but specifically targets the small intestine, damaging it so much that absorbing nutrients becomes difficult. Because the digestive system is responsible for feeding the rest of the body, severe nutritional deficiencies develop in celiac patients. A delay in diagnosis increases the chance of gross malnutrition and the onset of additional autoimmune diseases.

Diagnosis of celiac disease typically takes nine years and repeated physician visits. It becomes a welcome diagnosis for many after years of suffering and not knowing what the cause was of their digestive upset, fatigue, anemia, aching joints, chronic infections and tingling arms and legs. Celiac disease affects about 1 percent of the U.S. population, or one in 100 people.

There is an increased risk of cancer in celiac patients resulting from chronic inflammation and deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin B12, folic acid, calcium and magnesium. Peter Green, M.D., states, “Celiac disease is the most common and one of the most under diagnosed hereditary autoimmune conditions in the United States today.” Celiac disease affects the entire body but specific body systems take the brunt of the impact.

Skeletal system: weakened bones and the development of osteoporosis, stiff and aching joints similar to arthritis

Neurological system: tingling in hands and feet similar to neuropathy, depression, anxiety and decreased cognitive function

Digestive system: diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel, malabsorption and colitis

Dermatological system: a wide variety of skin reactions, including rashes, itching, hives and burning sensations

Endocrine system: diabetes, infertility and thyroid malfunction

Immune system: autoimmune manifestations such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome and lupus

It is common for symptoms to persist when a celiac patient is maintaining a gluten-free diet. This is mainly due to the damaged digestive lining. When a person with celiac still has symptoms while avoiding gluten, it is important to consider some other manifestations of a weakened digestive system, such as bacterial and yeast imbalances; digestive enzyme insufficiencies; additional food allergens that developed as a result of the disease process; and nutritional deficiencies. All of these need to be considered along with the diagnosis of celiac disease to bring the person back to total health.

Phoenix-based physician Andrea Purcell, NMD, is a specialist in digestive health, weight gain and hormone balancing. She is the author of Feed Your Cells! 7 Ways To Make Health Food Fast, Easy, and Gluten Free! For more information, call 602-493-2273 or visit

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