Thursday, November 30, 2006

celiac disease -- whatever happened to the old cure for it?

This is in regard to the Wikipedia entry for Celiac disease, which states, "At this time no medication will prevent damage, nor prevent the body from attacking the gut when gluten is present. The disease is controlled by strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, which allows the intestines to heal and resolves all symptoms in the vast majority of cases..."
It contradicts itself later, however, by stating. "Even while on a diet, health-related quality of life (HRQOL) is decreased in people with coeliac disease. Some have persisting digestive symptoms or dermatitis herpetiformis, mouth ulcers, osteoporosis and fractures." (there is more, too, but you get the point. I'm amazed that mainstream medicine still stands by this, despites lots of doubts about what really causes celiac disease and what can be done about it.

There is an alternative diet to the gluten free diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (TM), which restricts not only gluten containing grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, but also all grains (including rice and corn) and most complex carbohydrates including potatoes, most beans (including soy and pinto), and other starchy vegetables and all sweeteners except for honey and saccharine. This diet is based on the idea that the gut is damaged by an imbalance of intestinal flora, and that the unfriendly flora must be starved off by depriving them of food. The diet only allows carbohydrates that are monosaccharides such as those in fruits, sweet vegetables such as squash, non-starchy veggies such as broccoli and zucchini, and honey. All fermentable carbohydrates are removed from the diet to allow the gut to rest and heal. This diet was first developed to treat celiac disease, but fell out of favor because of its difficulty to maintain and further studies that pointed to gluten, a protein, rather than starch, as the culprit in celiac.

There is a small minority of people who believe that celiac disease, irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, and even perhaps autism, are all caused by carbohydrate intolerance rather than gluten intolerance. This is because only monosaccarides can be digested completely by the human digestive system and absorbed properly. All other carbohydrates cause problems, particularly if there is intestinal damage such as that caused by coeliac disease. The complex carbohydrates, disaccharides and polysaccharides, are not properly digested in the stomach, and go on to feed unfriendly intestinal flora such as Candida albicans, which in turn cause more intestinal damage. Thus, this vicious cycle causes increasing damage to the intestines and an out of control imbalance of intestinal microflora.

It turns out humans never really were meant to be eating starches, especially in the huge quantities most modern diets -- not just the US diet, but most around the world (other than traditional Arctic people and a few other isolated groups). It was less than 10,000 years ago that humans started to live settled enough and farm enough that they could grow large quantities of crops, including grains. Before that, most humans ate meat, fruit, vegetables, some tubers and a few grains gathered a few weeks a year, doled out very frugally throughout the year. And only a thousand or so more years before that were we regularly cooking our foods, so we really couldn't eat grains or tubers. Many people's bodies have adapted to this new diet, but many have not, and celiac disease is just one sign that it's an ill-suited diet.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet(TM) solves this problem. It does not restrict protein foods such as meats, and allows some beans, such as lentils and navy beans once healing is well under way. It includes dairy, although in cases where dairy is not tolerated it can be excluded as well. This diet was developed in the early 20th Century, and was commonly used as recently as the 1950s to treat Celiac disease. (Haas SV and Haas MP: Management of celiac disease, p x. J B Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1951)

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