As the incidence of liver disease grows in the U.S., experts are identifying ways that we may be harming our livers without knowing it. Could it be that your morning toast is making you sick?
Experts believe that Celiac disease (the autoimmune reaction to dietary gluten), and its less aggravating sibling, gluten sensitivity, affect as many as seven million people in the U.S. Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale and other grains. It is very difficult for the human digestive system to process and can result in chronic inflammation and damage to the digestive tract.
The most common symptoms are:
- GI distress (gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, IBS)
- Muscle and body aches
- Mood disorders
- Balance problems
Those afflicted may also exhibit a severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.
In many people suffering with these disorders there may be little or no obvious presentation of symptoms beyond fatigue. What concerns the medical community is that often the only sign is an incidental finding of elevated liver enzymes resulting from the chronic state of toxicity and inflammation that gluten intolerance can cause. Unfortunately, when it gets to this point, liver disease is already occurring. Numerous studies have demonstrated the following correlations between gluten intolerance and liver disorders:
- Celiacs have 2 to 6x greater risk of developing liver disease.
- Prior liver disease has 4 to 6x greater risk of Celiac disease.
- Celiac is associated with 8x greater risk of death from liver cirrhosis.
- Celiacs are 20x more likely to develop primary biliary cirrhosis.
What’s happening is that the inability to properly digest and process gluten creates a chronic state of inflammation which leads to “leaky gut” syndrome. This allows toxins and pathogenic organisms to infiltrate the blood, presenting a chronic toxic overload to the liver. The long-term outcome of this is often non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the “gateway disorder” that can progress to other more serious liver diseases. At this point, liver enzyme levels will be elevated.
What to Do?
If you suffer from any sort of chronic liver disorder, have your physician run an AGA (anti-gliadin antibody) test. Should that be positive the doctor will then order a biopsy of the small intestine to determine if autoimmune damage has occurred. A positive result is confirmatory for Celiac disease and you should immediately take steps to eliminate gluten from your diet. In fact, if you suffer from any of the chronic symptoms of gluten sensitivity listed above, and/or you have elevated liver enzymes, you should remove gluten from your diet. There is a growing legion of authorities who believe that even in gluten sensitive individuals who test AGA negative, there is still a chronic inflammatory state in the digestive tract that can lead to leaky gut syndrome, elevated liver enzymes and, eventually, chronic liver disease. These people should also avoid gluten to allow healing of the digestive tract.
The good news is that studies are showing a very positive response to a gluten-free diet. In patients with elevated liver enzymes, normal values were restored within one year of going gluten-free. Along with the normal liver function tests, most report cessation of the digestive complaints as well as the fatigue, mood disorders and other symptoms. The bad news is that besides having to give up many of your favorite foods (pizza, bread, pasta) eliminating gluten from the diet is very difficult. Gluten is a stealth ingredient in many food products. Despite the requirements for listing all ingredients in packaged foods, in-depth label-reading is necessary to make this work, and one can never be sure when the food is prepared in a restaurant or someone else’s home.
Here is a partial list of some of the foods where gluten can show up:
- Flour tortillas
- Some candies
- Cold cuts and hot dogs
- Seasoned chips and snack foods
- Soy sauce
- Self-basting turkey
- Fried foods
The ubiquitous nature of gluten in processed foods requires a certain due diligence in order to effectively protect your digestive system and your liver from the havoc that gluten can wreak. These steps should enable you to avoid gluten, protect yourself from undetected gluten in foods and provide additional measures to repair and restore your system from the damage it has sustained:
- Read all labels thoroughly.
- Ask about foods that might contain gluten when dining away from home.
- Minimize processed pre-prepared foods.
- Eat mostly fresh, whole foods cooked at home.
- Avoid foods containing wheat, rye, barley, spelt, triticale. Unfortunately this means breads, pastas, pizza, cakes, beer, etc. Look for gluten-free alternatives. As the market demand for gluten-free products increases, more and more high quality substitutes are showing up on supermarket shelves.
- Exercise regularly and vigorously. There is no better detoxifier than sweat.
- Add the following nutritional supplements into your daily regimen:
- Gluten Support – Contains enzymes and organisms specifically designed to aid in the complete digestion of gluten proteins and promote healthy balance in the digestive tract.
- Clinical LiverSupport – Helps detoxify and reduce fat accumulation in the liver. Supports optimal liver function.
- Selenium – A natural anti-inflammatory that supports healthy immune function and suppresses auto-immune antibody production. A key element in production of glutathione: a powerful antioxidant produced in the body.
- N-Acetyl L-Cysteine – Needed for glutathione production. Supports liver function and protection.
A diagnosis of gluten sensitivity does not have to be a lifetime ban from the foods you enjoy. What you must do is takes steps to remove gluten from your diet, reverse the damage that has been done, and find gluten-free alternatives to replace those foods you love.
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