Why a diagnosis of celiac disease can be a blessing in disguise

Celiac disease is a condition that is characterised by intolerance to the protein gluten found in grains such as wheat, oats, rye and barley. Sensitivity to gluten can cause ‘flattening’ of the finger-like projections in the bowel, which essentially reduce its surface area. The dramatically reduced surface area caused by the condition tends to cause ‘malabsorption’ of food. Abdominal bloating and discomfort are common symptoms of celiac disease, as are fatigue and malnourishment.

A diagnosis of celiac disease can be interpreted as a major inconvenience. Many commonly-eaten foods become ‘off the menu’ for those who want to control their symptoms properly. Walking into a sandwich bar and taking one’s pick from the usually-vast array on offer is no longer an option for these people. Neither is sitting down to bowls of pasta or most breakfast cereals.

Once these foods are removed from the diet, though, individuals usually experience a relatively rapid improvement in their health and wellbeing.

I had a conversation with a gentleman this week who was diagnosed with celiac disease well into adulthood. Prior to the diagnosis he weighed about 112 lbs (quite underweight for his height), and was chronically tired. After the diagnosis, he cut out gluten, his weight increased to about 150 lbs (about right for his height) and he felt a whole lot better. All of this is quite typical, in my experience, of someone with celiac disease who eliminates gluten from their diet.

During our conversation, I asked this man what he ate. One of the first comments he made was that he thought that most gluten-free versions of regular foods (e.g. bread) were dreadful, not like real food, and so in the main he refused to eat them. What does that leave? The great majority of this man’s diet is actually made up of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and nuts. In other words, his diet was based on very natural, nutritious and unprocessed ‘primal’ foods. Soon to turn 60, this man looked to be the picture of good health too.

While discussing this man’s experience with celiac disease and that fact that he’d eschewed gluten-free foods too, it occurred to me how fortuitous his diagnosis had been for him. As a result, he was able to consciously avoid foodstuffs that were seriously messing up his gut and generally nutritional status.

However, there are other reasons why him not eating gluten-containing foods may be helping him. These foods, we know, tend to cause considerable disruption in blood sugar and insulin levels that can predispose to problems with weight and chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Also, gluten can induce unwanted symptoms in individuals who do not, strictly speaking, have celiac disease (see here for more about this). Gluten can also convert in the body to substances called ‘morphine-type peptides’ that can affect brain function and imbue gluten-containing foods with addictive qualities. Plus, grains tend to be rich in substances called ‘phytates’ that can impair the absorption of nutrients.

Now imagine, for a moment, if this man had not been diagnosed with celiac. He almost certainly would have been eating the same sort of diet many of us eat, replete with the ‘wholesome, healthy’ grains we’re told to base our diet on. Even if he did not have celiac disease, eating a diet rich in gluten-containing grains would also certainly led this man to a state of health significantly inferior to the one he enjoys today. In short, getting a diagnosis of celiac disease has been, almost certainly, a massive blessing in disguise.

Now, of course, one does not need to establish a diagnosis of celiac disease to decide that it’s a good idea to exclude grains from the diet or at least limit them. Very rarely do I find that when someone does this, they do not experience considerable improvement in their health and wellbeing.

31 Responses to Why a diagnosis of celiac disease can be a blessing in disguise

  1. J. Stanton - gnolls.org 6 April 2011 at 6:23 am #

    I support your contention that going gluten-free even without a diagnosis of celiac or gluten intolerance is beneficial.

    TIny amounts don’t bother me (e.g. soy sauce). But if I cheat and binge on (for instance) pizza, not only do I feel as if I’m never satisfied, even when my stomach is physicall distended…I feel terrible afterwards. And I realized that this is how I always felt after big meals – I just defined it as ‘normal’.

    This doesn’t even count the salutary long-term effects of eliminating nutrition-less calories from one’s diet and replacing them with nutrient-rich meat, eggs, and vegetables, or the positive effects of eliminating frank toxins, which you’ve cleanly summarized.


  2. Susan 6 April 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    This article describes me. I have Celiac Disease and consider it to be a blessing in disguise. I eat fruits, vegetables, pure meats, nuts, eggs, and rice….nothing else. I am a picture of good health. I will be 50 next month and feel like I am in my early thirties. At 5’9″ tall and weigh 140 lbs — which is right on for me. From the initial diagnosis onward, I have not tried to replace food with a gluten-free version. My diet is lean and healthy. I don’t look at Celiac Disease as a “disease.” To me, it’s Mother Nature’s way of saying “your body will not tolerate garbage food any longer.” Since cutting gluten completely from my diet, I have never felt or looked better in my life.

  3. Hans Keer 7 April 2011 at 5:41 am #

    You are very right. Celiac is only the tip of the iceberg. Grains, but also legumes and nightshades have devastating effects, also in non-Celiacs. Wrote this two relevant posts http://www.cutthecarb.com/your-daily-bread-pasta-and-pizza-are-killing-you/ and http://www.cutthecarb.com/how-to-reverse-a-leaky-gut-and-stop-autoimmune-diseases/ VBR Hans

  4. Robbo 7 April 2011 at 7:17 am #

    ..and undiagnosed coeliac disease is an absolute nightmare.

  5. Robert Levin 8 April 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    I have gone off grains for an extended period of time and absolutely have seen no changes in weight or my well being, and I know many people who have had the same experience. Although I believe many people are sensitive to grains, probably more folks are not. I am certainly not referring to people suffering from Celiac disease and recognize there are some people who don’t have Celiac’s and will see an improvement in their well being. However I have seen no evidence that they are in the majority.

  6. MrWeetabix 8 April 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more..I am consuming 300g of carb/starch from grains and my weight isn’t budgingg at all from my cuurent 46kg… All this paleo crap is silly.

    As I previously stated, the animals your eating now did not even exist during the paleolithic period

  7. John Briffa 8 April 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    Mr Weetabix

    Has it occurred to you that YOU might have celiac disease? I suggest you get yourself tested.

  8. Alex G 8 April 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    I’ve always suspected that excluding gluten brings benefits to most people because it compels them to ditch most processed junk food – biscuits, cakes, burgers etc. – and it’s excluding these and replacing them wholesome alternatives that brings benefits for most. In other words, it’s not a gluten issue – but one of improved diet. If you’re not gluten sensitive or coeliac, boiled barley and dark rye bread, for instance, are usually terrifically health foods.

  9. MrWeetabix 8 April 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    You see the reason those junk foods make you gain is because of the fat in them not the carbohydrates, for example a digestive biscuit gets over 50% of it calories from fat, and cakes often more..

    Burger the predominatley macro-nutrients are fat and animal protein.

    I don’t really think Britains obesty epidemic is due to daily dinners of boiled rice and vegetables and breakfast cereal.

    But more likely to be the fatty McDonalds, extremely cheap meat available and the vast array on dairy products.

    And Dr Briffa and I’m not coeliac I’m sure, I’m just following natures way of eating plenty of grains ( wheat berries, rye berries, buckwheat, Steel-cut oats) and diet which I do not get terrible spikes in blood sugar and leaves me binging. It dooes however keep me full for 6 hour periods at a time.

    I am astonished by your anti-grain approach, as I see no reason for it.

  10. David mcpherson 10 April 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    I’ve never been diagnosed with coelliac but I saw a vast improvement in my health in 2005 when I went low carb for the first time in Australia. Skin and gut symptoms went away and I had strength in my gut for the first time. I basically felt human again!..unfortunately I started eating grains again in 2008 when I was rushing about working late. That’s when my health literally collapsed and I found myself in Aberdeen royal with a diagnosis of MS presenting with the symptoms of ataxia and peripheral neuropathy and damage to the mylein. The neurologist didn’t ever suggest that I was a coelliac even though guidelines have been updated to include for manifestations of ataxia and neuropathy. That’s accepted by the medical profession if not yet widely known!…anyway I have fully recovered my ability to walk now and I am a patient of dr hajavassilou at Sheffield royal hall a,shire hospital. I’m of interest having now been in remission without symptoms for 3 years!..it’s unknown whether I have MS or not.

  11. Matt Palfrey 12 April 2011 at 11:42 am #

    @MrWeetabix – “natures way of eating plenty of grains”? Which nature is that? Good luck finding wheat in the wild.

    And you say you’re 46kg like it’s a badge of health – there’s lots more going on besides using your weight as an indicator of health.

  12. MrWeetabix 12 April 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    My blood pressure is normal, by oxygen saturation is above average even though I smoke.

    My white blood count is good, my bones are excellent.

    I walk 7 miles a day on average and cycle around 2 miles….And I could never do those things eating flesh and lactation fluids….

    You can find wheat in the wild but it needs to be culivated, plus you don’t get meat yourself? unless your hunting pigeons!

    As I stated previously, the animals of which you are eating now didn’t exist during the paleoltihic era.

    This is also evidence of starch grains in the teeth of the paleolithic peoples…and like the aboriginies of Australia…their diet is mostly fruits and vegetation which is likely to be similar to earlier homo sub species.

    The Inuit however have a diet very high in protein but have high painful rates of osteoporosis.

    The Japanese have a starch based diet, as do other long living cultures such as the Indian.

    The Western society has a diet very high in fat and animal protein..grass fed or not…There is simple no hiding the fact these foods are evil to mankind.

    Just because of a food is not edible in first sigh ( wheat,rye) doesn’t mean it’s a much more suitable alternative than animal muscle and hen periods…

  13. Jill H 13 April 2011 at 2:06 am #

    Sam – forgive me but I cannot call you MrWeetabix – I was a sickly child and force fed the stuff along with plenty of milk – I became even more of a sickly child – I have never done well with industrialized food) but then I don’t believe anybody has. Which brings me to my point – I just cannot believe that you are vegetarian (vegan?) and do not care about the health and well-being of the animals our ancestors domesticated – I had always felt that this was one very good reason for being vegetarian – although my viewpoint may be different – I have always respected it. But you are the second non meat eater to state ‘grass fed or not’ as if if was of small consequence to you how domesticated animals are treated. Their suffering, or lack of it, their animal happiness, or animal misery, are down to us. It matters a great deal how these animals are kept (for their health and actually, I believe for ours too) But of course there we differ and you will say “but you kill and eat them’ . I worked with livestock for fifteen years and these creatures are deeply dependent on us – the dependency would not be suspended if we all became vegetarian. These animals would not, could not revert to the wild – so what happens to these animals? Do we consign them to reservations? – wildlife parks where the wildlife is not wild? It is just not possible to abandon them to their own fate – that would be cruel – your vegetarian (vegan) utopia does not seem to include the health and wellbeing of other species besides the human animal. By the way Sam – I am 61 years old, weigh 110 lbs – work two days and one night at a wildlife sanctuary, dance and walk my labrador dog twice a day every day and yes, I do eat animals that have lived well, have been fed appropriately (grass) and cared for by someone who respects them – along with certain grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables that have been grown – again respecting the land -and that for me, is in partnership with the domesticated animals we share this planet with.

  14. Matt Palfrey 13 April 2011 at 10:34 am #

    @MrWeetabix – You walk 7 miles a day? Wow, what a hero. If you want bragging rights you can swing by my gym – we avoid grains and I guarantee we are fitter, stronger, faster and healthier than you. How does that fit into your rationale?

  15. MrWeetabix 13 April 2011 at 11:59 am #


    I do care sincerely about animals, the reason I stated ‘grass fed or not’ is that no matter how the animal is raised, there is still no excuse to eat it.

    I’m not saying release all the cows, pigs etc into the wild, as that would be ridiculous, but the continous breeding of the animals creates a prolonged ritual of cruelty and death.

    I’m not competeting with you in terms of weight, but I would add I am 6ft and weigh less than you, while you are probably say 5ft 1inch? 😉

    I walk my little staff puppy too, and looking at her in the eyes I can see true intelligence and emotions and would not wish to eat her or cause any harm what so ever.

    How could you raise an animal all happy and cheerful then say ‘ you’re times up mate, time to get the electric shockers of her head’ is just doesn’t seem right, especially when meat is not vital to health, and could perhaps be opposite….Meat is just for the palate, and if you really are this compassionate carnivore perhaps you could give veganism a go for a month? ( I’m not vegetarian, the dairy industryy is worst than the meat)

  16. MrWeetabix 13 April 2011 at 7:14 pm #

    Let me guess Matthew,

    You’re BMI is over 25? oh, but you aren’t overweight cause it’s ‘muscle’.

    Like I said, I am not competing with people, just stating that veganism is the best way to go.

    Human beings are not designed to eat meat…even look at our digestive system…it is so long to process cereals and vegetable matter.

    Carnivores have short tracts….And have you ever tried hunting an animal with your bare hands? and sticking your teeth into it? You will not be able to bring it down

  17. Jill H 13 April 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Ouch – 5ft 41/4 ins actually Sam. I guessed that you would care passionately about the health and wellbeing of animals and therefore, even as a vegan, at least consider the importance to animal (if not human health) of a traditional model of livestock husbandry using pasture as opposed to CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations) . For me there is a crucial moral difference between a good farm and the CAFO system. Animal happiness is unmistakable – the opportunity to express its creaturely character – its essential pigness or chickenness and that the diet of that animal has a bearing on its nutritional quality and healthfulness -that the health of soil, plant, animal and eater are all connected for me seems self evident. We perhaps cannot agree about an animals death but perhaps could agree about the importance of the quality of that life. I am not a scientist – but I think that Dr John Briffa does a good job on this site making understandable a great deal of scientific evidence that backs up how nutritious meat is. I do totally agree with you that eating fish and meat is not essential for human survival but we, I guess, will always differ on whether we think it is ‘essential for good health’.

  18. Matt Palfrey 13 April 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    Who cares about BMI? And most of the other stuff you said made no sense at all. I’m glad you don’t eat meat though…it means there is more for the rest of us.

    I’ve tried not eating meat before – have you ever tried Paleo?

  19. MrWeetabix 14 April 2011 at 7:22 am #

    Nope, I would never pollute my body with such disease causing substances.

    And @Jill H….I agree the CAFO system ould be preferable, but I would like to see no slaughter at all, I just can’t stand the emmense suffering, even if for a few seconds…It is wrong, and so frightening for an innocent animal, who had so much more life to live.

    Also have you seen the research that shows Humans have 5 times the amount of Amalayse ( the enzyme to digest carbohydrate into glucose) than the Gorilla?

    If you want a true Early Human diet, just look at the Ape which is soley vegetarian!

    And please don’t insult my way of life with the ‘more meat for you’.

    You will discover as you age the osteoporosis and other healh problems, and if you think cause your 60 your all right, you could die any second and 60 is still weigh below A.L.E

    And Matt…Come on! what’s your B.M.I? I’m right aren’t I? you’re not overweight, it’s just muscle

  20. MrWeetabix 14 April 2011 at 7:28 am #

    And you could never truely care about something you would kill for unnessecary reasons, when you know meat is not vital for good health.

    And may I also state, I really don’t consider standing around, and occassionally cleaning a cage very demanding, and the dancing of which is proberly at the weekly Pensioner get together is probably also lacking much movement.

    I don’t wish to insult you, but when things are made out to seem much more developed than they are, I have to comment.

    I do not hate people who eat meat, including you 2. But I just wish you would see the light.

  21. MrWeetabix 14 April 2011 at 7:30 am #

    And look for the sources of which Dr Briffa’s research comes from. It really likely to be biased.

  22. Matt Palfrey 14 April 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Do you even know anything about the BMI measure – it would appear not. Especially as your BMI (at 46 kg and 6ft) puts you at a dangerously low weight.

    BMI has been shown time and time again to be an ineffective measure of individuals. It is really only suited to large populations – and even then, it is generally ineffective.

    And yes, my BMI is 28 – which makes me “overweight”. Does it mean I’m unhealthy? No.

    Please explain to me why you think BMI is an indicator of health.

  23. MrWeetabix 14 April 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    No matter whether weight is fat or muscle, being overweight puts stress on your bones leading to arthritis etc.

    Also diabetes risk increases with above’ normal’ B.M.I.

    But I know underweight also poses problems, but there is some research that caloric restriction extends life.

    My B.M.I is 14.3 and is supposedly meant to be emaciated, but I feel fine and my tests are all normal.

    Therefore, I can see your point on B.M.I. But surely being overweight is not good for your bones

  24. Matt Palfrey 14 April 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    The fact is that the research that you are speaking of (an increase in diabetes, arthritis etc.) has a purely casual relationship to BMI. It just so happens that most people with a high BMI also have a high body fat level and a poor diet. The fact that I, and others like me, have a low body fat level and a good diet makes the BMI measure inaccurate.

    Load bearing exercise and a good diet strengthens bones.

    Diabetes can be caused by a diet high in sugar and starch.

    I can appreciate that you have some problems with your diet and eating in general. I really think a shift, albeit a minor one, towards an un-processed diet (meat or not) would be beneficial for your health.

  25. MrWeetabix 14 April 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    My diet consists of steel cut oats, wheat berries, rye berries and lentils…of which is processed?

  26. Matt Palfrey 15 April 2011 at 6:48 am #

    You need to eat some fruit, vegetables and lean protein – this is the reason you are dangerously underweight at 46kg. But I suspect plenty of people have told you this already and you still won’t listen.

    If you want to eat this way then fine, but don’t try to suggest that it’s a healthy way to eat. Man is designed to eat animals, fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.

    You’ve already demonstrated a severe lack of understanding on this subject so please stop spouting nonsense.

    Oh, and are you also listed as MrWeetabix on other sites?

  27. MrWeetabix 15 April 2011 at 7:14 am #

    What do you eat mate? including the whey protein?

  28. MrWeetabix 15 April 2011 at 7:14 am #

    Matt* lol

  29. Matt Palfrey 15 April 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    I eat exactly what I have listed above – lean meats and fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Seriously, you should try it.

  30. listening 23 July 2011 at 3:05 am #

    Can you take a look at Genesis at the Creator’s diet, the one first given to Man. It consisted of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds etc. It was after the Flood that God gave Moses etc. permission to eat meat which shortened their and subsequent generation’s lives. In the beginning the world was absolutely beautiful and we could have lived a long time enjoying it…
    I hope I don’t offend anyone 🙂


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