If you have celiac disease, you know that a gluten-free diet will help alleviate symptoms like diarrhea, weight-loss, abdominal pain, fatigue and others. However, some people find their symptoms remain, even after they eliminate gluten from their diets.
When this occurs, doctors generally assume symptoms haven't gone away due to:
- Noncompliance with a gluten-free diet, or
- Refractory celiac disease, which means the tiny villi in your intestines are being eroded and are no longer capable of absorbing nutrients.
However, a group of researchers at the University of Maryland posed a third possibility after doctors at the school's Center for Celiac Research identified a group of patients who were compliant with a gluten-free diet, but remained symptomatic.
Perhaps, they hypothesized, these patients were reacting to trace amounts of gluten found in processed food products. To determine if this was indeed the case, researchers followed a group of non-responsive celiac patients over the course of seven years.
First, study participants were placed on a Gluten Contamination Elimination Diet. The diet called for patients to eat only whole foods - fresh fruits and veggies, fresh meat, some condiments, white and brown rice. Nothing processed, canned or frozen could be consumed.
Of the patients who remained on the diet for the prescribed three month period, all but three - or 81 percent - saw their symptoms go away. And, 79 percent of the patients who got better were able to return to a traditional gluten-free diet that included frozen, canned and processed foods without seeing their symptoms return.
In their study, researchers wrote "... the fact that the majority of the patients in our study were subsequently able to return to their previous strict (gluten-free diet) suggests that there is a degree of recovery that, once established, shifts these patients back to a more typical threshold of gluten reactivity."
This study is great news for people who have tried following a gluten-free diet, but not experienced relief from celiac symptoms.