Gluten this, gluten that. These days, it seems that everyone considers cutting gluten out of their diet. Others are forced to do so because their body reacts violently to the wheat protein. The result? The inflammation damages the small intestine, causing adverse health consequences. These people have celiac disease. But food for thought - how does the gut microbiome play a part in celiac disease?
The microbes in our gut have a connection to our immune system, mental health, and more. Everyone’s mini-ecosystem is unique, made up of trillions of cells that aren’t even our own. Could these cells influence the development, severity, and treatment of celiac disease?
First, what is celiac disease? It’s a serious chronic disorder mediated by the immune system. In people with celiac disease, gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, triggers a serious inflammatory response that harms the small intestine. Symptoms vary widely from person to person, however many people share a few in common:
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lactose intolerance (due to damage to the small intestine)
Since the disorder’s damage can affect people’s ability to absorb nutrients, long-term symptoms and complications can occur all over the body. This includes damage to tooth enamel, weight loss, mood changes, and more.
What causes celiac disease? Multiple factors are at play. The science says that, in most cases, celiac disease can be attributed to genetics. In addition, the people with certain genetic variants associated with celiac disease that consume more gluten during childhood have a greater chance of developing celiac disease later on. How does the gut microbiome come into play?
The Microbiome’s Role
First, one thing that’s critical to understanding this interaction—the immune system is complicated. As Ed Yong, a science journalist and microbiome aficionado, puts it, “it’s an absurdly intricate network of cells and molecules that protect us from dangerous viruses and other microbes. These components summon, amplify, rile, calm, and transform one another: Picture a thousand Rube Goldberg machines, some of which are aggressively smashing things to pieces.” This aggression is what causes the inflammation associated with an immune reaction—redness, swelling, and soreness, and for those with celiac disease, damage to the small intestine.
Next, as complex as the immune system is, our gut microbiome also influences the immune system. How are they linked? First, the gut microbiome can inhibit the growth of certain bacterial populations. It also influences the degree of structural integrity in the intestinal lining. Moreover, growing research demonstrates that the “friendly” bacteria in our gut microbiome and their metabolites (products) also play a role in the creation, stability, and function of the cells in our immune system. Recent studies support that changes and abnormalities in the gut microbiome could be connected to several chronic immune disorders, including celiac disease.
How does this work? Our colon’s gut microbiomes are responsible for breaking down gluten. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species are the key players in this process. The specific breakdown patterns of these “friendly” bacteria influence the autoimmune risk associated with the consumption of gluten for those genetically predisposed to develop the disorder. For example, Lactobacillus bacteria use enzymes to cleave the gluten protein into smaller peptides (protein subunits). This process reduces the chance of the initiation of an immune response to gluten.
It’s no wonder that gut dysbiosis is more prevalent in those with celiac disease. Gut dysbiosis is the imbalance of “helpful” and “harmful” bacteria in the microbiome. Though the research is not conclusive, scientists hypothesize that gut dysbiosis is a risk factor for the development of celiac disease.
So what can be done? In animal studies, probiotics have shown beneficial and preventative effects as a possible therapeutic for celiac disease. Research involving humans shows promise but is limited. The field needs more research in humans to determine how to utilize probiotics with precision to alter the course of celiac disease development.
In the meantime, don’t shy away from foods rich in Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium—yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, etc. Consider a custom precision probiotic formulated by Flore for an extra boost!