Can Gluten Cause Giant Cell Arteritis?
Before answering the question about gluten and Giant cell arteritis (GCA), let’s define what the disease is. GCA is an autoimmune condition that causes severe inflammation in the lining of medium and large arteries throughout the body. When the condition primarily affects the aortic, pulmonary, and renal arteries, it is referred to as Takayasu’s arteritis. When it primarily affects the arteries in the head and neck, it is referred to as temporal arteritis. Like many forms of autoimmune disease, giant cell arteritis commonly effects women. The symptoms of the disease can vary based on the location of the inflammation. One of the biggest dangers, is that the inflamed blood vessels make it hard for blood to pass to the brain and other tissues. This can lead to major issues like blindness, stroke, chronic pain, and migraine headaches.
Common Symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis
The symptoms of GCA can show up in different ways. According to researchers, the most common symptoms include:
- Dizziness and Vertigo
- Migraine Headaches
- Throbbing or Pulsing Headaches
- Visual Disturbances such as double vision and even loss of sight
- Scalp Tenderness
- Jaw & Tongue Pain (especially when chewing)
- Flu Like Symptoms (low grade fever, loss of appetite, general body aches, unintentional weight loss, depression, and fatigue)
- Neck Pain
- Muscle Pain & Stiffness – often a sign of polymyalgia rheumatica, a disease present in 40% of those with GCA
- Numbness in Fingers
- Extremity Pain
- Cold Extremities
- Shortness of Breath
- Heart Palpitations
- Chest Pressure
- High Blood Pressure (when the kidney blood vessels are affected)
Diagnosing & Allopathic Treatment of Giant Cell Arteritis
It is important that you follow up with your doctor if you suspect that you have GCA. The disease can be life threatening, and specialized testing can be done to help give you a proper diagnosis. Common tests performed by doctors to help diagnose GCA include: Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR), C-Reactive Protein (CRP), ultrasound over your arteries, and biopsy of suspected inflamed arteries.
Conventional treatment for GCA most commonly includes steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), immune suppressants, and acid blocking medications to prevent the risk of ulcers associated with long term steroid and NSAID use. Some doctors also prescribe medications to prevent bone loss, because long term steroid use is linked to osteoporosis.
What Causes Giant Cell Arteritis?
There is no clear scientific or medical consensus on what causes GCA. Like other forms of autoimmune disease, suspected triggers include, infection, nutritional deficiency, food sensitivity, and environmental chemical exposures.
Additional risk factor for the development of GCA include:
- Being a Women Over the Age of 50
- Smoking or a History of Smoking
- Having Certain HLA Genetic Variants
- Having a Family History of the Condition
- Having a Diagnosis of Polymyalgia Rheumatica
Is There a Link Between Gluten and Giant Cell Arteritis?
Can gluten cause giant cell arteritis? To date there are a number of studies that show a connection between celiac disease and GCA. The problem is, most of the research in this area comes from small case studies, and no direct correlation has been found. Spanish researchers published a report on patients who had both arteritis and celiac disease. In these cases, the arteritis symptoms preceded the diagnosis of celiac disease. The authors of the study warn that doctors should be aware of this connection as silent celiac disease is common and often times the diagnosis comes from symptoms outside the GI tract.
A case of a women with aortic arteritis and untreated celiac disease was reported by doctors in 1995 in the journal, Clinical Rheumatology. Another case study found an association between arteritis, autoimmune thyroid disease, and celiac disease. A case report published in 1996 found a case of celiac disease manifesting as arteritis. Several researchers studies show similarities between celiac disease and GCA genotypes, including HLA-B8, and HLA-DQα1.
Though no definitive evidence or research studies have shown a direct causal relationship with gluten and arteritis, a number of case studies have been published showing a possible connection. Because treatment for giant cell arteritis is life long steroids and immunosuppression, a gluten free diet seems to be a plausible area where future research should be focused. Especially considering, the very well established success rate that the gluten free diet has in treating other forms of autoimmune disease.
Are There Natural Remedies for Arteritis?
As mentioned above, autoimmune disease has four well established triggers – infection, nutritional deficiencies, food sensitivities, and environmental chemical exposures. You should begin your natural journey with these things in mind.
Step 2 – ask your doctor to test you for food allergies and food sensitivities. Make sure to ask for genetic testing of gluten sensitivity. Addressing your diet, is an important step is controlling all forms of autoimmunity and inflammation.
Step 3 – Ask your doctor to test you for nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin D. Many vitamins and minerals help to regulate the immune response. Deficiencies of key nutrients have been linked to a number of different forms of autoimmune disease.
Step 4 – Avoid as much as possible any exposure to environmental chemicals. Though you can’t control what is in your air and water, you can filter them both (and you should). Make sure to select organic foods as much as possible to avoid exposure to pesticides and other chemicals commonly used in the growing or food.
Step 5 – Try a gluten free diet. There is no danger in going gluten free. It might make a major difference in your outcome. Make sure to have your doctor monitor your inflammation levels to compare before and after the gluten free diet. If your markers drop significantly while eating a gluten free diet, you will have an answer. If you need to learn more about gluten, take this free masterclass.
In addition to the key steps above, avoid alcohol and tobacco products. Both have been linked to inflammation and poor health. If you are trying to help your body heal naturally, these will only get in the way. You may also consider using some of the following natural anti inflammatory supplements, foods, and essential nutrients commonly depleted as a result of the chronic use of steroids used to treat arteritis:
- Turmeric – Turmeric has been well studied for it’s natural inflammation controlling properties. A double blind, placebo controlled trial treating arteritis patients with turmeric found superior outcomes using this powerful plant based compound.
- Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium, Zinc & Vitamin C – These nutrients are depleted by prescription steroid medications over time. The longer you are taking steroids, the more you need to be concerned about drug induced nutritional deficiencies. Studies have found vitamin D status to be lacking in patients with arteritis. Ask your doctor to monitor your level of these nutrients and consider supplementing with them preventatively.
- Omega 3 – most modern diets are high in omega 6 and low in omega 3 fatty acids. This imbalance has been linked to increased vascular inflammation as measured by elevations in the lab markers ESR and CRP. Supplementing with omega 3 fats may be beneficial in supporting vascular health. Cold water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, cod, sardines, and anchovies are rich in omega 3 fats. Also consider eating flax, chia, and hemp seeds.