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Does Gluten Cause Anemia?
Iron deficiency anemia is one the most common nutritional deficits found in patients with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and it has been reported as the most frequent extraintestinal symptom in adult celiac disease. It may also be the primary symptom experienced by celiacs, even in the absence of diarrhea or weight loss. So you might be wondering, does gluten cause anemia?
Patients with celiac disease or NCGS are often unable to properly absorb iron due to damage to the small intestine (known as villous atrophy). In addition, gluten can damage the acid producing cells of the stomach. Acid is a necessary component for iron absorption, so this lack of acid can lead to anemia even if the small intestine is not damaged (e.g., without villous atrophy).
While eating gluten may not immediately cause the onset of anemia, eating gluten can cause iron loss over time. This initially leads to a slow or gradual onset of symptoms, but as more time passes, a major iron deficiency anemia can develop. As anemia leads to oxygen deficiency, it can reduce the body’s ability to generate energy and inhibit the healing process. This creates a difficult cycle for celiac patients to try to heal, especially if their anemia goes undiagnosed.
Can a gluten-free diet help cure anemia?
The next logical question is then, if iron deficiency is commonly caused by celiac disease or NCGS, can eating a gluten-free diet help resolve anemia in celiac or NCGS patients?
One study of 190 adult patients with iron deficiency anemia studied this. The adults were screened for celiac disease by duodenal biopsy and the 26 people (24 women, 2 men) diagnosed with celiac disease were asked to follow a gluten-free diet alone without iron supplementation. After six months of a gluten-free diet, follow up duodenal biopsies and hematological tests were performed at 6, 12, and 24 months. At six months, 78% female patients recovered from anemia and 28% reversed their iron deficiency. At 12 months, all but one patient (94.4%) recovered from anemia and 50% of patients reversed their iron deficiency. After 24 months of diet, still only one patient was anemic, and 55.5% reversed their iron deficiency. Note this study did not include people with NCGS, but provides promising evidence that iron deficiency anemia can often be resolved in newly-diagnosed celiac disease patients by following a gluten-free diet.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This video is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. It is strictly intended for educational purposes only. Additionally, this information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician. Dr. Osborne is not a medical doctor. He does not treat or diagnose disease. He offers nutritional support to people seeking an alternative from traditional medicine. Dr. Osborne is licensed with the Pastoral Medical Association.
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