If you struggle with celiac disease or gluten allergies, probiotics — or "good" bacteria — may offer help in treating some of the complications that arise from those medical conditions.
In celiac disease, a component of gluten, called gliadin, causes inflammation in the intestine, and over time the inflammation can become so severe that the body fails to remove needed nutrients and minerals from food, according to the American Celiac Disease Alliance
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Although the only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet, studies have shown that taking a probiotic may prevent gluten from harming the intestinal lining. One study published in 2008 in the Clinical Experimental Immunology journal
found that probiotic strains of Lactobacillus fermentum or Bifidobacerium lactis "inhibit the toxic effects of gliadin in intestinal cell culture conditions."
B. lactis, in particular, showed promise, and the study recommended further research to determine its potential as a dietary supplement to treat celiac disease.
Dr. Alessio Fasano, who leads a research team at the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment, has researched and explored the idea that probiotics may have an impact in how autoimmune diseases are triggered. Although it is still too early to recommend probiotics for treatment, Fasano and his team are tracking how the microflora in the gut play a role in autoimmune disease development, Scientific American reported
Probiotics may indeed hold potential for treating celiac disease and gluten allergies or sensitivities, but an important study came out in 2014 detailing how the very probiotic supplements many people take may contain gluten themselves.
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The study made headlines after researchers at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University found that more than 50 percent of the supplements people with gluten allergies were taking to fight their immune issue actually contained gluten, The New York Times said
. Some of the products even said "gluten-free" on the labels.
"The question is: Why are companies putting wheat or barley or rye in probiotic supplements?” lead study author Dr. Peter H.R. Green told the NYT. “People use these natural products in an attempt to be healthy. Yet it’s a very poorly regulated industry. Can anyone trust a gluten-free label?”
The Times article pointed to studies showing celiac patients using probiotic supplements "report that they have a higher quality of life but — paradoxically — more bloating, cramping, irregular bowel movements and other symptoms of celiac disease."
So although probiotic supplements may offer hope for treating celiac disease and gluten sensitivities in the future, their use may not be helpful right now. Consult your doctor before adding any over-the-counter product to your health routine.
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