Could Your GERD Symptoms Be Related To Celiac Disease?

05. 05. 2014

If you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you probably know all the classic foods to avoid. Tomatoes, onions, spicy foods and fatty foods are typically off limits for those following a heartburn-friendly diet. But here’s a dietary culprit you may not have considered: gluten. This protein composite, found in wheat, barley and rye, triggers symptoms in those with celiac disease, and one of those symptoms can be GERD.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by an abnormal response to gluten. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, the immune system responds negatively by damaging the villi in the lining of the small intestine. The villi are microscopic, finger-like protrusions that absorb nutrients from food and carry them to the bloodstream. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to properly absorb nutrients and may become malnourished. This opens the door for a variety of health problems, including anemia, osteoporosis and an increased risk of lymphoma.

There are over 300 symptoms of celiac disease, and symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. However, one symptom that frequently occurs is GERD. A recent study assessed the prevalence of GERD in adult patients with celiac disease. The study found that among 133 patients with celiac disease, 30 percent experienced moderate to severe GERD. However, after three months of gluten-free dieting, GERD symptoms improved both rapidly and persistently (Source: PubMed).

A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease, and it can greatly improve GERD symptoms in celiac patients as well. Gluten-free dieting involves completely removing all forms of wheat, barley and rye from your diet, such as:

  • Breads
  • Pastas
  • Cereals
  • Cakes
  • Cookies

In order to consumer foods like these, they must be made with gluten-free grains, such as corn, rice or soy.

Eliminating gluten entirely can be quite a challenge, because gluten is often found in products you might not expect, such as pickles, hot dogs and even lip balm. Gluten-free labels are helpful, but be sure to read the entire list of ingredients and the fine print. Some gluten-free products are processed in facilities that also process wheat, which presents the risk of cross-contamination.

If you suspect that your GERD symptoms are the result of gluten sensitivity, be sure to consult your doctor before beginning a gluten-free diet. Your doctor may want to order a gluten antibody blood test to check for celiac disease, and the accuracy of this test relies on the presence of gluten in your diet. If the test result is positive, the next step will be a biopsy of the small intestine to check for damage to the villi. If the biopsy confirms the diagnosis, your doctor may recommend working with a dietitian to help you begin a gluten-free diet. Once gluten is completely removed from your diet, your body will begin to heal itself and your symptoms will start to improve.

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