Sunday, March 23, 2014

Can a Gluten-Free Diet Cure Iron-deficiency Anemia?

Iron-deficiency Anemia - Can a Gluten-free Diet Help? Photo by Dr. Graham Beards
Some people who have low iron levels and experience anemia find the condition very difficult to treat. Even with medications, some people's levels remain low. After a healthcare provider rules out issues like obvious bleeding or dietary deficiencies, he or she might consider additional causes such as celiac sprue, also known as celiac disease or gluten-sensitive enteropathy.

Estimates indicate that approximately 0.5% to 1% of the Caucasian population tests positive for celiac sprue. When someone with this condition ingests even tiny amounts of gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, or barley) microscopic changes occur in the intestines. These changes make it difficult for the body to absorb various nutrients such as iron, folate, and protein.

People with undiagnosed celiac disease may suffer many years from symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain after ingesting gluten, which is found in numerous foods and some brands of products such as toothpaste, spices, medications, alcohol, etc. People with celiac sprue may be misdiagnosed with a variety of gastrointestinal conditions and may experience a wide variety of additional health issues, including iron-deficiency anemia, related to the condition. Some people may test positive for celiac disease and yet do not experience classic intestinal symptoms, which can make this a difficult condition to identify. Unfortunately, most hematologists do not routinely screen patients with iron-deficiency anemia for celiac disease.

If gluten-sensitive enteropathy is causing iron-deficiency anemia, eliminating all gluten from the diet may have very favorable results. At this time, a completely gluten-free diet is the only safe and effective treatment for celiac disease. The change in diet can lead to healing of the intestines, and the body may begin to absorb more nutrients, including iron. This is not a quick fix – the healing process may take months or even years; however, the anemia symptoms may begin to fade or completely disappear as levels return to normal.

Those who have iron-deficiency anemia or have symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia should seek the advice of one's primary healthcare professional. Changing to a gluten-free diet or taking over-the-counter iron supplements could lead to other health problems if not carefully supervised by a qualified professional.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.

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  • Admou B. et. al. Atypical Celiac Disease: From Recognizing to Managing, Gastroenterology Research & Practice, 2012.
  • Phillip R. et. al. Endocrine Manifestations of Celiac Disease, Indian Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism, December 2012.
  • Singh, Prashant et. al. Celiac Disease in Older Adults, Journal of Gastrointestinal & Liver Diseases, September 2013.
  • Smukalla, B. et. al. How Often Do Hematologists Consider Celiac Disease in Iron-Deficiency Anemia? Results of a National Survey, Clinical Advances in Hematology & Oncology, February 2014.
  • Waldo, Rick T. Iron-deficiency anemia due to silent celiac sprue, National Institutes of Health online article accessed 3/23/2014.

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