Lots and lots of research is being done on the microbiome. Let’s talk about it a bit and how it may or may not affect celiac disease.
The microbiome consists of the microorganisms living in our bodies. Some estimates claim there are over 1 trillion microorganisms living on and in us. For example, most of us live successfully with methicillin-resistance Staphloccoccus aureus (MRSA) in our nasal passages and on our skin. When the skin is broken through a cut or scrape, the MRSA gets past the skin barrier and can wreak havoc or even death. This is an example of how an innocuous bacteria in the wrong place is bad.
Most of the time though when people talk about the microbiome, they are talking about the gut. There are billions and billions of organisms living in our gut that actually perform the function of breaking down our food to be absorbed by the villi that line the small intestine.
The microbiome shifts and adjusts to what we eat. When we take antibiotics we alter the microbiome. Some say the microbiome is adjusted permanently if too many antibiotics. Some say the microbiome affects our weight because the wrong type of bacteria is overpowering a “skinny” microorganism.
The study of the microbiome is relatively new in science, like within the last 10 years they have really started studying these small organisms.
I’m going to focus specifically on the microbiome of the gut and how it is affected. I read an article in another group about the microbiome and the Keto diet. The study says that prolonged exposure to the Keto diet will change the microbiome. The Keto diet is a high fat very low carbohydrate diet. Practitioners of the Keto diet expierence fatigue and gastrointestinal distress when re-introducing carbohydrates. Studies have shown that the bacteria in the microbiome that digest carbohydrates have been virtually eliminated after the Keto diet has been implemented. Slowly reintroducing carbohydrates will allow the microbiome to repopulate and allow people to reintroduce carbohydrates to the diet.
I’m going to make a logical leap here and this is only my guess. If someone has been on a gluten free diet for any length of time and suddenly resumes the consumption of gluten, they too may have significant issues. These potential issues also may be true of people attempting a gluten challenge after having been gluten free for an extended period of time. Or someone just tired of the gluten free diet and then trying to reintroduce gluten. Or potentially when a drug comes out for celiac disease allow us to consume gluten again, this might become an issue to think about.
I did find a study confirming that dietary changes take place in the microbiome on a gluten free diet. They took 60 healthy Danish patients. They put 30 on a “low gluten” diet for 8 weeks and the other 30 on a “high gluten” diet. The “low gluten” diet contained 2g of gluten per day and the “high gluten” diet was 18g of gluten per day with a “washout” period of normal gluten consumption of 12g per day for 6 weeks before the switch. I realize this isn’t a true gluten free diet but it is pretty close. After 8 weeks, they switched the groups. The group on the “low gluten” diet noticed fewer incidences intestinal bloating, lower fasting and postprandial hydrogen exhalation, and moderate changes in the microbiome. They say that the changes may be driven by the amount of dietary fiber in the “high gluten” vs. “low gluten” diet.
Extrapolate that into a gluten free diet vs. a non-gluten free diet. Those moderate changes could lead to larger changes for those on a long term gluten free diet.
This also leads into a discussion of probiotics and probiotics in the celiac community. I’ve written about these in the past and will repost my article today about them. Just a hint – they are not effective for helping celiac symptoms.
I think the bottom line here is that the microbiome is a malleable part of our bodies. It changes with each bite of food we eat. When we eliminate a food group – like gluten or dairy – and then try to add it back in, we need to add it slowly to allow our microbiome to repopulate and properly digest the new food group.