There are over 300 symptoms of celiac disease. When untreated, celiac can affect every part of the body. The liver can be affected by celiac and you need a liver to be alive. Today, we will talk about what the liver does and how celiac can affect the liver.
I only think of the liver as the organ of the body that processes my alcoholic beverages on Saturday night. But it seems to do a lot more than that, who knew?
First the liver is located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It is important to know where stuff is in the body. If my liver hurts, I think I should know where it is. The liver holds about a pint of blood at any one time and has two major lobes. It weighs about 3 pounds and is cone shaped. It isn’t a small organ.
The liver regulates most chemical levels in the blood and excretes bile. Bile helps carry waste products away from the bod and break down fats in the small intestine.
All blood from the stomach and intestines travels through the liver. The liver processes this blood and breaks down, balances, and creates the nutrients and also metabolizes drugs into forms that are easier to use for the rest of the body or that are nontoxic. The bile processed through the digestive system is excreted through feces. The bile that processes blood products is processed through the kidneys and excreted as urine.
The liver does a big job. It also helps in the processing of certain blood plasma proteins, storage of excess glucose in the form of glycogen, regulation of amino acids in the blood, production of cholesterol, and clearing the blood of drugs and other poisons.
How is the liver related to celiac disease?
The liver processes all nutrients broken down in the stomach and small intestine. In untreated celiac disease, the intestinal barrier is broken causing increased permeability. In other words, things that should not get into the liver to be processed do get through into the liver. The additional load from the more permeable intestinal barrier causes the liver to work harder and can increase liver enzymes.
Often times these liver enzymes, ALT or AST on blood test results, are slightly elevated at the time of celiac diagnosis. A liver biopsy may show damage to the liver as well. Celiac hepatitis is defined as damage and/or slightly elevated liver enzyme test results coincide with a celiac diagnosis and resolve on a gluten free diet.
The good news
In everything I’ve read, which is only about 5 scientific journal articles so know that my search was less than exhaustive, says that damage to the liver typically resolves once a gluten free diet is implemented. They don’t say how long it takes or if everyone heals. They just say the liver heals after a gluten free diet is implemented. Another good reason to implment and stick to a gluten free diet.
The bad news
Other diseases associated with the liver might be more serious. They seem to fall into two categories. Ones that may have celiac as a root cause or contributing factor seem to resolve on a gluten free diet. The autoimmune liver diseases like primary biliary cirrhosis, autoimmune hepatitis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis have a no response to a gluten free diet. The more serious liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, has a moderate response to a gluten free diet.
The main article I used was written in 2008. In a quick scan of the dates of articles looking at the liver and celiac disease, none are more recent than 2011. It might be time for some more investigation into liver damage and celiac disease.
Epic and totally unrelated side note
Before my celiac diagnosis in my carefree 20’s, I was on a business trip in Dublin, Ireland. My first day in Dublin I went to the Guiness factory. I think I had at least one, and often times more, Guiness for every lunch and dinner for the entire two weeks I was there. I even had one very big, very drunken night after the Hurling Championships that was a LOT of fun. At the end of the trip, I told people my liver hurt from all the consumption of alcoholic beverages. After doing this research, it was really my kidneys that were sore. 😉