One episode of cross contamination takes months to recover. All celiacs are ingesting low levels of gluten every day. For most and most of the time the exposure is too low an amount for the body to react or for you to notice symptoms. The body is able to heal even with this low level of gluten exposure because the immune reaction is not trigged. When the level of exposure gets too high, the body will react and symptoms will appear. Studies show most celiac patients can tolerate up to 50mg of gluten exposure per day without effect. Note some celiac patients can tolerate higher (up to 100mg) and some lower (20mg) before symptoms and damage occur, but all can tolerate a small amount of exposure.
Furthermore, exposure to gluten do not completely destroy the villi with each exposure. Think of the destruction of villi like a river wearing away a mountain. A single exposure doesn’t mow the villi down to the nub. It might take a little off the top, like a rock slide off a mountain, but the mountain still exists. Over time and with continuous exposure, yes, significant damage will be done. Think of the Grand Canyon being created by continuous water exposure.
But a single episode of cross contamination or even major exposure does not completely destroy villi. It isn’t like a lawn mower cutting grass to the nub. It is more like getting your hair trimmed up or hemming a pair of pants.
Even with several major gluten exposures in a short amount of time, your celiac blood tests could remain normal. When I did a clinical trial, I was exposed to the equivalent of three slices of bread four times over the course of about twelve weeks. My celiac blood tests remained in the normal range. They didn’t budge. Was there damage done to my intestines? Six months after my role in the trial, I had an endoscopy with a clean bill of health. No damage.
Please don’t get this twisted – cross contamination should be avoided at every turn. But we have to be able to live with celiac disease. Having celiac disease and taking some precautions, you should be able to travel, eat out, and socialize with your friends. If celiac disease is stopping you from these things out of fear of getting sick or ruining your health, please reach out to a professional to help. Or keep reading this blog, I offer practical tips on how to ask the right questions at restaurant, eating meals at gas stations or in a desperate pinch, and a hopefully a bit of hope that having celiac is not the end of the fun!
Celiac disease isn’t going to stop me from living the life I want, even if I have to do it while being gluten free!