A Guide to Nutritional Supplements if You're Celiac
Supplements If You’re Celiac (Or, Gut Good Recovery)
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009, and I was 86 lbs. Malnourished is probably an understatement. Doctors prescribed Ensure, and after a few months, I had a dietitian as well who recommended various supplements in the vitamin or mineral category.
But I had two things that many of us with celiac -- a silent disease once it’s treated seemingly -- have in spades: a bit of shame, and stubborn (and excited) I can do it! self-will. I can do it! translated to the belief that I could trundle along just fine if I ate perfectly, lots of whole foods, and did it with great dedication and seriousness. SERIOUSNESS with capital letters. Also, by eating salmon.
But can you treat a disease that has ravaged your digestive system to the point that it has not been able to absorb the food you give it simply with more food?
The answer is Yes! And no.
Yes, once one has gone gluten-free, celiac 99.9% of the time goes into relative remission, so to speak; that is, your t-cells shut up, and your villi (the little absorbing fingers in your small gut) perk back up, and you can absorb what goes down your throat. In light of that Yes! Eating whole foods, eating regularly, and eating variety (perhaps even mostly organic) gets you a good solid.
No, because celiac disease is a disease that can be arrested, but not cured. No, because some celiacs have enough damage to their insides those villi never truly perk all the way back up. No, because perhaps eating perfectly, all the time, is a bit of an impossibility, and even consistently may not do it for a celiac -- especially in the first 5 years of recovery. (A pertinent note: It does or can take up to, and over, 5 years to recover fully as an adult from celiac disease.)
So are supplements -- vitamin and mineral, or whole-meal-supplements, worthwhile?
If so, what are the supplements celiacs really need? Below, I highlight a few that address the common and not-so-common deficiencies created by celiac disease in your body. Weight may be the number one deficiency when you’re first diagnosed. (Sometimes, an abundance of weight is also a symptom -- a rarely noted, but just as common problem for celiac patients.) If you’re an athlete, or vegan, you may want to consider a protein supplement as well, but more on that as we go along.
Collagen: what it is-- Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is the substance that holds the whole body together. It is found in the bones, muscles, skin and tendons, where it forms a scaffold to provide strength and structure. As a supplement, it is sourced from either fish, or beef sources usually.
How it heals (why good for celiac) -- Collagen, in many studies, has been shown to heal the small intestine. As the substance that "holds things together", it also puts things back together in a way that other proteins don't necessarily. This is why bone-broth both in modern studies, and traditionally, has been used to heal, since a proper bone-broth is full of the gelatin and collagen of the bones used in its making.
What kind? Make sure it isn’t doused in chemicals or antibiotics -- as much of our livestock is these days. Vital Proteins and Nu Naturals are two producers of some of the best collagen supplements available. Both are celiac safe.
Omega-3’s (EFA's) -- what they are: Essential fatty acids, meaning fats necessary to human functioning, Omega 3's are particularly anti-immflammatory and not generally abundant in the modern diet. They play a crucial role in brain function, and proper digestion.
How they heal -- Anti-inflammatory, these oils/fats both soothe the stress-reaction caused by a constantly inflammatory disease, and support brain and heart health. They’re also healing to your villi, and aid in the recovery of those little gut-fingers’ ability to grab nutrition again.
What kind? A wild-caught fish-oil blend is ideal, and most easily absorbed. A suitable oil is available from many brand. You may also supplement with a flax/chia oil. Or, if trying to utilize whole foods, add chia seeds, flax seeds, mackerel and salmon, into your diet.
D3: what it is-- Fat-soluble vitamin necessary for… obtained from sunlight. Deficient in many, not just the celiac population, but often low in celiac disease because celiacs lose the ability to digest or absorb fat, which makes any D3 intake from sun or dietary sources slip right on through the system.
How it heals -- Vitamin D3 is necessary to the body’s ability to absorb calcium. No D, bad bones. This is one facet of the prevalence of osteoperosis in both men and women left long undiagnosed. D3 also seems necessary to healthy weight and muscle development.
What kind? Prescription or whole-food-based supplements seem best absorbed. If you have a celiac specialist, ask for a prescription. Garden of Life and Now Foods both make high-quality over the counter products.
Protein: what it is (as a supplement) -- A powder, usually, and depending upon sourcing, either vegan or vegetarian. The most common protein powders are derived either from whey or a blend of legumes/grains (for ex. rice, pea, buckwheat, azuki or lentil). Although hemp protein is a complete protein, derived from a seed, regardless of whether it’s blended with any other nut/grain/seed.
How it heals (why good for celiac) -- Protein is one of the 3 macronutrients necessary for a body to, you know, live. If you’ve suffered weight loss, malnutrition, or expend an excessive amount of energy in activity as an athlete, you risk cannibalizing organ strength and tissue through lack of sufficient protein. Protein heals muscles, provides the aminos necessary to healthy brain function, and supports your internal organs.
Protein powders or liquids can be more necessary for celiacs a) not eating meat or b) athletes. But in the beginning, especially if one is restoring weight or strength, an additional side of protein with breakfast or as a snack aids muscle restoration, organ healing, and...
What kind? Garden of Life (Plant Protein, Sport Protein, Raw Protein), Now Foods (Vegan blends of pea/rice/seeds or Whey and Egg White), Manitoba Harvest (hemp) are all standouts for me. I enjoy their flavour, and consistency, and trust their production process, and quality. But these days, there are many celiac-safe brands. Double check. Many now say “gluten-free” without testing protocols in place, and use grains or seeds processed in facilities with wheat.
If you can tolerate dairy, Tera's Whey makes the best option. Tera's is grass-fed and hormone-free, as well as gluten-free.
So do you need a supplement? Yes -- and no. Yes, because whether an athlete like me, or dealing with the just-as-great-challenge of keeping healthy with an autoimmune disease, extra support is well worth it. Yes, because: give yourself the best, and don’t do it alone. My intentions with whole foods and can-do attitude were all peachy-perfect in motive. But life, and healing, alone thinking both can be done perfectly isn’t in the cards -- and if neither of those was applicable, adding a supplement on might still be an always-hip-hip-yes-LET’s! for a kid with celiac disease
Celiac gives me a short on a few things--time, eating-on-the-fly-options, certain social events. Why sell yourself shorter? The world is full of good (gluten-free too), and you deserve the most support, the most nutrition, the most recovery and health -- and when we’re whole, we actually have the opportunity to live fully, not on the edge of neediness or disease.
Eat whole foods. Be willing to supplement. Listen to your body, mates.