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Prebiotics, Probiotics May Help Celiac Disease


Could beneficial bacteria known as probiotics and substances that support them, called prebiotics, improve the lives of people who have celiac disease? The authors of a new study in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggest that adding foods to the diet that contain prebiotics and probiotics could help people with celiac disease as well as those with other autoimmune diseases.

The intestinal tract (gut) is home to a wealth of bacteria, both beneficial and disease-causing, and it is important for all people to maintain a balance of the two to support optimal health. Diet and probiotic supplements are two ways to attain and support such a balance, and this strategy is often used to prevent and treat a variety of ailments, including cold and flu, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, diarrhea, and even to improve survival in premature infants.

Benefits of Probiotics

* Probiotics May Reduce Risk of Childhood Obesity

* Probiotics Reduce Cold and Flu Symptoms in Children

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* Blueberries, Probiotics Protect Against Colitis and Cancer

Celiac disease, which affects about 2 million people in the United States, is a chronic autoimmune disease in which diet plays a pivotal role. Specifically, when people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten (proteins found in certain grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and triticale), it creates an immune-mediated toxic reaction that causes inflammation and damage to the small intestine, which prevents the proper absorption of food.

The authors of the new study suggest that providing dietary prebiotics and probiotics to people who have celiac disease could reduce inflammation and result in a better quality of life. The scientists arrived at this conclusion when they simulated the intestinal environment of celiac disease in the laboratory using cultures of human peripheral mononuclear cells.

The experiment involved exposing the cells to “harmful” bacteria isolated from celiac patients and “beneficial” bacteria, bifidobacteria, both alone and along with disease triggers, and identifying the impact on certain indicators. The harmful Gram-negative bacteria induced greater pro-inflammatory substances (cytokines) than the bifidobacteria, and also provoked cell surface markers involved in inflammatory traits of celiac disease while bifidobacteria up-regulated anti-inflammatory cytokines.

Human clinical trials are now needed, but these results could lead to new ways to treat and even prevent celiac disease. Louis Montaner, DVM, MSc, DPhil, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, noted that “For people with celiac disease, this opens a line of research into new therapies that may be as accessible as a grocer’s shelf.”

Probiotics are most commonly found in yogurt, tempeh, miso, and some milk and soy products. Most probiotics are bacteria similar to those found naturally in the gut and intestinal tract and primarily include species from two groups, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Prebiotics are nondigestible food fibers found in root vegetables, wheat, onions, garlic, and bananas, among other foods, and they serve to nourish probiotics. These natural substances may someday soon be proven to help people who have celiac disease.

Celiac Disease Foundation
DePalma G et al. Journal of Leukocyte Biology 2010; 87:765
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine