Wheat has been hit hard with bad press over the past year and continues to receive attention in both the “healthy whole grain” and “wheat- free” schools of thought. Celiac disease patients MUST follow a wheat free diet to stop the grain from damaging the lining of their small intestine. The effects of wheat free diet in the non-celiac population appear to be beneficial for many health concerns ranging from mood disorders to cholesterol. How does going gluten free effect vitamin and mineral status in non-celiac persons?
It is known that due to the malabsorptive effects of gluten on celiac patients, there may be many associated vitamin and mineral deficiencies. B12, or cobalamin, is one vitamin of particular interest because it is absorbed in the small intestine, the site where damage due to gluten usually occurs in celiac patients. Research suggests that B12 deficiency or the related marker homocysteine might be the first sign of malabsoprtion and celiac disease. In one recent study, homocysteine was high in those newly diagnosed with celiac disease and Gluten-free diet was able to normalize folate, vitamin B 12 , and homocysteine levels.
What does this mean for you? I believe it is important to check homocysteine as a marker of vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid status. Next, take into consideration digestive and cardiovascular symptoms. Often celiac disease can go undiagnosed for many years and does not always correlate with the textbook set of clues, thus using a test of vitamin and mineral status may be the first clue in “finding the why” for a whole host of conditions associated with gluten sensitivity. Going gluten free might be a way to help your body absorb vitamins and minerals optimally.
References: Saibeni S, Lecchi A, Meucci G, Cattaneo M, Tagliabue L, Rondonotti E, Formenti S, De Franchis R, Vecchi M. Prevalence of hyperhomocysteinemia in adult gluten-sensitive enteropathy at diagnosis: role of B12, folate, and genetics. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2005 Jun;3(6):574-80.