Celiac Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome often has celiac disease as the root cause.  The cure is simple in this case. Too bad many doctors don’t realize this.

In this article, we will look at what irritable bowel syndrome is, how it is sometimes connected to celiac disease, and what you can do about it.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, or spastic colon) is a ‘functional bowel disorder’, meaning “we can describe the disease but we don’t know what’s causing it.”

Of course something causes it, but built right into the definition is the idea that there is no known cause, so it isn’t to surprising that when there might be a known cause, it is often overlooked.  More about that later.

Typical symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are:

  • Chronic abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Frequent diarrhea or constipation
  • urgency for bowel movements
  • Feeling of incomplete evacuation (tenesmus)

People with this problem are more likely to experience reflux, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, headache and backache.

This isn’t too surprising given that it could be celiac disease which shares the above symptoms, and that the gut is a major part of the immune system.  When the immune system is upset, fatigue, headaches are common.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome can really be …

If irritable bowel syndrome is a certain collection of unexplained symptoms, let’s see what else it could be. 

Here are some things that might explain IBS:

  • Mild infections
  • Parasitic infections like giardiasis
  • Various inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Celiac disease

The last item on the list, celiac disease, is of particular interest here.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is the real reason behind many cases of irritable bowel syndrome.

This does not mean that all cases of IBS are celiac disease.  Some studies suggest that over 22% of those suffering from IBS have gluten sensitivity, and around 4½% of those with IBS have celiac disease (this may vary, depending on your definition of celiac disease).

Gluten Free Diet and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

With so many irritable bowel syndrome sufferers having a gluten sensitivity, it makes sense to try a gluten free diet as a matter of course for anyone suffering with IBS.

I don’t think it makes sense to rely on a test to decide if you should try a gluten free diet to deal with your IBS.  Many tests are inaccurate, and besides, celiac disease is only part of the picture.

Gluten sensitivity, which accounts for over a fifth of IBS cases, according to some studies, includes celiac disease, as well as gluten allergy, and any other label you’d like to sub-divide gluten sensitivity into.

The exact mechanics may be interesting for researchers, and a further understanding may eventually help the rest of us, but for now, I advise you to try a gluten free diet if you have irritable bowel syndrome and see if that improves things.

My above comments about tests not withstanding, I do suggest you get tested for celiac disease as well, and here’s why: if you have celiac disease, then you must avoid all traces of gluten, due to the long-term health implications of celiac.  These implications go well beyond your gut, as other articles on this website discuss.

A gluten free diet may not improve your irritable bowel syndrome, but there is a good chance that it might, so give it a try.

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