Research has shown that liver abnormalities are very common in people with gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body mounts an immune reaction every time an individual eats gluten. Gluten is a protein that’s found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and several other foods. Typically, people with celiac disease suffer with symptoms such as abdominal bloating, diarrhea, weight loss and anemia, but approximately 50 percent of celiacs experience no gastrointestinal symptoms. Their only symptom may be mild fatigue, yet gluten is doing harm to their body. The longer this is left to go on, the greater the risk that gluten will cause damage to the body. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a blood test and intestinal biopsy.
People who have one autoimmune disease are more prone to developing another one. Modern research has shown that a significant proportion of people with the autoimmune liver diseases primary biliary cirrhosis, sclerosing cholangitis and autoimmune hepatitis have celiac disease. Celiac disease causes irritation and damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract; this makes the intestinal lining more permeable, resulting in “leaky gut syndrome”. A leaky gut allows bacteria, toxins secreted by bacteria, undigested food and other waste into the bloodstream, where it travels straight to the liver. These toxins are capable of causing direct damage to the liver cells; they increase the quantity of white blood cells in the liver and can produce raised liver enzymes. Chronic irritation of the immune system and liver can spark the development of an autoimmune liver disease in susceptible individuals. Many doctors now recommend all patients with autoimmune disease, as well as unexplained raised liver enzymes be tested for celiac disease.
Dietary and lifestyle recommendations for autoimmune liver disease
A great deal of research has shown that adhering to a gluten free diet can halt the production of auto antibodies in autoimmune disease. Auto antibodies are antibodies produced by the immune system that mistakenly attack and destroy organs and tissues. In this case the antibodies are destroying the liver and biliary tract. We also strongly recommend that dairy products are avoided by people with autoimmune disease; this is because the casein (a type of protein) found in dairy products can act as an immune system irritant in susceptible people.
Here are my recommendations for those with autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary sclerosis and sclerosing cholangitis:
- Avoid all gluten. This is predominantly found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale, spelt and kamut, but is hidden in many foods. For a complete list of gluten containing foods see this website
- Avoid all dairy products. This means no cow’s milk and all foods containing it such as cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream, butter, cream, cream-based sauces and other foods containing milk.
- Follow the “Vital principles for a healthy liver” on page 20 to 27 of The Healthy Liver and Bowel Book. This book contains specific information about the different types of autoimmune liver diseases.
- Take a selenium supplement. Selenium is a mineral essential for a healthy immune system, and it is anti inflammatory. Research has shown that taking 200mcg of selenium per day can halt the production of auto antibodies. Selenium is also required for the production of glutathione, which is a powerful detoxification agent. Glutathione also reduces inflammation. Along with selenium, your body requires n-acetyl cysteine for glutathione production.
- Take a good liver tonic. A good liver tonic should contain the vitamins, minerals and amino acids required for the two step detoxification process in the liver. This will help to make the liver more efficient at detoxification. It should also contain the powerful antioxidant herbs green tea and St Mary’s thistle. St Mary’s thistle can help to repair damaged liver cells.
- Try to avoid high stress levels. Stress has a very detrimental effect on the immune system and it is well known for aggravating autoimmune diseases.