Is gluten ingestion damage permanent?

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Melinda Dennis MS, RDN, LDN
Q: With celiac disease, when I ingest gluten and it affects me days later, is it possible for the damage to heal or is it permanent? I’ve heard both in passing and I’ve been nervous that my ingestion over the past few years has affected more than just my intestines and I know my skin has the effects of gluten ingested and I just was wondering about it.

Answer


Good news! The villi (cells lining the small intestine) are not permanently damaged in celiac disease. In fact, the cells in the intestinal wall regenerate every 72 hours as long as they are not being exposed to gluten. The amount of time it takes for the villi to heal, however, depends on the person, how long they have had celiac disease, and the amount of damage to the villi. For most people, the intestine is expected to recover over a period of weeks to months on a strict gluten-free diet. For others, it may take years for the villi to fully recover.  

Celiac disease is known as an extra-intestinal disease, meaning that it affects more than just our small intestine. It can also negatively affect other parts of the body, such as our liver, bones, and skin. Continuous exposure to gluten in people with celiac disease can lead to severe small intestinal damage (complete loss of villi) which, in turn, can lead to malabsorption, bone loss, nutritional deficiencies, and other conditions and diseases. The only known treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet and carefully following the gluten-free diet is the best and only way to take care of our bodies and our long-term health.

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Melinda Dennis, NCA's Senior Consulting Dietitian. This information is meant for educational purposes and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. This information can be printed and used in consultation with your physician or dietitian. No liability is assumed by NCA, Ms. Dennis or her nutrition consulting service Delete the Wheat, LLC. by providing this information..

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About Melinda Dennis MS, RDN, LDN

Melinda Dennis, Senior Nutrition Consultant for NCA, is an expert celiac dietitian and and Nutrition Coordinator for the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA. Diagnosed with celiac disease in 1990, she specializes in the nutritional treatment of patients with celiac disease and gluten-related disorders.

Melinda lectures internationally and has written extensively on the nutritional management of celiac disease including the award-winning book Real Life with Celiac Disease. Melinda was the original founder of NCA in 1993 and so it is only fitting that she comes back to us in this capacity. We are truly honored to have her on our team.