18 Feb 2016

A gluten-free diet improves symptoms of coeliac disease

By Dr Jodie Abramovitch

Coeliac disease is a condition in which the immune system launches an inflammatory response to gluten. In healthy individuals, this immune reaction does not occur. Due to the inflammatory response, patients with coeliac disease typically have damaged small intestines which can lead to malnutrition, weight loss and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and bloating.

A gluten-free diet is ‘prescribed’ for patients with coeliac disease. Currently, prospective studies of the short and long term effects of a gluten-free diet on the symptoms and pathology of coeliac disease are lacking.

Professor Peter Gibson - Head of the Department
of Gastroenterology

Monash researchers from the Eastern Health Clinical School and supervised by Professor Peter Gibson from the Department of Gastroenterology at the Central Clinical School aimed to determine the time frame in which intestinal damage and associated nutritional deficiencies caused by coeliac disease were successfully treated.


Ninety-nine subjects were recruited to the study at the time of their diagnosis with coeliac disease and assessed over five years. Nearly all of the subjects adhered well to a gluten-free diet over the time course and, consequently, the vast majority of subjects showed healing or near-healing of intestinal damage after five years. Furthermore, patients had improved fat mass after one year on a gluten-free diet and lean (fat-free) mass was improved after five years. In subjects with a loss of bone density (e.g. osteoporosis), which can occur in coeliac disease, bone density increased at both one and five years.

This study concluded that good compliance with a gluten-free diet was associated with healing of intestinal damage, improvement in body composition and at least partial correction of bone density in patients diagnosed with coeliac disease. As such, a gluten-free diet was found to be a highly effective therapy for the treatment coeliac disease.


Reference: Newnham EDShepherd SJStrauss BJHosking PGibson PRAdherence to the gluten-free diet can achieve the therapeutic goals in almost all patients with coeliac disease: A 5-year longitudinal study from diagnosis. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016 Feb: 31;342-9
doi: 10.1111/jgh.13060.
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