Gluten free, but could feel better? Look at what your gut bacteria can do!

posted in: Article, News | 0



There a great new gluten free magazine aroud, you can get it from WH Smiths and selected supermarkets or you can buy it direct.

The order online details are:

The price is £5.99 and includes free P&P in the UK
They have been kind enough to ask me to write for them, and this is the first article, republished with permission.

After a diagnosis of coeliac disease, you will be told that on a gluten free diet, the damage to the villi in the gut will heal automatically.  While this is largely true, it ignores the excellent research showing that healthy gut bacteria are essential part of recovery. Our microflora are a magical kingdom inside us, with the power to significantly influence our health. There are ways of looking after these little friends to speed up healing.

If you have coeliac disease or are sensitive to gluten, their protective role is crucial. New research shows that changes to the gut ecology may be one of the reasons for the increased number of cases of coeliac disease4.

We all have over 500 different types of gut bacteria within us, 100 trillion microorganisms in total. Some of them have positive benefits for their hosts, while others can be potentially harmful. The aim is not to eliminate those, but to help the populations of the more valuable ones muscle out the others.

Research has already shown that coeliacs have a gut flora that is different to the normal population. For example, there are larger numbers of e.coli found in coeliac guts, and that could increase the inflammatory reaction to gluten1. A healthy gut microflora is protective, and by coaxing your gut bacteria back into balance, you may restore some of that role. While you would still never be able to eat gluten again, other food sensitivities such as lactose intolerance may improve6.

There are other reasons to promote healthy gut bacteria – they have lots of beneficial roles in digestion. They produce lactase to help us digest lactose4. Given the possibility of nutrient deficiencies in the gluten free community, it’s a good idea to enhance the absorption of minerals such as magnesium and iron. Healthy bacteria that help us do that5. Also, they produce vitamin K and various B vitamins including vitamin B12, which helps energy3.

Beneficial gut bacteria are also involved in the development of the immune system. Proper immune function is strongly associated with ‘good’ gut bacteria – without them, our immune systems just won’t work7. Bacteria regulate the immune components in the gut and make the gut wall a stronger barrier.

Until quite recently, ‘leaky gut syndrome’ was thought to be a bit of a myth. But research by Dr Fasano of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment in Massachusetts, USA, has shown that gluten can make the gut wall more permeable. This can allow all sorts of things including partly digested proteins and bacteria through into the bloodstream, where they can trigger an immune reaction. Gluten does this by activating a protein called zonulin which loosens tight junctions in the gut wall2. This is why coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition – the immune system is activated in response to the invaders. Restoring the intestinal microflora can help repair the tight junctions and the gut’s natural barrier.

There are various ways of improving the makeup of your gut bacteria, the easiest being to take probiotic capsules. As a nutritional therapist, I often recommend these to my clients, but I always advise them to start with a very small dose and work up gradually to the full dose. I recommend supplement companies which have good evidence for their products, such as BioCare. Their Bioacidophilus series, which contains LAB4 bacteria is well tested and effective. I also use Saccharomyces Boulardii – there is evidence that this can help in cases of travellers’ diarrhoea. Lactobacillus GG can also be used to increase exposure to different strains. Please do consult a registered nutritional therapist for more individually tailored advice.

A cheaper and less high-tech approach is to eat more naturally fermented foods, such as kefir and sauerkraut. Kefir is a bit like yoghurt, made by pouring milk onto special kefir grains (don’t worry – these have no actual gluten containing grains in them!). There are many different strains of beneficial bacteria in kefir. You can buy the grains easily online, just type kefir grains into any search engine. Sauerkraut is traditionally fermented cabbage which contains various lactobacillus strains including brevis and plantarum. Just one word of warning, if you know that you are sensitive to histamine containing foods, steer clear of these fermented foods as they may provoke reactions. Changing your diet can also help – eating less refined carbohydrates and sugar can encourage more beneficial lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species.

Sometimes, people with gluten related disorders still don’t feel properly well even on a gluten free diet. If that is you, improving the gut microflora may really help make a difference. It can enhance the immune system and reduce lactose sensitivity.  You may be able to reduce tiredness by improving vitamin and mineral intake. Knowing that you have a gluten related disorder can be a real boost to your health if it focuses your attention on making positive changes.

Disclaimer: This article is in no way intended as a substitute for professional medical advice and no responsibility will be accepted for failure to consult the appropriate medical practitioner. Always consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, medicines or taking supplements.


1.Collado, M. C., Donat, E., Ribes-Koninckx, C., Calabuig, M., & Sanz, Y. (2009). Specific duodenal and faecal bacterial groups associated with paediatric coeliac disease. Journal of clinical pathology, 62(3), 264-269.

2.Fasano, A. (2012). Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. Clinical reviews in allergy & immunology, 42(1), 71-78.

3.LeBlanc, J. G., Milani, C., de Giori, G. S., Sesma, F., van Sinderen, D., & Ventura, M. (2013). Bacteria as vitamin suppliers to their host: a gut microbiota perspective. Current opinion in biotechnology, 24(2), 160-16.

4.Lebwohl, B., Blaser, M. J., Ludvigsson, J. F., Green, P. H., Rundle, A., Sonnenberg, A., & Genta, R. M. (2013). Decreased Risk of Celiac Disease in Patients With Helicobacter pylori Colonization. American journal of epidemiology, 178(12), 1721-1730.

5.O’Hara, A. M., & Shanahan, F. (2007). Gut microbiota: mining for therapeutic potential. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 5(3), 274-284.

6.Purchiaroni, F., Tortora, A., Gabrielli, M., Bertucci, F., Gigante, G., Ianiro, G., … & Gasbarrini, A. (2013). The role of intestinal microbiota and the immune system. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 17(3), 323-33.

7.Rabot, S., Rafter, J., Rijkers, G. T., Watzl, B., & Antoine, J. M. (2010). Guidance for substantiating the evidence for beneficial effects of probiotics: impact of probiotics on digestive system metabolism. The Journal of nutrition, 140(3), 677S-689S.

Leave a Reply