Celiac disease takes centre stage in new exercise study

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May, 2017    |

Research focuses on a holistic approach to managing the chronic disease


Celiac disease is a prominent health issue across the nation, affecting as many as 300,000 Canadians (only 110,000 of whom have been clinically diagnosed). This inherited autoimmune disorder is triggered by an abnormal immune response to certain proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale that are known as gluten.
Individuals with first-degree relatives—parents, children, and siblings—that suffer from celiac disease have a 10 per cent chance of developing
it. Moreover, individuals with Down syndrome, thyroid disease, and type 1 diabetes are at high risk.
Celiac disease causes inflammation
in and damage to the small intestine, as well as a reduced ability to absorb calcium, folate, iron, and vitamins A,
D, E, and K. Symptoms include anemia, abdominal bloating, gas, indigestion, nausea, frequent bouts of diarrhea, joint pain, migraines, depression, constipation, and vomiting. These symptoms may begin at any age and may also be triggered by infections, surgery, pregnancy, or stress.
Generally, treatment and prevention revolve around the maintenance of a strict gluten-free diet.
A study aimed at helping the more than 110,000 Canadians living with celiac disease has been given a boost thanks to a Seed Grant from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology.
“MOVE-C—Understanding the Relationship Between the Microbiome, Vitality, and Exercise in Celiac Disease” received $50,000 to conduct research into the ways in which the chronic condition can be managed beyond just adherence to a gluten-free diet.
Justine Dowd, Raylene Reimer, Guillaume Millet, and principal investigator Nicole Culos-Reed are studying holistic, evidence-based approaches to help patients with this autoimmune disorder, which can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and increased risk of intestinal cancers and osteoporosis.
“Our focus is on helping people to improve their quality of life,” says Dowd, who was diagnosed with celiac disease six years ago. “Often, people are diagnosed and start to eat gluten-free but still have a variety of negative symptoms.”
According to Dowd, just looking for the words “gluten-free” on packaging might not be enough to manage the disease in a healthy way. “Lots of gluten-free food is very processed, low in nutrition, and high in calories, which causes this perfect storm. People are often underweight when they are diagnosed with celiac disease, and then if they are eating overprocessed, high-calorie foods, they can gain too much weight on a gluten-free diet and are at risk of health complications like metabolic syndrome.”
In addition to promoting a whole-foods diet, Dowd’s team will be exploring the benefits regular exercise can have on patients. “Exercise is good for everyone, and we want to see how getting people with celiac disease more active can get them to a healthier weight status and healthier in general,” says Dowd.
Aside from the obvious benefits, exercise may also help to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. “There are preliminary studies that show that exercise has led to a healthier microbiome in animals and humans,” says Dowd.

Currently, the MOVE-C study is seeking adults (18 years of age and older) who have been diagnosed with celiac disease and do not engage in regular exercise to participate in a free exercise program at the University of Calgary. Dowd has also developed an app, MyHealthyGut, that helps educate people about which foods are safe to eat, and records symptoms. Other key parts of the program will include interviews with experts on everything from acupuncture to sleep.
“It’s about embowering people to manage their celiac disease,” says Dowd. “I am so happy to be able to provide people with a program that is evidence-based. I wish I’d had it myself years ago.”
A 2014 study suggests that exercise has a complex—but beneficial—impact on gut microbiota diversity.
Researchers compared the microbiomes of professional athletes to two control groups. To do so, they analyzed each individual’s microbiota through 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. Each patient was also asked to complete a detailed food frequency questionnaire (Clarke et al., 2014).
The results showed that the athletes had a higher diversity of gut micro-organisms than the control groups. They also found that this correlated to the athletes’ amplified protein consumption. From this, the researchers deduced that when combined with diet, exercise may have a beneficial impact on gut microbiota diversity.
With celiac disease becoming a widespread issue across Canada, studies and trials like this one are of paramount importance. Because those with celiac disease have few options for managing their symptoms, this breakthrough study will offer patients new hope. This evidence-based program provides a new way to control flare-ups, maintain overall health, and increase quality of life for celiac patients.