How Can CBD Help With Treating Celiac Disease?

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Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a condition that falls under the umbrella of autoimmune diseases, and remains challenging to diagnose or treat. Keep reading to find out how research into the role of the endocannabinoid system may hold the key to future treatments.

The rise of celiac disease (CD)

For those living with celiac disease, the presence of gluten, a protein found in foods and medication, triggers their immune system to start damaging the small intestine. Celiac disease is classed as an autoimmune condition, which makes identifying the cause complicated. Although there is still much to learn about the onset of autoimmune diseases, scientists are sure of one thing—instances of celiac disease are on the rise.

In the last 50 years, cases of celiac disease have risen sharply. It is estimated that 1 in 100 people now live with the condition, although many sufferers remain undiagnosed. Celiac disease does share some symptomatic similarities to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can make identifying the condition difficult for doctors. Celiac disease can be managed by removing gluten, but unless you know that gluten is the underlying aggravator, undiagnosed symptoms can cause serious health implications.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is the result of an adverse reaction to gluten, a protein molecule found in wheat, rye, and barley. This may not sound like much of an issue, but gluten is used in a significant number of foods, as well as a range of medications.

Typical symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. When the immune system attacks the small intestine, it damages the organ's ability to absorb nutrients properly. In more extreme circumstances where the condition has gone untreated for a long time, CD can lead to severely damaged intestines and long-term health problems.

Those living with celiac disease can manage the condition by removing gluten from their diet, and currently, this is the only long-term treatment—there is no cure for celiac disease. Unfortunately, celiac disease can develop at any age, and the condition is hereditary, so a previous family history of CD means a higher likelihood of its onset. Factor in that some medicines could cause more problems than they solve, and researchers have been looking for alternative ways to address the symptoms of celiac disease.

Is there a link between CBD and celiac disease?

One such alternative could be the cannabinoid CBD because of its interaction with enzyme production in the gastrointestinal tract (GI).

A 2003 study into the difference between diagnosed and undiagnosed patients found that the latter had a greater prominence of CB1 and CB2 receptors. The researchers concluded that “abnormal modulation of the endocannabinoid system, both at CBR and AEA levels, may be implicated in the pathogenesis of celiac disease”.

The implication of the endocannabinoid anandamide (AEA) is important because higher levels of AEA was found to reduce intestinal inflammation in a 2017 study by the Nottingham School of Medicine. This is where CBD’s potential role becomes more evident. CBD has shown the ability to inhibit the production of the FAAH, an enzyme that breaks down AEA. With higher concentrations of AEA in the GI tract, it is possible that the inflammation and sensitivity experienced by those living with celiac disease could be reduced.

It is important to note that in both instances, the researchers acknowledged the need for further studies. The purpose of these studies would be to explore the therapeutic potential of the ECS in patients who are no longer responsive to a gluten-free diet.

Stomach pain

CBD’s impact on celiac disease is still being explored

The exact role of both CBD and the endocannabinoid system in the treatment of celiac disease is still being explored. Our intestines are a sophisticated blend of enzymes, receptors, and microbial communities. Understanding how foods and substances like gluten impact the balance of these elements is paramount to gaining a better understanding of celiac disease.

In the future, it may be possible to target cannabinoid receptors to reduce pain and inflammation in the gut, two symptoms of celiac disease. A better understanding of what causes celiac disease, and how the symptoms can be managed, is vital—especially with cases of CD on the rise.

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