Indigestion and coeliac disease

Tom Stockdale, erstwhile chair (and editor of the newsletter) of the Scottish branch of the McCarrison Society, offers some observations on the possible links between indigestion and coeliac disease.

Indigestion is a common but generally neglected problem. I suggest that indigestion develops in three stages all of which can be associated with coeliac disease.

1 Acid reflux, leading to problems with stomach ulcers or stomach and oesophageal cancers.
2 Subnormal acid production with inadequate protein digestion.
3 Food intolerances.

All three stages are symptoms of hypothyroidism caused by a deficiency of iodine or selenium and characterised by subnormal use of carbohydrates and fats to produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate. The partially utilised products of carbohydrates and fats then accumulate causing either type 2 diabetes or obesity.

Acid reflux from the duodenum into the stomach results from the fact that it needs more energy to produce bicarbonate in the pancreatic gland than to produce gastric acid. Consequently when mild hypothyroidism is present insufficient bicarbonate is produced to properly neutralise the acidic material as it issues into the duodenum.

This situation is commonly associated with gluten intolerance because gluten is especially effective in stimulating gastric acid production. When incompletely neutralised material is moved through the duodenum and into the small intestine it is too acid to be readily acted upon by digestive enzymes and presents a suitable substrate for bacterial activity.

As the hypothyroid condition increases in severity the reabsorption of minerals, especially common salt, from the urine becomes more difficult. Loss of sodium makes it difficult to maintain body temperature but loss of chlorine results in a decreased ability to produce the gastric acid required for protein digestion.

When undigested proteins are enabled to enter the small intestine the foreign DNA and RNA may be absorbed and induce allergic responses. Other problems may be caused by the potentially toxic proteins which are present in many common foods. When chlorine deficiency is restricting the ability to produce gastric acid the advice to restrict salt intake should be ignored.

The presence of an abnormal condition in the small intestine together with the absorption of toxic substances causes the adrenal cortex to release steroid hormones.

These induce the liver to destroy amino acids which would otherwise be available to brain tissue. Autonomic nerves are also activated, which cause vasoconstriction and loss of turgor in the villi of small intestine by releasing serotonin. When the villi are flattened further, absorption of toxin substances is prevented until the noxious substances have been cleared from the system.

The adverse symptoms produced by coeliac disease tend to come and go because those who suffer persist in eating the food which causes it or, alternatively, are permanently disadvantaged by the persistence of the hypothyroid condition.

Because the Department of Health has taken no action to correct the historical iodine deficiency that is present in parts of the UK, or to reverse the recent decrease in selenium intakes, many children are being born whose mothers are hypothyroid. It is inevitable that these children will be sickly and intolerant of otherwise satisfactory foods.

First published 2008


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