The link between Celiac Disease and Dairy

As you may have read in my Instagram posts, I try to avoid dairy when I can. I always have, even before I was diagnosed with celiac disease.

With celiac disease, of course the #1 priority is to stay strictly gluten-free. Because of this, and how limited gluten-free options can be at restaurants, sometimes I’ll eat a little dairy when eating out.

My general understanding and personal opinion, even prior to being diagnosed with celiac disease, was that dairy isn’t very healthy - and I have always tried to avoid it when possible.

But, did you know there’s a link between celiac disease and dairy intake?

When you’re first diagnosed with celiac disease, you’ve been eating large amounts of gluten to get accurate blood test and endoscopy results (and likely, you were eating gluten anyway pre-celiac).

As you probably know, when you have celiac disease, gluten damages the villi in your small intestine. A strict, lifelong gluten-free diet is the only treatment for this autoimmune disease. This damage shaves down the villi, leaving them temporarily damaged and unable to digest food or nutrients properly - which is why many people are malnourished before diagnosis.

When the villi are damaged and shaved down (they DO heal, promise!), along with all the other issues and symptoms you’re having due to celiac disease, it can cause something called secondary lactose intolerance.

Why?

Lactase, the enzyme responsible for absorbing dairy, is located on the tips of those villi in your small intestine. Which, if you remember… are what take the hit when you consume gluten. When the villi are damaged, your body is temporarily unable to digest dairy because the enzyme is essentially gone.

Your body can’t digest gluten. Temporarily, it also can’t digest dairy, because of the damage caused by gluten.

For me personally, this causes a reaction similar in some ways to being glutened. Waaay less severe and short-lived, it’s more specifically the GI-symptoms I get from gluten, but less extreme. Your symptoms may vary, but many people experience similar, stomach-related symptoms.

I choose to avoid dairy altogether as much as possible, although I feel the effects worst when I’ve accidentally consumed gluten. Which makes sense: I’m glutened, the villi in the small intestine are damaged, and the lactase enzyme is gone.

Healing: A Gluten-Free Diet

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For many people, the ability to digest gluten comes back once your intestine has had about three months to heal. For me, I’ve found that (although dairy has never loved me), it makes me sicker than it did before my diagnosis. This is one reason why I choose to forego it at all costs, and say nooo to dairy whenever I can!

If you choose to avoid dairy, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods! So many brands make dairy-free alternatives to your favorite yogurts, ice creams, and other desserts (like the two pictured below!!) - and of course there are so many milk alternatives to try! Everything from almond to macadamia nut milk will provide a healthier, delicious option to add to your coffee, smoothies, or oatmeal.

What is your experience with celiac disease and dairy?

I would love to hear your experiences, share your stories and feel free to reach out with any questions! onebiteglutenfree@gmail.com