Could This Be the Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Celiac Disease?

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

August 12, 2019



What if you were going along feeling well, and then for no obvious reason developed rheumatoid arthritis? It’s highly likely your doctor would put you through a battery of tests only to tell you he has no idea what’s causing it. And you wouldn’t be any closer to solving the problem.

This is happening to more and more people. Unfortunately, doctors don’t know what to do about it. But there are two things you should consider if you contract this illness. One of these is the cause of rheumatoid arthritis. The other could be a cure.

One possible cause makes sense. As you may know, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) isn’t the only health problem that’s becoming more common. So is gluten intolerance. And an article that appeared in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology shows that there’s a connection between the two. It suggests that a significant number of RA cases are caused by an allergy to gluten.

The problem is in your immune system. You see, your immune system makes antibodies – tiny molecules that make contact with other molecules and destroy them. Antibodies are the immune system’s foot soldiers. It sends them out to attack any foreign invaders that your body comes into contact with.

The mission for antibodies is to protect your body from anything that could be toxic. So almost all of the time, antibodies are your friends. But they can also cause problems.

Antibodies often cause problems when your immune system produces too many of them. This is what happens when you have a gluten sensitivity. As you probably already know, gluten is in wheat, barley, and rye. It causes the flour from these grains to stick together well and, therefore, makes them excellent for making bread. But in the last 50 years, the wheat we produce contains an ever-increasing amount of gluten. This is due to the nitrogen content in the artificial fertilizers wheat growers use. It has been deliberately increased in order to cause higher levels of gluten.

This is great for baking. But it’s turning into a significant health problem for many people. The increased amounts of gluten in flour products now cause many people whose immune systems are sensitive to gluten to produce excessive amounts of antibodies to the protein.

Causes More Than Just Digestive Problems

These elevated levels of gluten antibodies can cause a host of medical conditions in people who have a genetic sensitivity to them. We used to think it just caused digestive problems. But now, this Scandinavian study shows it can cause a lot of other health problems, including rheumatoid arthritis and even depression.

Since we already know gluten causes gastrointestinal diseases (such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease), allergies, and disturbances of equilibrium (called ataxia), these researchers set out to discover what other problems it might cause. To do this, they measured anti-gliadin antibodies (IgA, IgG, and IgA-class tissue transglutaminase) in 2,815 men and women between the ages of 52-74 years.

Gliadin is a protein in gluten. The anti-gliadin antibody tests are the standard way doctors determine who has a sensitivity to gluten and who doesn’t. Then they found an equal number of people of similar age and gender who had normal levels of the antibodies.

Out of the original group of 2,815, only 381 had elevated antibody levels. The people in this latter group had a significantly higher incidence of both rheumatoid arthritis and depression than those in the group with the normal antibody levels. This isn’t surprising, since both conditions are common in those with celiac disease. But now we know gluten can cause these health problems in people without full-blown celiac disease.

The Not-So-Easy Solution

So if you have rheumatoid arthritis or depression, here’s what you should do. First, get tested for gluten sensitivity. The tests mentioned above are readily available. Any doctor can order them. Second, if you test positive, it doesn’t conclusively prove that your condition is the result of gluten sensitivity. But it does mean that there’s a reasonable chance. So the next thing is to stop eating gluten.

While this may sound like an easy thing to do, it isn’t. For many people, the majority of what they eat contains traces of gluten.

Fortunately, since there are so many people who are sensitive to gluten, the food industry has created all kinds of substitutes that are gluten free. The more information you get, the more easily you can avoid the gluten hidden in so many foods. Make sure you check all the labels of any food you buy. It will tell you if it has gluten.

Even if the test results are negative, I would suggest that anyone with rheumatoid arthritis (or depression) go on a four-week trial of being off gluten anyway. This is because, over the years, I have noticed that these tests are not perfect. They can miss some people. I don’t know why. I only know that it happens.

One of the hardest parts about the gluten-free lifestyle is the hidden gluten in many foods, especially those at restaurants. If you have a gluten sensitivity, unexpected exposure can cause severe reactions in some people. So make sure you’re vigilant about avoiding it.

The Non-Drug Solution

RA is becoming a bigger problem despite the new, patented, and highly expensive biological drugs from Big Pharma that we hear so much about on TV.  According to a recent review, “Despite the widespread use of targeted therapies [that’s the biological drugs], up to 50% of patients with RA still fail to respond adequately. In addition, these approaches may carry long-term side effects, including serious infections and malignancies.” So, is there a safer, easier way to treat the disease than these drugs? A couple of recent studies indicate that cord-derived stem cell therapy is a better way to go. I discussed cord-derived stem cells in a recent issue of my newsletter. (If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here, and you’ll have access to all of my back issues.)

In one study, researchers looked at 172 men and women with active RA who had failed to respond to the wonder drugs. The patients were divided into two groups. All of the patients in each group continued to take their medications even though they had only a minimal effect. The researchers gave the patients in the first group two treatments with intravenous cord-derived stem cells.  They gave the second group a placebo. The results were remarkable.

First of all, unlike the drugs, the researchers saw zero serious adverse effects from the stem cells.  Second, the inflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6) that are responsible for the damage to the joints in patients with RA were significantly decreased. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it increased the percentage of regulatory T cells.

That’s critical because it is the regulatory T cells that act to stop the immune system from attacking the body’s own cells. This is the process involved in all of the auto-immune diseases. As such, these cells play a vital role in preventing and controlling inflammation. And, increasing them cuts right to the heart of what’s causing the diseases.

What Happened to the Patients?

According to the authors, “The treatment induced a significant remission of disease according to the American College of Rheumatology improvement criteria, the 28-joint disease activity score, and the Health Assessment Questionnaire.” In comparison, there were no such benefits observed in the group who did not get the stem cells. Additionally, the patients who saw the greatest increases in their regulatory T cells were the ones who had the most improvement from the stem cells. They also found that repeated injection of the stem cells every three to six months improved the response.

The second study was done on mice.  The researchers induced an inflammatory form of arthritis in the mice called CIA that resembles the processes involved in RA. They gave half of the mice the biological drug etanercept (Enbrel®) and they gave the other half human cord derived stem cells. Here’s what happened.

According to the authors, “Systemic delivery of human cord derived stem cells significantly ameliorated the severity of CIA to a similar extent observed in the etanercept-treated group.” In other words, the stem cells worked every bit as well as the drug without any of the side effects. Like with the human study, they found that the stem cells worked by decreasing immune cell mediated inflammation. But, they didn’t stop there.

The researchers then took the inflammation-inducing immune cells from actual patients with RA and exposed them in culture to cord-derived stem cells. The same thing happened that happened in the previous study. The stem cells decreased the inflammation. According to the authors of the study, “Human umbilical cord stem cells can simultaneously regulate multiple cytokine pathways in response to pro-inflammatory cytokines elevated in RA microenvironment, suggesting that treatment with cord derived stem cells could be an attractive candidate for patients with treatment-refractory RA.”

RA isn’t the only auto-immune disease in which cord-derived stem cells have shown efficacy. Other diseases that respond include multiple sclerosis, graft vs. host disease, and auto-immune colitis. Although there are many natural ways to put all of these diseases into remission which I have reported to you in previous issues, these studies show that cord-derived stem cells give the doctor another arrow in his quiver of drug-free, safe, and effective remedies.

Stem Cells for Celiac Disease

These results are very exciting. But it gets better. There are now studies showing that stem cells can help celiac patients. You’ve probably heard that celiac (severe gluten allergy) is completely incurable. But doctors are finding that stem cells can help.

The Mayo Clinic, for instance, gave mesenchymal stem cell infusions, with four infusions spread four months apart, to a 51-year-old woman with celiac disease. The result was a “gradual and durable amelioration of her general condition, with normalization of stool frequency, body mass index, laboratory test results, and mucosal architecture.”

Another study involving mesenchymal stem cells, this one published in the journal Gastroenterology and Hepatology from Bed to Bench, noted, “Stem cell transplantation is an effective treatment for patients with severe refractory autoimmune diseases comped to conventional treatments … for patients with refractory celiac disease.”

And, finally, a study published in the World Journal of Stem Cells noted, “Stem cell transplantation has become an option for celiac patients with complicated or refractory disease.”

All of these studies use mesenchymal stem cell infusions, which are taken from the patients own bodies. These are not as effective as cord-derived stem cells, so the possibilities for celiac are looking bright.

Stem cell treatments are getting easier to find. Simply do an Internet search for stem cells in your area. You’ll likely find a doctor near you who can help.


Ruuskanen, A, K. Kaukinen, P. Collin, H. Huhtala, R. Valve, M. Mäki, and L. Luostarinen. “Positive serum antigliadin antibodies without celiac disease in the elderly population: does it matter?” Scand J Gastroenterol. 2010 June 14.

Shin TH, Kim HS, et al. Human umbilical cord blood-stem cells direct macrophage polarization and block inflammasome activation to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis. Cell Death Dis. 2016 Dec 22;7(12):e2524.

Wang L1, Wang L, et al. Human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cell therapy for patientswith active rheumatoid arthritis: safety and efficacy. Stem Cells Dev. 2013 Dec 15;22(24):3192-202.

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