The Real Cause of Celiac Disease — And How to Cure It

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

February 24, 2020



People who can’t eat gluten know two things. First, they know that bread causes the problem. And second, they know there’s no cure for celiac disease.

But what if I told you both of these “facts” were completely false? Bread doesn’t cause celiac disease. But by finding the real cause of the issue, we can cure it.

Everything has a cause. Unfortunately, that cause often eludes even the best doctors. Such is the case with celiac disease.

Most people will tell you that this disease occurs when your immune system overreacts to the protein gluten. This overreaction can result in all kinds of bowel symptoms. These can include diarrhea, constipation, cramps, and indigestion. But it also can cause autoimmune thyroid disease, rashes, seizures, neuropathy, and depression.

That’s what happened to Lana. She was 40 years old when she first visited her integrative physician. She had a perplexing variety of non-specific complaints. These included symptoms of malaise, joint aches, fatigue, and mild low thyroid with thyroiditis. Osteoporosis complications ran in her family and she was terrified it would happen to her.

Lana’s symptoms were intermittent, starting only five years earlier, and she had failed every diagnostic test performed by her physicians. Even her integrative physician was perplexed. He tried the usual treatments for these symptoms. This included amalgam removal (she had toxic mercury levels), improved diet, detoxification through nutritional strategies, and thyroid support with low-dose thyroid medication. She improved moderately with these treatments. But the symptoms were still there.

Celiac Attacks the Body, Not Just the Gut

He didn’t suspect gluten at first. That’s because, for many years, GI symptoms were considered the hallmark of gluten sensitivity. However, now it has been determined that manifestations of gluten sensitivity are 15 times more common outside of the gut.

In fact, take a look at what some of these non-digestive manifestations are: non-viral hepatitis and cirrhosis, bone thinning, ataxia (unsteadiness of gait), juvenile onset diabetes, alopecia (hair loss), psoriasis, polyneuropathy, epilepsy, inflammation of blood vessels, autoimmune thyroiditis, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, adrenal wasting, other autoimmune diseases, infertility, anemia, depression and other mental complaints, and even lymphoma was recently reported as an addition to the mix.

A recently published report urges that all cases of “autoimmune” hepatitis be “rigorously investigated” for gluten sensitivity.

Diagnosing Celiac Disease Isn’t Easy

To get an absolute confirmed diagnosis of celiac disease, you’re supposed to have a biopsy done of the intestine. But you don’t have to subject yourself to this. You could start with a gluten sensitivity test. That’s what Lana’s doctor started with – but it was negative.

This is common, and helps explain why it’s often hard to diagnose celiac. Medical training in the past taught doctors that patients suffering from celiac must have digestive symptoms. Without these symptoms, doctors wouldn’t even consider celiac. Over time, certain blood tests became available (anti-gluten or gliadin antibodies), but it was known that these missed a lot of people, resulting in many false negative tests and missed diagnoses.

However, a few years ago, another test became available, which has significantly changed the understanding of this disease. Called an anti-tTG test, it involves only a drop of blood, which in 30 minutes can show the presence of antibodies to an enzyme. Note, it’s testing for individual antibodies to your “own” enzyme, which is the definition of autoimmunity! This test is reportedly 100% sensitive and 96% specific. That means it picks up everyone with this disorder and only a tiny percentage of false positives. However, even this test can give you a false negative if you’ve been off gluten for a long time. So, if you or your doctor suspect the disorder, it would be wise to repeat the test, after you’ve eaten some gluten.

However, this test has been a huge boon for discovering celiac. It’s shown that all the previous research was only scratching the surface of what celiac can do to your body, as Lana discovered. Only, her case came before this test came to market. So she had to figure things out the hard way.

She had a negative test, which was very frustrating. Still, her doctor suggested she eliminate all gluten foods. She knew her diet had some kind of association with her symptoms. So she followed his advice. When she went back to see him after just one month, she was excited to report that all symptoms had simply disappeared!

She had found the cause and the cure, right? Not so fast.

The Real Cause – And Cure – of Celiac Disease

Until now, avoiding gluten was the only “cure” celiacs could hope for. But that's not really a cure. So we need to keep asking the question “Why?”

Why does someone who has never before reacted to gluten suddenly start reacting? That’s the real question. There has to be something that triggered it.

In my practice, I’ve noticed six different causes of celiac disease (or any other disease for that matter). These include a poor diet, hormone imbalance, toxicity, infection, stress, and a lack of aerobic fitness. Sometimes all six are at work.

One of the most common causes I have found might surprise you. Most patients who developed celiac disease did so after repeated exposure to antibiotics. The antibiotics create an imbalance of intestinal bacteria. And this imbalance often leads to a chronic intestinal infection from a yeast organism called Candida albicans.

I’ve been able to really cure many patients of celiac disease simply by treating their intestinal candida infections. I didn’t know about it until a few years ago, but what I had found now has some scientific backing. So it's almost official!

Here’s the Scientific Evidence

Back in 2003, researchers in the Netherlands published a paper with the provocative title, “Is Candida albicans a trigger in the onset of celiac disease?” The researchers believe that it is. They analyzed a particular protein that candida makes called C. albicans-hyphal wall protein 1 (HWP1).

HWP1 is a protein that candida uses to help it adhere to the intestinal lining. Without HWP1, your body would sweep the poor little candida away in the bowel movement.

The researchers then discovered something very interesting. They noticed that HWP1 is virtually identical in its chemical makeup to the protein gliadin, which is in gluten. Here's why that's a problem.

When someone’s intestinal lining becomes overgrown with candida, for example after a course of antibiotics, the immune system T-cells start attacking the candida. And, in this process, they also start attacking the protein HWP1. But since HWP1 is identical to gliadin, the same immune cells end up also attacking gliadin. This is what sets up the inflammatory reaction that happens every time that person eats something with gluten in it.

According to the researchers’ findings, the origins of gluten sensitivity and hence celiac disease may very likely come from an initial infection with candida.

Whenever a patient sees me with any auto-immune disease, no matter what it is, I always immediately put them on a detoxification program. This program removes candida from their bodies and gluten from their diet. It’s absolutely amazing how often a cure will result from just those two simple changes. And now we have a better idea why. You can read about this detoxification program on my website.

Why Liver Patients Often Have Celiac

It’s important to mention that anyone with liver disease should be tested for celiac. That’s because a gluten-free diet may reverse liver failure in some patients with both conditions. In fact, the relatively high frequency of undiagnosed celiac disease among people with serious liver conditions suggests the disorder should be ruled out in liver disease patients.

In one study of 185 patients who had received liver transplants, researchers found that eight patients – or just over 4% – had celiac disease. Two of these eight had not been diagnosed, the liver disorder had developed before their doctor discovered the celiac disease. Only one followed a long-term gluten-free diet before the liver transplant.

Moreover, in another four patients with advanced liver disease and untreated celiac disease, the investigators found that a gluten-free diet reversed the patients’ liver dysfunction. The two who have adhered to the diet remain in good condition, the researchers report. One patient who did not stick with the diet saw his liver disease progress and eventually had a liver transplant. These findings suggest that in such patients, dietary intervention may prevent progression to liver failure.

And, the fact that about 4% of the liver transplant patients had celiac disease — usually associated with autoimmune liver disorders — should tell your doctor something. It indicates your doctor should “rigorously investigate” celiac disease in all patients with autoimmune hepatitis or hepatitis with no known cause. In some cases, early detection and treatment of celiac disease may prevent progression to end-stage liver failure.

Beating Arthritis by Treating Food Allergy

But it’s not just liver disease. Any of the symptoms mentioned in this article could mean celiac or some other food allergy. If you have any unexplained health problems, including arthritis, “autoimmune” disease symptoms, or others similar to what I’ve described, consider asking your doctor to run the new ati-tTG test for gluten sensitivity (especially if any first-degree relative has ever had similar problems). Even if the result is negative, don’t rule out other food sensitivities.

I recently read about a middle-age male patient with smoldering rheumatoid arthritis. His doctor suggested he stop eating peanuts. While traveling four weeks later, he called his doctor from 1,500 miles away to let him know he felt cured! Although food allergy or sensitivity can potentially be related to any food in a given individual, some of the worst offenders are dairy, eggs, peanuts (and other nuts), shellfish, soy, grains, and, of course, gluten. You must give a three-week trial of complete abstinence from any given food to properly identify a sensitivity.

And beware, in our modern culture, anything with an ingredient list is automatically suspect. Little care is given in food manufacturing to accurately identify combinations of foods present in a product, and while a substance may be knowingly added to a product, the nearby presence of this substance in the same processing plant could spell enough cross contamination to cause reactions in very sensitive people.


Nieuwenhuizen, W.F., R.H. Pieters, L.M. Knippels, M.C. Jansen, and S.J. Koppelman. “Is Candida albicans a trigger in the onset of coeliac disease?” The Lancet, 2003 June 21;361(9375):2152-4.

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