The Heart Disease-Celiac Disease Connection By Ellen Antoine, DO, FACEP, ABIHM, IFMCP

The following article was published in the February issue of “Food Solutions Magazine” and it brings up some very interesting points.  Thought you would appreciate the information –

wheat-heart-composition-vector_34-60129Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 25 percent of deaths each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They noted that each year approximately 600,000 people die of heart disease and an overwhelming 720,000 Americans experience a heart attack.

The most common risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.  Certainly diabetes, obesity, poor diet, lack of physical exercise, and excessive alcohol use also increase the risk for coronary plaque. A recent study demonstrated a nearly doubled risk of coronary artery blockage in those with Celiac disease.

In an article published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology in 2014, the authors noted that coronary artery disease prevalence is higher among Celiac disease patients. This study was the first of its kind to examine this relationship and involved the review of over 22 million patient’s medical records. There was a statistically significant increased risk of heart disease found in Celiac patients.

Chronic inflammation is being increasingly implicated in the development of atherosclerosis. Many might remember there was an association found between gingivitis and coronary artery disease, with inflammation being one of the root causes.

There are several contributors to cardiovascular disease. Inflammation, as already mentioned, and autoimmunity (the process of the body attacking itself) are two of them. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the villi (absorptive finger-like projections) of the small intestines in people with this disorder who consume gluten. In Celiac sufferers, the gastrointestinal tract is damaged and thus inflamed as a result  of the interaction with gluten. This inflammation leads to breakdown between the cells in the walls of the intestine. This allows for different “foreign” materials to enter the blood stream. Seventy percent of our entire body’s immune system lines the GI tract and when these “invaders” enter through the permeable lining, the immune system is triggered. This inflammation and immune response does not isolate itself to the GI tract but causes immune cell activation throughout the body. These immune cells release chemicals designed to neutralize the “invader.” Unfortunately, these substances (called “inflammatory cytokines” and other proteins) produce inflammation in various organ systems, including the cardiovascular system.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, Celia disease is estimated to affect one in 100 people worldwide. Over 80 percent of Americans with this condition are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications, including silent coronary disease.

That being said, heart disease may not be silent and may indeed illicit warning signs. Being familiar with these signs is crucial.  They include:

Chest pain – it may or may not radiate to the jaw, shoulders, or neck

Shortness of breath

Nausea and vomiting

Irregular heart beats

Lightheadedness/ dizziness

Fainting/ near-fainting

Loss of exercise tolerance


Back pain


Sweating for no apparent reason

Understanding this increased risk of coronary atherosclerosis in those with Celiac disease may help you identify a risk you were not aware of. It also underscores the importance of strictly adhering to a gluten-free and low inflammatory diet. If you have been diagnosed with this autoimmune process, speak with your doctor about whether cardiac screening tests are appropriate. If you suspect you may be suffering with this condition but have yet to be diagnosed, contact your primary care physician or functional medicine specialist for evaluation.


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