On May 14th I attended the Canadian Celiac Association National Conference here in Ottawa. It was a day full of speakers, food, and vendor booths. It was interesting to be in a room full of people with Celiac disease, many of whom were not diagnosed until later in life and suffered with symptoms for years. I met a few people who might have had the same Dermatitis Herpetiformis rash as well. The talks were pretty interesting with few standout topics that I took notes on and will share here.
Dental Enamel Defects
One of the most interesting talks at the conference was on dental enamel defects in celiac patients. Dr. Ted Malahias showed a few pictures that looked exactly like my teeth, with ridges, and both grey and white discoloration in patches (the discoloration doesn’t respond to whitening treatments either). I had been told for years that the discoloration on my teeth was due to fluorosis. Enamel defects due to nutritional deficiencies because of undiagnosed celiac disease is much more likely in my case. This means as early as 6 years old I had signs of celiac disease. Dr. Malahias checks all his patients’ teeth and will often ask the parents if there are any other health problems, especially digestive symptoms. He has encouraged many of them to get tested for celiac disease. This is a great indicator for the disease and could lead to kids being diagnosed much sooner. Here’s a an example picture, which looks almost exactly like my teeth:
Another mouth-related symptoms of celiac disease is aphthous ulcers, more commonly known as canker sores. I had tons of canker sores as a kid and up until the past couple of years would them at least once every few months. I read somewhere that they were caused by vitamin B deficiencies but they didn’t seem to go away (even with supplements) until I started the SCD and was completely gluten-free.
Treatments and Cure
Dr. Daniel Leffler talked about current research for treatments and a cure. It was interesting to note that most of the research in some way acknowledged the presence of leaky gut syndrome, where food particles cross the gut barrier into the bloodstream without being broken down properly. Treatments aim to break down gluten (using enzymes) or to regulate the tight junctions in the digestive tract to prevent permeability. While I doubt either of those would lead to a cure, it would be nice to have something you can take when traveling or on occasion when exposed to gluten. That said, I really do think the right way to treat leaky gut is through diet. Removing offending foods and eating enough nutrient dense foods to help rebuild the digestive system would do mor for someone’s health than taking a drug to block the effects of gluten. Some other attempts at cures are aimed more at treating celiac as an allergy, and trying to lessen the response the immune system has against gluten. So far none of these potential treatments are in the final stages of testing but maybe in the next couple years we’ll hear more about them.
Cross-contamination of Grains
There was some interesting talk about cross-contamination of other grains. The current definition of “gluten-free” according to the Canadian Government is anything with less than 20 ppm gluten. I never knew what 20 ppm would look like, but basically a 1 kg bag of oats with 1 wheat kernel in it would be considered 20 ppm and accepted as gluten-free under the current definition. The company Pure Oats actually checks each batch of oats by hand (a tedious process) to check for any wheat kernels in order to be able to promise their oats are free of cross-contamination. If the law was that gluten-free actually means 0 ppm, then probably no grains or products made with grains would be considered gluten-free. Of course the opinion was that this was too extreme, but really going grain-free is what helped me. I can only imagine if other celiacs (especially those who aren’t responding to a gluten-free diet) cut out grains at least temporarily they would have significant improvement.
The vendor booths at the conference were (unsurprisingly) very heavy on the baked goods. I tried a chocolate cupcake (made from Pamela’s baking mix) and it was pretty good. I was impressed with the booth offering different flours, Jamestown Mills including chick pea, sweet potato and sorghum flours. My favorite booth though was the Kettle Cuisine individual serving soups. I liked the look of the ingredient lists which were all very basic and the soup tasted very much like a homemade soup. The one I tried was the Angus Beef Steak Chilli with real pork fat, chunks of beef and tasty veggies. It was refreshing to see some naturally gluten-free food among the vendors.
So it was a very interesting day, with many other talks that focused on the labeling laws and food safety (not too relevant to someone eating grain-free). I think my next trip to the dentist I will start asking them if they are familiar with celiac disease. I got some handouts from the conference that I can bring with me to share with them too. If anyone knows of dentists who are familiar with celiac and looking for related symptoms in their patients, I would be very interested to know!