Celiac Disease and Addiction

stockphoto.com/kirstypargeterThere are myriad ways that treating celiac disease can lead to improved health. But are there ways in which treating the disease could contribute to the development of addiction?

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream, then circulated throughout the organs in the body. Physical dependence occurs when central nervous system cells need alcohol to function normally.

Women are at a higher risk of developing physical alcohol dependence than men because a woman’s blood alcohol concentration tends to be higher than a man’s after drinking the same amount of alcohol. From this it can be deduced that the higher the blood alcohol concentration, the higher the risk for developing physical alcohol dependence.

1) Celiac disease and malabsorption

One of the symptoms of untreated celiac disease is malabsorption of nutrients into the bloodstream. When someone with celiac disease ingests gluten, antibodies that damage the small intestine are produced, resulting in a flattening of the villi. This flattening leads to malabsorption of nutrients. Malabsorption can also be a result of lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease, and many other conditions.

2) Ingesting alcohol

As previously stated, alcohol is ingested and absorbed into the bloodstream through the gut, and untreated celiac disease can cause malabsorption. And in the case of alcohol consumption, the higher the blood alcohol concentration, the higher the risk for developing physical dependence. Conversely, the lower the blood alcohol concentration due to malabsorption, the lower the risk of developing physical dependence on alcohol.

3) Treatment and absorption

Assume that there is a man who comes from a long line of alcoholics on one side of his family, and a long line of celiac disease sufferers on the other. This man has been drinking alcohol for 20 years without becoming addicted.

One day he is diagnosed with celiac disease, and eliminates gluten from his diet so that his villi heal. Soon after, his intestines begin to properly absorb. Now, though, the alcohol that he drinks is properly absorbed, meaning his blood alcohol concentration is greater, which, as stated above, means greater risk for physical dependence. Is it possible that the healing of his gut increased his risk of forming an addiction — a physical dependence — to alcohol?

By this logic, it could be that treating celiac disease can leave sufferers who are also alcohol drinkers vulnerable to physical alcohol dependence. The interplay between celiac disease and addiction may extend beyond depression — a symptom of celiac disease — and its known correlation with addiction.

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Originally published on The Huffington Post.