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Can Acupuncture Help Patients with Celiac Disease?

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

Celiac disease goes by other names such as celiac spruce and gluten-sensitive enteropathy. There are also dozens of signs and symptoms, and new ones currently under investigation. The severity of symptoms varies widely, and some people are asymptomatic; meaning, they don't know they have celiac disease until after they experience serious complications. In fact, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation, as many as 97 percent of sufferers are not aware they have it. This makes diagnosis, and getting treatment, difficult. Another complicating factor is that the person may have what's called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This can describe anyone who reacts negatively to gluten but does not suffer from intestinal inflammation.

Although Caucasians of European descent are most likely to present with celiac disease, it can appear in men, women and children of all ages.

So, what exactly is celiac disease and how does it affect the body? In a nutshell, it is a severe allergy against the gluten proteins found in wheat. The immune system mounts an intense reaction, which causes inflammation in the small intestine. This damages the small finger-like projections that line the small intestine, and thus interferes with the small intestine's ability to absorb nutrients the body needs to sustain itself. Over time, if the condition is not diagnosed and goes untreated, it can become chronic and the person can find themselves dealing with long-term health conditions like:

  • Anemia (iron deficiency)
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurological complications (e.g. epileptic seizures, migraine, dementia, neuropathy and myopathy)
  • Infertility
  • Calcium loss resulting in reduction of bone mass (osteoporosis)
  • Mineral and vitamin deficiencies
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Cancer of the intestines and gastrointestinal tract
  • Hyposplenism (reduced spleen function)
  • Disorders of the peripheral and central nervous systems
  • Deficiency of the pancreas
  • Gall bladder malfunction


Current western medical research maintains there is no cure except to refrain eating foods with gluten. But even when gluten-containing foods are removed from the diet, sometimes the intestinal inflammation may persist. Relief from the following symptoms may take up to several months for some.

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Acid reflux

Other symptoms could include:

  • Extremely itchy skin rash on elbows, knees, back and back of neck
  • Abnormal sensations in hands and feet described as a feeling of 'pins and needles'
  • Mouth sores
  • Joint pain
  • Delayed mental and physical growth in young children
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Discolored teeth

The term gluten commonly refers specifically to the gluten found in wheat, though other cereal grains do contain gluten such as rye and barley. And gluten can be found in many foods that may not be apparently obvious, like soy sauce, salad dressings and even some medications.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help treat the symptoms of celiac disease. Your practitioner will need to directly address the inflammation in your intestines through regular acupuncture treatments. These treatments will also focus on your other symptoms too. For the celiac patient, even a small amount of gluten can cause setbacks in progress and may call for additional, unexpected treatments. Of vital importance is a discussion concerning diet and how to avoid gluten while still eating nutritious, complete meals.

There are some basic steps you can take at home to support your digestive health. According to acupuncture and Oriental medicine, the spleen is responsible for transforming food into nutrients and then transporting them to other areas of the body. The spleen also responds well to routine. This includes ritualizing your eating habits with regular meal times, avoiding hunger and not overeating. Try to have your last meal at least three hours before going to bed. Breakfast is considered an important meal of the day and should not be skipped.

Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help manage your symptoms!

About the Author:  Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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