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Celiac Disease Treatment

There is no cure for celiac disease, which is a life-long autoimmune condition. However, there is a treatment that can relieve symptoms: eating gluten-free.

Every patient diagnosed with celiac disease will be instructed to eat gluten-free for the rest of their life. Some may also be prescribed nutritional supplements, and patients with dermatitis herpetiformis, a skin rash associated with celiac disease, may be prescribed steroids to relieve itching. Patients with refractory celiac disease, a rare and aggressive form of the condition, may be put on immunosuppressants to calm the immune system.

In the future, we may have additional treatments to effectively cure celiac disease and allow patients to eat gluten again. Until then, patients should stick to a strict gluten-free diet. Patients should be wary of any medications or home remedies that claim to cure celiac disease and consult with their doctor before taking any new medicine or changing their diet.

The Only Treatment for Celiac Disease: the Gluten-Free Diet

Currently, the only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong gluten-free diet. Even small amounts of gluten can damage the intestine in those with celiac disease, so people with celiac disease don’t have “cheat days.”

A gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley. Despite these restrictions, people with celiac disease can eat a well-balanced diet with various foods, including naturally gluten-free foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats, and gluten-free alternatives such as gluten-free bread, pizza, and snacks.

Visit our Gluten-Free Diet page for an overview and great alternatives. Check out our Getting Started Guide for a more in-depth guide to eating gluten-free.

Treating the Symptoms of Celiac Disease

While a gluten-free diet is the cornerstone of managing celiac disease, some treatments target the symptoms of this condition. These approaches aim to alleviate discomfort and prevent complications by addressing specific symptoms, such as nutritional deficiencies and skin manifestations. Here are some of the most common treatments for celiac disease symptoms:

Nutritional Deficiencies

Many patients with celiac disease have damaged intestines. The intestines will heal over time, but if your doctor is concerned about nutritional intake after your diagnosis, they may prescribe supplements or injections.

  • Your doctor may prescribe vitamins and supplements. Common nutritional deficiencies in celiac disease patients are iron, folic acid, zinc, copper, and vitamins D, B-12, and K. Your doctor will order blood tests to see which vitamins and minerals you specifically are low in.
  • If you have severe anemia, your doctor may recommend injections, such as iron transfusions.

Nutritional deficiencies should go away over time as your intestines heal, and your doctor may, after a time, wean you off supplements or injections.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis

Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is an extremely itchy skin rash associated with celiac disease. The most common medication used to treat it is dapsone.

  • Dapsone is an antibiotic medication used in both oral and gel forms. It’s the most popular treatment used to relieve discomfort caused by dermatitis herpetiformis.
  • For patients who cannot tolerate dapsone, sulfapyridine and other sulfonamide drugs are sometimes used as treatments for dermatitis herpetiformis. These are less effective and have more potential side effects compared to dapsone.

While medications can ease itchiness, the only thing that will put DH into remission is a strict, gluten-free diet.

Gastrointestinal Distress

Many patients with celiac disease experience gastrointestinal distress when consuming gluten.

  • If you struggle with diarrhea or vomiting, staying hydrated is important. Drink plenty of water and electrolytes. Drinks with electrolytes include coconut water, fruit juices, and sports drinks.
  • A warm tea may help settle your stomach if you struggle with nausea. Just be sure the tea is gluten-free.
  • If you struggle with constipation, eat plenty of fiber in foods like leafy greens, fruits, and whole (gluten-free) grains.
  • Finally, if you are experiencing gastrointestinal distress, it is best to avoid foods that may irritate your gut, such as coffee, fried foods, and spicy meals.

Intestinal Inflammation

For patients with refractory celiac disease, the immune system attacks the intestines even on a gluten-free diet. Immunosuppressants can help.

Refractory celiac disease is a rare condition, occurring in only about 1% of patients. If your doctor suspects refractory celiac disease, they will review available immunosuppressants to select a medication that is best suited to you, or they may refer you to a celiac disease expert for further help.

A drug to treat refractory celiac disease, AMG-714, may be available to some patients with diagnosed refractory celiac disease through Amgen’s expanded access to investigational medicines program. Read more on the US government’s clinical trials website.

Drug Development and Future Treatments

Every day, scientists from across the globe work to develop new treatments for celiac disease beyond the gluten-free diet. These drugs may protect patients in several ways:

  • Breaking down gluten before it causes a reaction.
  • Rewiring the immune system so it doesn’t react to gluten.
  • Interrupting the body’s reaction to gluten before it causes damage.
  • Or using other tactics.

Through our Coalition, Beyond Celiac actively works with pharmaceutical companies, researchers, clinicians, professional organizations, and other major stakeholders, including the FDA, to ensure that the patient’s voice is heard in conversations around treatments for celiac disease.

Visit our drug development pipeline page to see a list of drugs in clinical trials. If you’d like to get involved in research or clinical trials, visit our clinical trials page.

Dispelling Common Celiac Disease Treatment Myths

Although researchers are working on additional treatments, there are currently no treatments that allow people with celiac disease to eat foods containing gluten. There are also no proven home remedies or homeopathic treatments for celiac disease. The only treatment that has demonstrated effectiveness is following a completely gluten-free diet (with immunosuppressants on rare occasions).

If you have celiac disease, be wary of any medications or home remedies claiming to cure celiac disease, and consult with your doctor before taking any new medicine or changing your diet.

Products with Unproven Health Claims

  • Activated charcoal – While activated charcoal can effectively prevent serious complications after poisoning, there is little to no scientific evidence that it helps with other conditions, such as high cholesterol, nausea, or celiac disease.
  • Dietary Supplements – There are plenty of over-the-counter dietary supplements that claim to degrade gluten and protect people with celiac disease from getting sick, but they are not FDA-approved. Patients may think they’re being protected by supplements with names like Gluten Aid, Gluten Cutter, Gluten Defense, and GlutenEase, but no scientific evidence supports that claim. Read more about these dubious supplements.
  • Homeopathic remedies – Homeopathic medicine is based on the idea that the human body can cure any ailments and that “like cures like.” In other words, something that causes your eyes to water, like an onion, could cure allergies that cause watery eyes. There is no evidence that homeopathic remedies can cure celiac disease or damaged intestines.
  • Bryonia – Bryonia is commonly found in homeopathic tonics but hasn’t been shown to cure or impact celiac disease.
  • Bread in Europe – It is an oft-repeated myth that people with celiac disease can eat bread in Europe. This is not true. Gluten is gluten, no matter where it’s from or what country you’re in.

Following a gluten-free diet may seem daunting at first, but with a little creativity, anyone can make delicious gluten-free meals. View our Gluten-Free Recipes for delicious meal ideas.

Think you may have celiac disease?

Symptoms Checklist