A recent study conducted by a group of Dutch researchers has found that vitamin B supplements can be beneficial in increasing vitamin B6, B12 and folate levels in celiac disease patients and in reducing their homocysteine levels. High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, has been associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the vessels that carry blood to the legs, arms, stomach or kidneys. The study followed 51 patients with celiac disease and 50 healthy people.

Celiac disease (CD) is a chronic intestinal disorder caused by a hypersensitivity to gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oat products. Normally, ingesting these proteins does not cause an immune response. But in patients with CD, the immune system is abnormally activated by gluten, triggering an inflammation response in the small intestine. Over time, this autoimmune response results in the partial or complete flattening of the villi-the tiny hair-like projections lining the small intestine that absorb nutrients from foods. Without healthy villi, people become malnourished, no matter how much food they eat. According to the study findings, in addition to raising vitamin B6 and B12 levels and lowering homocysteine levels in CD patients, the supplements also seem to have a protective role against atrophy of the intestinal villi.

Although once thought of as a rare condition, celiac disease actually affects as many as 1 in 100 people in the U.S. In people with type 1 diabetes, the statistics are even more daunting, with an estimated 1 in 20 type 1 diabetics also testing positive for CD. Another 1 in 10 type 1 patients will test positive for transglutaminase IgA autoantibodies, an immune marker indicating a propensity for CD and often an early sign of disease presence.

Symptoms of CD vary from person to person and may occur either in the digestive system, causing such problems as abdominal pain, gas and bloating, or in other parts of the body, and, therefore, not be associated with CD. Some additional signs to look for include:

  • Fatigue
  • Bone or join pain
  • Arthritis
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Infertility

Although there's no cure for celiac disease, completely eliminating wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oat grains from your diet should stop your symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage. If you suspect you may have CD, talk to you doctor about your symptoms and ask if disease screening would be beneficial to you.