Sourdough and Bone Broth for Gluten Intolerance

by Ann Marie Michaels on January 19, 2008

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I just read this fascinating article, Going with the Grain by Catherine Kzapp on how she healed her father, a sufferer of celiac disease, or gluten intolerance.

Gluten intolerance has become a serious modern disease, not just among kids on the autistic spectrum (autism, Aspberger’s ADD/ADHD), but among many, many people with chronic digestive problems.

Damage to the intestinal wall causes a condition known as leaky gut or intestinal permeability. This creates all sorts of problems such as toxins being released into the bloodstream and malabsorption of nutrients.

Malabsorpition causes degenerative diseases like osteoperosis in the elderly and can cause failure to thrive in babies.

Most celiac sufferers feel doomed to a life without bread. Complete avoidance of gluten (and often casein — in dairy products) is the only way they can quell a plethora of symptoms and disorders.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance (from the Mayo Clinic):

There are no typical signs and symptoms of celiac disease. Most people with the disease have general complaints, such as intermittent diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating. Sometimes people with celiac disease may have no gastrointestinal symptoms at all. Celiac disease symptoms can also mimic those of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastric ulcers, Crohn’s disease, parasite infections, anemia, skin disorders or a nervous condition.

Celiac disease may also present itself in less obvious ways, including irritability or depression, anemia, stomach upset, joint pain, muscle cramps, skin rash, mouth sores, dental and bone disorders (such as osteoporosis), and tingling in the legs and feet (neuropathy).

Some indications of malabsorption that may result from celiac disease include:

Weight loss
Abdominal cramps, gas and bloating
General weakness
Foul-smelling or grayish stools that may be fatty or oily
Stunted growth (in children)

The article by Catherine Czapp is very encouraging for the gluten intolerant, as it outlines a protocol for recovery that goes beyond gluten avoidance:

When a patient receives a diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten intolerance, either via laboratory testing or by process of elimination by the sufferer himself, complete avoidance of all gluten-containing foods will often bring improvement of many symptoms in a short time, sometimes as quickly as three days; others may require a month for positive signs to emerge. Finally understanding what was wrong can be a tremendous relief for someone who had likely been struggling with unhappy digestion for quite some time.

It is important to remember, though, that the impaired digestive capabilities of someone suffering from this autoimmune disorder will not automatically return to full healthy functioning by merely excluding gluten from the diet, nor will longstanding nutrient deficiencies be corrected unless they are actively addressed in a recuperation protocol designed with care and insight into the needs of the individual. Celiacs who have been severely afflicted should expect significant renewal of health only after one or more years of concerted effort.

What does she recommend for recovery?

Bone broths! The gelatin in homemade bone broths actually repairs the intestinal walls.

She ventured beyond the average bone broth, though, adding things like kombu, shiitake and nettles — which also help to soothe and repair the gut:

I had been pottering away in my kitchen experimenting with bone broths. I had become entranced by the extraordinary nutritive and recuperative properties of highly gelatinized broth made from the long simmering of bones, and I wanted to have a good storage of it. I improvised my brews by adding astragalus root–a nutritive immune system enhancer–to some pots, and kombu (a brown kelp) to others for its contribution of minerals and soothing mucilage. I added vinegar I’d made from shiitake mushroom stems–another immune system booster–in others, and nettles I’d grown on the burial ground of spent fish bones in another.

Nettles have so many nourishing and energizing attributes that one can barely enumerate them all, but I had been counting on their ability to pull minerals from the soil to augment my bone stocks. I only recently have come across a reference to their ability to actually promote the growth of intestinal villi!

Note: she does not recommend storebought broth. It must be homemade from the bones of chickens, cows, fish, or other animals (or purchased from someone who made it from scratch).

She goes on to discuss homemade sourdough bread and how it may be tolerable by celiacs. She says her recovered dad has been eating it for years with no ill effects.

She describes an amazing study wherein celiac volunteers ate sourdough bread and had no reaction:

A study published in February, 2004 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology with the tantalizing title “Sourdough Bread Made from Wheat and Nontoxic Flours and Started with Selected Lactobacilli Is Tolerated in Celiac Sprue Patients,” describes the results of an Italian research team which, encouraged by preliminary findings of their earlier work in vitro, designed an in vivo experiment to test their findings. The team’s premise was that lactobacilli, chosen for their ability to hydrolyze or sever protein (gliadin) fractions might be key in processing wheat flour so that its toxic properties would be neutralized and therefore not harmful to celiac patients.

Their experiment included 17 subjects, all celiac patients who had been consuming gluten-free diets for at least two years and no longer exhibiting symptoms. The experimental bread was made from a combination of wheat (Triticum aestivum), oat, millet and buckwheat flours, 30 percent of which was wheat. The flour was mixed with a “broth” of four lab-obtained lactobacilli, a dose of baker’s yeast and tap water in a continuous high-speed mixer. When the dough was allowed to ferment at about body temperature for 24 hours, almost all of the toxic peptide fractions in the wheat protein had been hydrolized. The bread was then baked and fed to the celiac volunteers (who also bravely ate breads made with plain baker’s yeast as “controls”). After consuming the simple yeasted bread, analysis of the volunteers’ gut permeability was made, which showed a change in permeability normally associated with celiac response. No such response was noted when the volunteers ate the 24-hour fermented sourdough bread. The authors of the study are cautiously enthusiastic about the results of this “novel bread biotechnology” and its implications for celiac patients.

Note: we are not talking about that faux sourdough bread you find in the grocery store. This is real homemade sourdough made from a fermented starter.

The article concludes:

Rather than condemn celiac sufferers to a life without bread, how much better to offer a healing protocol followed for life with the right kind of bread. In fact, how much better for all of us to take our cue from celiac sufferers and consume only bread that has been prepared by artisans–with attention to detail and lots of time.

The same old refrain. Modern food production is causing health problems that can be reversed by going back to eating foods raised and prepared traditionally.

There is nothing I love better than a house filled with the odors of fresh baking bread and a pot of homemade chicken stock simmering on the stove. To me, that’s home.

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