Over the past ten years, many people have discovered how much better their bellies feel when they avoid gluten. Restaurants and grocery stores now offer a wide variety of gluten-free options. People with gluten intolerance now have the option to avoid gluten in almost every setting.
But for millions of people around the world who live with celiac disease, even a small particle of gluten can cause a massive and damaging immune response.
Could red light therapy help to manage celiac disease? While there isn’t much research yet on red light therapy and celiac disease, we’ll take a look at the current research and what the future might hold.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition that causes a reaction to a protein called gluten. Gluten proteins are found in wheat, rye, and barley.
For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten triggers their immune system to attack their small intestine. If they continue eating gluten, the resulting chronic inflammation can prevent the small intestine from absorbing necessary nutrients.
Doctors diagnose celiac disease by a blood test or intestinal biopsy that checks for specific antibodies produced during the immune response.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, one out of every 100 people in the world suffers from celiac disease. They further state that about 2.5 million Americans have celiac disease but don’t know it yet. These people are probably consuming gluten and unknowingly damaging their small intestines.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Many of the symptoms of celiac disease involve the gastrointestinal system, such as:
- Gas and bloating.
- Abdominal cramping.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Unintended weight loss.
The damage from celiac disease isn’t limited to the digestive system, though. Malabsorption (the inability to absorb nutrients) can lead to many other health issues, like:
- Iron-deficiency anemia.
- Low bone density.
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
- Joint pain.
- Mouth ulcers.
- Dental cavities.
- Low vitamin D levels.
- Delayed puberty and stunted growth in children.
- Psychiatric disorders.
Celiac disease does not have a cure (yet!). But most people with celiac disease can drastically reduce their symptoms by following a very strict gluten-free diet.
The Difference Between Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance
You likely know someone who avoids eating gluten-containing foods because they are gluten intolerant. But while non-celiac gluten intolerance (NCGI) can cause some unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, it rarely results in long-term intestinal damage. Many more people have gluten intolerance than celiac disease: about 6% of the United States population.
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy (or phototherapy) is a medical treatment that projects specific wavelengths of light onto the body for specific desired effects. Light therapy produces full-spectrum, red, green, or blue wavelengths using light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Light therapy can be performed at home or in a medical setting such as a medical spa or physician’s office.
In recent years, many products for home use have been developed to address a wide array of localized health concerns, such as canker sores, genital herpes, and acne. It has also long been used treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Light therapy has also shown promise for helping patients with Crohn’s disease.
Can Light Therapy Help With Celiac Disease?
Research is still in its early stages, and more study is needed to determine whether red light therapy could benefit celiac disease patients specifically.
However, light therapy with red or near-infrared light wavelengths delivered to the abdomen has been shown to alter the microbiome of the gut. And studies conducted on both mice and humans have shown promising results for the effect of light therapy on gut health.
Red light therapy may also benefit celiac disease patients indirectly. The intestinal damage caused by celiac disease’s chronic inflammation can result in a range of skin conditions. Light therapy has repeatedly shown itself to be a safe, effective, and noninvasive treatment for a wide array of skin conditions.
Celiac disease has been associated with a number of skin conditions, including:
- Dermatitis herpetiformis.
- Excessively dry skin.
- Alopecia areata, or hair loss.
- Chronic hives (chronic urticaria).
In addition, many patients with celiac disease have chronically low levels of vitamin D due to their inability to properly absorb nutrients. While red light therapy alone wouldn’t necessarily help this problem, therapy with full-spectrum light has been shown to increase vitamin D levels in patients with malabsorption issues.
Contact Your Physician for More Information
Red light therapy for celiac disease is still in the early days of research. Not many studies exist at this time because red light therapy for gut issues is a newer field.
Consult your primary care physician, gastroenterologist, or a light therapy specialist before including red light therapy as part of your celiac disease management routine to make sure it’s right for you.