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Gluten Intolerance & Arrhythmia

By Graham Rix

Gluten intolerance occurs when the stomach lining reacts negatively to the presence of the protein gluten in the diet. It can lead to a range of symptoms and associated conditions, including arrhythmia, an abnormality in the rhythm of the heartbeat. The only way to manage gluten intolerance is to avoid all foods containing the protein.

Celiac Disease

Gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, is an overreaction of the body's immune system to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This causes damage to the villi, microscopic fibrous protuberances that line the walls of the small intestine, collecting nutrients from the food you eat. As a result, people suffering from celiac disease become malnourished, as well as experiencing nausea, bloating and fatigue. The disease can appear at any time of life.

Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia is an irregularity in the beating of the heart, with the beat becoming too fast or slow. While many arrhythmias can be harmless, others can impede the ability of the heart to pump blood. Pericardial arrhythmia is a form of irregularity resulting from an inflammation of the pericardium, the protective membrane surrounding the heart. It's this form of arrhythmia that is associated with celiac disease.

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Celiac disease is linked to pericardial arrhythmia in several ways. Because the villi in the small intestine are under attack, the body isn't absorbing all the vitamins and minerals it needs to maintain proper cardiac function. Damage to the intestine walls also makes it easier for infection-causing bacteria and fungi to pass from your stomach into the bloodstream, where they can reach the pericardium.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there's no cure for celiac disease. The only way to manage your intolerance is to eliminate gluten entirely from your diet – and this means even trace amounts. The easiest way to do this is to eat fresh, unprocessed meat, vegetables and fruit prepared in clean, uncontaminated pots and pans. Always check the labels of processed food to make sure it is gluten-free and made in facilities that don't handle wheat or oats. That said, dealing with the root cause might not itself be enough to reverse or correct your arrhythmia. In that case, your health care provider might prescribe vitamin supplements and antiarrhythmic drugs such as beta blockers.

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