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Celiac disease takes centre stage in new exercise study

Clockwise, from top left: Faculty of Kinesiology researchers Raylene Reimer, Guillaume Millet, Justine Dowd, and Nicole Culos-Reed study holistic, evidence-based approaches to help patients with celiac disease

Riley Brandt

A study aimed at helping more than 110,000 Canadians living with celiac disease has been given a boost thanks to a Seed Grant from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology.

"MOVE-C — Understanding the Relationship Between the MicrobiOme, Vitality and Exercise in Celiac Disease," received $50,000 to conduct research into the ways in which the chronic condition can be managed beyond just adherence to a gluten-free diet.

Justine Dowd, Raylene Reimer, Guillaume Millet and principal investigator Nicole Culos-Reed are studying holistic, evidence-based approaches to help patients with this autoimmune disorder, which can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and increased risk of intestinal cancers and osteoporosis.

“Our focus is on helping people to improve their quality of life,” says Dowd, who was diagnosed with celiac disease six years ago. “Often, people are diagnosed and start to eat gluten-free, but still have a variety of negative symptoms.”

Relying on ‘gluten-free’ label doesn’t always work

According to Dowd, just looking for the words “gluten-free” on packaging might not be enough to manage the disease in a healthy way. “Lots of gluten-free food is very processed, low in nutrition, and high in calories, which causes this perfect storm. People are often underweight when they are diagnosed with celiac disease, and then if they are eating overprocessed, high-calorie foods, they can gain too much weight on a gluten-free diet and are at risk of health complications like metabolic syndrome.”

In addition to promoting a whole foods diet, Dowd’s team will be exploring the benefits regular exercise can have on patients. “Exercise is good for everyone, and we want to see how getting people with celiac disease more active can get them to a healthier weight status and healthier in general,” says Dowd.

Aside from the obvious benefits, exercise may also help to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. “There are preliminary studies that show that exercise has led to a healthier microbiome in animals and humans,” says Dowd.

Study seeks adult participants

Currently, the MOVE-C study is seeking adults (18 years of age and older), who have been diagnosed with celiac disease and do not engage in regular exercise, to participate in a free exercise program at the University of Calgary. Dowd has also developed an app, MyHealthyGut, that helps educate people about which foods are safe to eat, as well as record symptoms. Other key parts of the program will include interviews with experts on everything from acupuncture to sleep.

“It’s about embowering people to manage their celiac disease,” says Dowd. “I am so happy to be able to provide people with a program that is evidence-based. I wish I had had it myself years ago.”

For inquiries about the free exercise program, please email celiac@ucalgary.ca.

MyHealthyGut is available for download in the iTunes store. 

The Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases was named in 2008 in honour of Joan Snyder and her parents, who she credits for teaching her the value of philanthropy. It is a group of more than 104 clinicians, clinician-scientists and basic scientists who are impacting and changing the lives of people suffering from chronic diseases, including sepsis, MRSA, cystic fibrosis, type-1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For more information on the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, please visit us at www.snyder.ucalgary.ca or follow us on Twitter @SnyderInstitute.