2018 National Conference Recap

Courtesy Calgary Chapter

The CCA’s Ottawa Chapter hosted the 2018 National Conference and it was a tremendous success! Not only did we have nearly 300 delegates (more than we’ve seen in years), but we also were able to break new ground by having a presentation on neurological issues and celiac – a rapidly developing but lesser-known area of celiac disease research.

Held at the majestic Shaw Centre in downtown Ottawa, the location was great for tourism – right by Parliament Hill, the Rideau Centre, the Byward Market and more. The conference received rave reviews from attendees and we thank the Ottawa Chapter for all the work put into this event. If you weren’t able to make it, we’re pleased to provide some of the key points from three featured speakers.

Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou gave us a thrilling presentation on the neurological manifestations of celiac disease.

  • “Classic” celiac disease is no longer the norm. More and more we are seeing neurological issues. It’s possible to have no digestive issues, just neurological issues, and be celiac. Going gluten-free is critical to help alleviate these symptoms.
  • Early diagnosis when gluten ataxia is present can help save the patient from much hardship.
  • Balance issues and vertigo are red flags. Celiac can also interfere with speech, coordination, strength.
  • Gluten neuropathy – loss of sensation/tingling, can be numbness and pain. Accounts for 26% of all neuropathies.
  • Gluten ataxia equally common between men and women, study shows. Only 50% of them will be celiac.
  • With gluten ataxia, we can see damage to the cerebellum – damage that is often permanent.
  • Gluten ataxia in some cases linked to refractory celiac disease, which can be very difficult to treat.
  • There is a strong connection between headaches and patients with celiac disease. Some ataxia  patients get horrific headaches. You wouldn’t automatically assume that’s celiac!
  • Antibodies from gluten exposure can cross-react with neural tissue. The cerebellum is what’s primarily impacted for ataxia in these cases, but other areas of the brain can be impacted as well.
  • Some neurological patients show a poor response to the gluten-free diet. Reason most often is poor diet adherence, but there could be other issues as well.
  • Some patients say they feel like there’s a big cloud over your head, things are hazy, as if you’re just going through the motions of life.
  • Physiotherapy has been found to be able to help when there has been gluten ataxia damage to the cerebellum. Easier for younger people.
  • We know that depression and anxiety levels are higher in those with celiac disease.
  • Studies in our clinic found that half of people with ataxia showed enteropathy.
  • Ataxia patients get MR spectroscopy scans, show great improvement for celiacs once the gluten-free diet is adopted.
  • Age of diagnosis for a classical-symptomed celiac is 44, versus 53 for those with the neurological presentation.
  • Even if you’re on a strict gluten-free diet, gluten ataxia can persist. Depends on the patient and antibody profile.
  • Seizures can be associated with celiac. Specific type of epilepsy, seems to be more common in Italy and Argentina.
  • Since screening programs implemented in Finland, fewer cases of dermatitis herpetiformis have been reported.
  • If a celiac still has neurological symptoms on the gluten-free diet, he or she should repeat the blood work and the endoscopy. If everything looks healed/compliant, there may be a need to use immunosuppressants.
  • Some patients with schizophrenia showed improvement on the gluten-free diet, but we can’t say that there is a clear link. More research is needed.


Dr. Joseph Murray provided an overview of the latest research from the world of celiac disease.

  • There are drugs that can damage the intestine to make it appear like celiac. There are other conditions that can also mimic the damage. Beware.
  • People with celiac disease should test their thyroid function every 4-5 years, as there is a strong link between celiac disease and thyroid disease. Both are autoimmune.
  • Cannabis is soon to be legal in Canada. Cannabis is better than over-indulging in alcohol and better than smoking cigarettes, but there are still negative impacts to watch out for. There has been no research on whether cannabis could help people with celiac disease.
  • Whether global warming is impacting celiac, who knows. It may be changing how wheat grows, how it adapts, etc.
  • In northern climates, we see more multiple sclerosis, just like we see more celiac disease.
  • Perhaps related to vitamin D? More research is needed.
  • If you’re a mother who is diagnosed with celiac, test your children NOW. Before you turn your house totally or partially gluten-free.
  • Being “very positive” on the celiac tTG blood test doesn’t really impact the level/severity of symptoms. Positive is positive.
  • Celiac was considered a rare disease in the past. We found 0.2% in testing in the 1950s. Definitely far higher now  1%, or 5x what it was.


Dr. Justine Dowd presented her research, partially funded by the CCA, on evidence-based holistic approaches to celiac disease management.

  • Many people with celiac disease are misdiagnosed with IBS first. Or some, like me, are “lucky” enough to have both.
  • I struggled for a long time with infertility and was misdiagnosed. Getting finally diagnosed as celiac led to huge improvement.
  • Those who adhere the best to the gluten-free diet are those who were in dire straits when diagnosed, awful symptoms. They do not want to take any chances at going back to how things were.
  • We need to retrain our nerves so that we can feel well. Brings in the idea of self-compassion.
  • There is a strong connection between gut health and mental health. Lots of research in that area. More incidence of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues among those with celiac disease.
  • Research shows that people are more likely to be kind to others than to themselves. Self-compassion is needed, giving ourselves the same kindness. Mindfulness over overidentification, common humanity over isolation.
  • We’re looking at exercise and effect on microbiome. Does being active make a difference?
  • Vagus nerve is key – connects gut and brain, promotes rest and digestion. Also need to reduce stress as much as possible – and cope with it, where elimination is not possible.
  • We have over 1,000 different bacteria species in our gut. Strong link between exercise and gut health.
  • Can be higher risk of excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar with celiac patients. May be due to excess consumption of processed GF foods. Can lead to metabolic syndrome.
  • The app @myhealthygut is free to get started, and has additional features available ($). The dietary tracker and journal can help to figure out why you may still have symptoms. Then you can email it to your health care provider.
  • For newly diagnosed, we need to teach them self-regulatory skills. That’s what she is researching at the University of Calgary.

In addition, the conference included presentations on nutrition, gluten-free lentils and grains, and baking GF and vegan, as well as updates from Health Canada and the CFIA.

Next year’s conference will be in the Toronto area, likely in late May. Stay tuned for more details!

CCA National Conference 2018 – Registration Open


CCA Conference 2018

The Ottawa Chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association is proud to be hosting the 2018 national conference, which will take place on June 9, 2018 at the Shaw Centre in downtown Ottawa, just steps from Parliament Hill, the Byward Market, the Rideau Centre and countless other attractions. Registration is now open at www.ccaconference.ca and we’re looking forward to an amazing event!

We are presenting not one but two keynote speakers:

  • Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou, a professor in neurology at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Dr. Hadjiovassiliou is a top world researcher in the area of the neurological manifestations of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In particular, he has conducted extensive research into gluten ataxia.
  • Dr. Joseph Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and among the world’s leading researchers in the area of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Dr. Murray will be discussing the latest research breakthroughs.

Along with the keynotes, we’re planning to welcome speakers on the following topics:

  • Psychological issues relating to celiac disease and the gluten-free diet
  • Operating a gluten-free bakery, securing safe supplies, and being aware of other major allergens as well
  • Updates from Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  • Ensuring safe gluten-free beans, lentils and pulses are available in the Canadian marketplace

Space is limited so we encourage you to register today. CCA members can attend for just $80 for the day, which includes breakfast and lunch, access to all speaker sessions, and entrance to a gluten-free vendor market that will be taking place alongside the conference. This early bird rate is good just until the end of March so sign up right away!