Celiac disease is a condition triggered by the consumption of grains containing “gluten”.
Simply put, in celiac disease, the immune system reacts negatively to the presence of gluten in the diet causing damage to the inner lining of the small bowel which reduces your ability to absorb nutrients.
The gluten-containing grains that trigger celiac reactions include wheat, durum, spelt, kamut, barley, rye, and triticale. Therefore, many commonly eaten foods trigger intestinal damage including bread, pasta, cookies, muffins and pizza crust.
What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
The symptoms of celiac disease vary greatly from one person to another. Infants and children often have diarrhea, abdominal distention, and symptoms of malnutrition such as short stature, anemia, defects in teething, failure to thrive, or developmental delay.
In adults, digestive complaints are common including abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea. Weight loss is most common, but symptoms of weight gain and constipation are not unheard of. Only some individuals with celiac disease suffer typical digestive symptoms, while others may display no visible symptoms at all.
Further symptoms vary and can include mouth ulcers, extreme fatigue, depression, bone pain and others. A serious skin condition known as dermatitis herpetiformis is sometimes a result of celiac disease.
Other conditions associated with celiac disease include osteoporosis, depression, infertility, type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, arthritis, and neuropathy. If celiac disease is diagnosed early and treated, the damaged tissues can heal and the risk of developing many of the long-term complications of this disease can be reduced.
What Causes Celiac Disease?
It remains unclear as to what exactly causes celiac disease. Closely related family members of celiacs have a greater risk of developing the disease; however, not all individuals carrying the celiac genes will develop the disease. Therefore, in addition to genetics, other environmental factors have also been implicated in its development.
How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
Diagnosis involves a combination of blood tests and a biopsy of the small intestine. It is important not to try a gluten-free diet on your own before being tested. In order for celiac tests to be accurate, you must eat gluten regularly leading up to testing.
How is Celiac Disease Treated?
The #1 treatment for celiac disease is to continually maintain a strict gluten-free diet for life. Once you’ve removed gluten from your diet, inflammation in your small intestine will begin to subside, usually within several weeks.
In addition to the gluten-free diet, specific nutritional supplements, herbal medicines and acupuncture can be used to support intestinal healing.
As well, nutritional supplements may be needed to correct nutrient deficiencies that are common in celiacs such as: calcium, folic acid, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin K and omega-3 fats. A healthy gluten-free diet aids healing and corrects nutritional deficiencies; however, the damage in the intestines may make it difficult to absorb nutrients from many foods, not just gluten. Therefore, in the initial stages of healing, it is often beneficial to avoid other foods, such as dairy products.