What is Celiac Disease?
Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. In people with celiac disease, the body has an immune response to this protein. The immune response attacks the small intestine, which can damage the tiny nubs called villi in this area. The villi are involved in nutrient absorption. Damage to these fingerlike projections, then, inhibits proper nutrient uptake for optimal health. For this reason, celiac disease is believed to increase a person’s risk for long-term health complications.
Who is at risk for Celiac Sprue?
Any person of any age may demonstrate symptoms of celiac disease. However, research suggests that celiac disease may run in a genetic line. When a first-degree blood relative has symptoms of celiac disease, there is a 1-in-10 risk of a person also developing the condition.
Additional risk factors for the development of celiac disease include:
- Presence of another autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Type I diabetes
- Addison’s disease
- Microscopic colitis
- Turner syndrome
- Down syndrome
How do I know if I have Celiac Disease?
Symptoms of celiac disease may vary, especially depending on the age of the affected person. The most common symptoms that affect children and adults with celiac disease involve the digestive system. These include constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, gas and bloating, and vomiting.
Many adults who have celiac disease experience seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as:
- Dermatitis herpetiformis, an itchy, blistery rash on the buttocks, elbows, or torso
- Osteoporosis or osteomalacia (bone loss or softening)
- Persistent fatigue
- Frequent headaches
- Joint pain
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Damaged dental enamel
- Sores or ulcers in the mouth
Children who are gluten-intolerant may experience
- Poor appetite
- Chronic constipation or diarrhea
- Poor muscle tone or muscle atrophy
- Late puberty
Is Celiac Disease common?
How is Celiac Disease treated?
Lifestyle modifications are currently the best approach to the management of celiac disease. Specifically, a diet that consists of less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten is recommended for individuals with known gluten intolerance.
The value of a gluten-free diet in the management of celiac disease is that this lifestyle change can heal the small intestine, leading to a marked decrease in symptoms. The gluten-free way of living is also believed to decrease the risk of health complications related to celiac disease, including intestinal cancers.
A byproduct of celiac disease is a noticeable vitamin and mineral deficiency. Many people with this condition are also low in calcium, iron, fiber, vitamin D, vitamin B, niacin, zinc, magnesium, and other nutrients. Protein and caloric intake also tend to be low in people with celiac disease. This is because damage to the intestines inhibits proper absorption. Following a gluten-free diet, many patients are able to increase their natural ability to absorb what the body needs.
To ensure that nutritional needs are being met, people with celiac disease are advised to undergo periodic screening and obtain supplementation as needed.
Sometimes, medication is prescribed to treat side effects of celiac disease. Primarily, sulfapyridine or dapsone may be administered to treat dermatitis herpetiformis.
Is there a cure for Celiac Disease?
There is currently no known cure for celiac disease. Patients who are diagnosed with this condition are guided in dietary modifications and supplementation to ensure the body receives the proper amounts of vital nutrients.
How does Celiac Disease affect my diet?
People with celiac disease benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet. Fortunately, numerous food choices exist within the recommended parameters. A proper celiac diet may include meat and poultry, fruits and vegetables, dairy, nuts, legumes, beans, and even certain grains. Naturally gluten-free grains include corn, rice, quinoa, flax, millet, chia, and potato, among others.
Celiac disease can affect how the body absorbs nutrients. Even following a gluten-free diet, people with celiac disease may need specific supplementation to ensure the delivery of necessary vitamins and minerals.
Are there any complications if Celiac is not diagnosed or treated?
Yes. Untreated, celiac disease can lead to potentially serious health problems at some point. Celiac disease is considered an autoimmune disorder. The mere presence of one autoimmune disorder increases the risk of other autoimmune disorders and conditions, including:
- Anemia from iron deficiency
- Infertility or miscarriage
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Lactose intolerance
- Gallbladder dysfunction
- Disorders of the central or peripheral nervous system
- Vitamin and mineral deficiency
- Intestinal cancer