Celiac Disease- What You Should Know
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. Also known as celiac sprue, celiac disease occurs in people who have a susceptibility to gluten intolerance. When a person with celiac disease ingests gluten it leads to damage of the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Products containing these grains must be avoided by those suffering from the disease. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, an autoimmune reaction occurs in the small intestine. This results in damage to the villi which line the surface of the small intestine. The villi control the absorption of nutrients from the food we eat.
Among the products to be especially mindful of are: bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. Beer is also to be avoided as beer contains gluten as well because it is brewed with barley. There is no cure for celiac disease and the only treatment is the lifelong avoidance of foods containing gluten. Celiac disease is also hereditary so the disease runs in families.
Some people have no symptoms at all, while others show symptoms and may suffer from the following:
- Abdominal Pain
- Chronic Diarrhea
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Foul Smelling or Fatty Stools
Celiac disease affects people differently. There are over 200 known symptoms of the disease. The disease can develop early in childhood or can show up in adulthood.
Health consequences of undiagnosed celiac disease
If the condition is ignored and left undiagnosed there can be serious health consequences. As the damage to the small intestine increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to absorb vital nutrients. Obviously, if this is the case it will lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The lack of these nutrients can lead to anemia, nervous system issues, osteoperosis, liver and pancreatic damage, gall bladder disease and neurological problems. These can be especially serious in children and can lead to decreases in growth and behavioural issues.
Although celiac disease affects people of all races, it is most prevalent in those of white European ancestry. It also affects women to a greater extent than me. Celiac disease has been around as long as man has eaten wheat and other grains containing the protein, but it has only been in the last 50 years that researchers have gained a better understanding of the condition and how to treat it.
Eventually, decreased absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment, which can lead to other illnesses. This is especially serious in children, who need proper nutrition to develop and grow. Many who suffer from celiac disease also develop related vitamin and mineral deficiency related diseases.
As mentioned above, there is currently no cure for the disease. Treatment consists of maintaining a lifelong gluten free diet. Following a gluten free diet allows the villi in the small bowel to heal, avoids repeated symptoms, and helps prevent bowel cancer from developing. Vitamin and mineral supplements may be necessary as the gluten free diet may be deficient in some vitamins and minerals. Since osteoporsis is possible you should have a bone density test and your doctor may prescribe supplements if your bone density is low.
Celiac disease is a treatable disease and although it cannot be cured it can be managed with proper diet and supplements if necessary. If you feel you may have symptoms of the disease it’s important to visit your doctor and discuss your concerns. Your doctor can do testing and if you are diagnosed can help you with a treatment plan and follow up.
For more information visit the Celiac Disease Foundation here.
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