It’s hard to increase awareness and advocacy for Celiac Disease, if you don’t know what it is to begin with. Therefore, we thought it best to keep to simple explanations of the most commonly asked questions about Celiac Disease.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease (CD) is a lifelong inherited autoimmune disorder that affects both children and adults triggered by eating foods that contain gluten. When gluten is eaten, it creates a toxic immune reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. Celiac Disease, also known as Celiac Sprue or Gluten Sensitive Enteropathy (GSE), is classified as both an autoimmune disorder, because the body is damaged by its own immune system, and a disease of mal-absorption, because the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs to function properly.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is protein found in specific grains – in all forms of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro), rye, barley and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Someone with CD MUST eliminate gluten. Even small amounts of gluten in foods can affect those with CD and cause health problems. Damage can occur to the small intestine even when there are no symptoms present.
Who gets Celiac Disease?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, CD affects more people than Crohn’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease COMBINED! The numbers are alarming because Celiac Disease affects children and adults, men and women alike. 97% of people with CD go undiagnosed. It is one of the most common genetic conditions in the world. One out of 133 people in the U.S. is affected. 5-15% of the offspring and siblings of a person with CD get the disease. In 70% of identical twin pairs, both twins have the disease. Family members who have an autoimmune disease are at a 25% increased risk of having celiac disease. CD can appear at any time in a person’s life. In adults, the disease can be triggered for the first time after surgery, viral infection, severe emotional stress, pregnancy or childbirth.
What causes Celiac Disease?
That is still a mystery! Celiac Disease is not a food allergy. Food allergies are conditions that people can sometimes out grow. No so with Celiac Disease. It is an autoimmune reaction to a specific food ingredient, gluten. When someone with CD eats gluten, the villi (tiny hair-like projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food) are damaged. The damaged villi then do not effectively absorb basic nutrients. If CD is left untreated, damage to the small intestine can be chronic and life threatening.
What are the symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Classic symptoms vary and are not always gastrointestinal (GI). Here are the most common symptoms:
• Recurring bloating, gas or abdominal pain
• Chronic diarrhea or constipation or both
• Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
• Pale, foul-smelling stool
• Unexplained anemia
• Bone or joint pain, osteoporosis
• Behavior changes/depression/irritability
• Vitamin K Deficiency
• Fatigue, weakness or lack of energy
• Canker sores inside the mouth
• Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
• Delayed growth or onset of puberty
• Missed menstrual periods
• Infertility male and female
• Spontaneous miscarriages
• Infants, toddlers and young children with CD may often exhibit growth failure, vomiting, bloated abdomen, behavioral changes and failure to thrive.
How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
CD is diagnosed by blood tests. Talk to your healthcare provider about specific the blood tests for the preliminary diagnosis of Celiac Disease. The tests measure certain antibodies in the blood. A person seeking diagnosis MUST be following a daily diet that contains gluten for at least 4 weeks in order for test results to be accurate. Because CD is inherited, it is strongly suggested that family members be tested, even if asymptomatic.
What is the treatment for Celiac Disease?
The only treatment is the lifelong commitment to a gluten-free diet, which often requires some lifestyle changes. Reading food labels and identifying ingredients that may contain the hidden culprit of gluten are necessities. When gluten is removed from the diet, the small intestine heals, vital nutrients are absorbed and overall health improves. Medication isn’t normally required. Nutritional supplements often correct any deficiencies
The following are excellent Celiac Disease resources. The next time we hear someone we know talk about these symptoms, may we be more aware about the possibility of Celiac Disease…not only in this month of October but all year long.
Celiac Disease Foundation, a national organization representing the needs & concerns of the Celiac community and those yet to be diagnosed.
Celiac Spruce Association, a dedicated group of “Celiacs Helping Celiacs”.
Celiac Network, a directory of comprehensive resources related to Celiac Disease and living a healthy, gluten-free life.
The Gluten Free Mall, an on line diet superstore for those on gluten free diets.
- Celiac Disease on the Rise in U.S. (bighealthtree.com)
- First global estimates of celiac disease and its mortality burden: 42,000 children may die every year (sciencedaily.com)
- Increased celiac disease prevalence in women with unexplained infertility (sciencedaily.com)
- Celiac Disease (astronutrition.com)