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Celiac Disease

Learn the warning signs and symptoms of celiac disease in adults and children, and discover how changes in your diet can lead to dramatic improvements in the quality of your life.

Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity

A gluten-free diet has become all too popular in the health world, especially as its implementation is essential for individuals with celiac disease. But what truly is celiac disease and how may you get it?

Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity

A gluten-free diet has become all too popular in the health world. Though some may eliminate gluten as a healthy diet approach and effort, its implementation is essential for individuals with celiac disease. But what truly is celiac disease and how may you get it?

What is Celiac Disease?

Also known as coeliac disease, celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, and gluten sensitivity enteropathy, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by an abnormal response to ingested gluten. When individuals with celiac disease consume gluten, it disturbs the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the "toxic" fragments stimulate an immune response. Essentially, the body believes and comprehends gluten is a harmful substance, thus attacking its own GI lining. *As a disclaimer, gluten is not a toxic compound in all individuals. In fact, only one percent of the general U.S. population is diagnosed with celiac disease with similar numbers in Europe, though the numbers are suggested to be rising.

Short-term signs and symptoms (diarrhea, bloating, etc.) following gluten ingestion are certainly unpleasant. However, long-term noncompliance to a gluten-free diet can result to much more severe consequences later down the road and include a number of nutritional deficiencies and conditions - iron deficiency anemia, vitamin deficiencies (including vitamins B6, B12, D, E, and K), mineral deficiencies (such as selenium or zinc), malnutrition, and lactose intolerance. Learn more about celiac disease signs and symptoms.

The diagnosis process of celiac disease is multifaceted. First, symptoms of a celiac disease may provoke the curiosity of celiac disease or some sort of sensitivity. An antibody test and intestinal biopsy can further solidify a true diagnosis along with identifying symptom improvement once gluten is withdrawn from the diet. Eliminating gluten is the only known treatment for celiac disease. Gluten is mostly found in wheat, rye, oats*, and barley and their associated products - wheat pasta, rye bread, oatmeal, etc. Other products that may hide gluten include sauces, dressings, and frozen products.

*Oats are naturally gluten-free. However, oats are mostly manufactured with gluten-containing products. Though most individuals with celiac disease can consume moderated portions of oats without significant consequences, identifying "gluten-free" on the product can increase certainty of its safety.

How Do You Get Celiac Disease?

Celiac diagnosis is not contagious nor a seasonal allergy or virus that comes and goes. Unfortunately, the exact etiology is unestablished and not well-known. What health experts do know, though, is that celiac disease occurs from genetic, food, and other environmental factors. The condition is embedded as an inherited, predisposed risk factor that generally becomes further surfaced for numerous reasons, including but not limited to, early childhood infections, gut bacteria, and seasons in which the baby was born. Interestingly, celiac disease may even become triggered for the first time following surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, stress, or an infection. Further risk factors for celiac disease's development include a family history, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Gluten Sensitivity

Initially, it is imperative for a healthcare expert to rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy, as the two conditions tend to be much more severe than a sensitivity. An individual with a gluten sensitivity may experience symptoms much like celiac disease - gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, etc. Dissimilar from celiac disease, a sensitivity will generally not cause organ damage, result in severe nutritional deficiencies, or cause higher rates of either conditions such as cancer.

Wheat Allergy

Celiac disease is considerably different from a wheat allergy. A wheat allergy is an immune-mediated reaction to proteins found in wheat and unbothered by rye, oats, and barley. Like most food allergies, it is mostly developed during infancy and toddler years and less common in adolescents and adults. Unlike celiac disease, a wheat allergy can be outgrown between the ages of five and seven. Symptoms of a wheat allergy present more like a seasonal allergy and includes swelling, itching, wheezing, difficulty breathing and the appearance of a rash and hives. Gastrointestinal symptoms appear much like celiac disease - nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain and cramps. Keeping an epinephrine shot on hand can combat anaphylactic shot or potential death if wheat exposure were to initiate an immune response.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on February 27, 2017. Updated on August 06, 2019.


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