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Celiac Disease

What is gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance is an intolerance to the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, oats, spelt, triticale, kamut and barley.  Once thought to be quite rare, new evidence has found it is frighteningly common. Celiac disease is the most well known manifestation of gluten intolerance and it affects approximately one in 100 people. Left undiagnosed, celiac disease renders the sufferer much more susceptible to a host of medical conditions. Recent research has found that a person can be gluten intolerant without necessarily having celiac disease. There can be other manifestations of gluten intolerance such as digestive problems, anemia, osteoporosis, fatigue, lymphoma, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (under active thyroid), type 1 diabetes and others.  This article focuses on celiac disease.

What happens when a celiac eats gluten?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition.  An immune reaction occurs, which produces damage to the small intestine.  A healthy small intestine contains many tiny, finger-like protrusions called villi.  Their function is to break down and absorb nutrients from the food we eat.  In untreated celiacs, the gluten causes irritation and inflammation to the small intestine, damaging the villi, and leaving the intestinal lining with a flattened appearance.  This means the surface area for absorbing nutrients is greatly reduced; leading to deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fats.  Because of this, untreated celiacs usually suffer with fatigue, anemia, a weak immune system and digestive upsets.

Why do people develop celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition.  It is thought that the tendency to develop the condition is present at birth; however, symptoms cannot develop until gluten is introduced into the infant’s diet.  Damage occurs to the intestinal lining each time gluten is ingested, however the expression of symptoms varies markedly between individuals.  In some cases infants with the condition fail to thrive and become rapidly ill; sometimes children develop symptoms slowly, over years; and a small percentage only develop symptoms in adult life.  The earlier celiac disease is diagnosed, the less negative impact it will have on the individual’s health.  However, because symptoms are varied, and can range from mild to overbearing, the condition often goes undiagnosed for many years.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

The following is a list of possible symptoms of celiac disease:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Anemia
  • Abdominal bloating, cramping and flatulence
  • Diarrhea  and/or constipation
  • Weight loss – this does not occur in every case; some patients are of normal weight or overweight.
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Miscarriages and infertility
  • Skin rashes
  • Bone and joint pains
  • Depression

Potential long term complications of undiagnosed celiac disease

Left undiagnosed, celiac disease can cause serious health problems.  Osteoporosis is a common symptom of long standing celiac disease, and every person with osteoporosis should be tested for gluten intolerance.

Lymphoma of the small intestine is significantly more common in celiacs who consume gluten.  In children undiagnosed celiac disease can cause short stature and a failure to develop properly.  People with celiac disease are at greater risk of several autoimmune conditions including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (causing an under active thyroid), type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

There are specific blood tests available to measure the presence of antibodies to gluten and levels of Ig A and Ig G immunoglobulins.  If the result is positive, a small bowel biopsy usually follows.  The purpose of a biopsy is to prove that the small intestine does in fact demonstrate the typically damaged villi.  An optic fiber instrument is passed through the mouth; when it reaches the small intestine, it removes tiny pieces of bowel lining, which are then taken away for microscopic examination.

Recently there has been a move away from small intestinal biopsy and researchers consider a blood test for gluten antibodies, combined with a gene test for celiac disease to be a better screening tool.

How is celiac disease treated?

There is no cure for celiac disease; treatment involves the lifelong abstinence from gluten containing foods.  As mentioned, the major grains that contain gluten are wheat, rye, oats and barley; however, many foods contain hidden gluten, thus food labels must be checked thoroughly.  The help of a naturopath, nutritionist or dietitian can be invaluable for newly diagnosed celiacs when trying to adapt to a gluten free diet.  Due to malabsorption, celiacs are often very deficient in several nutrients, such as vitamin B 12, calcium, iron, zinc and essential fatty acids.  These nutritional deficiencies must be corrected in order to restore good health.

Recommended books

Recommended supplements

Fish oil capsules

  • Take 2 capsules twice daily with meals.  Omega 3 fats are anti inflammatory and assist with the repair of the digestive tract.  Celiacs are commonly deficient in essential fatty acids.

Vitamin D

  • Take 1 capsule daily with food.  Many celiacs do not have sufficient blood levels of vitamin D and this can raise their risk of developing autoimmune disease.

Selenomune Designer Energy capsules

  • Take 1 capsule daily with a meal.  Selenium is an essential supplement for all autoimmune conditions in order to improve immune function.

Glutamine powder

  • Take 1 teaspoon twice daily.  Glutamine provides fuel for the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore it is excellent for helping to repair inflammation and damage to the intestines.

Digestive enzymes

  • Take one capsule with each meal. Many people with celiac disease typically do not produce sufficient digestive enzymes. This can lead to abdominal bloating and discomfort after meals.

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THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN EVALUATED BY THE FDA AND ARE NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT OR CURE ANY DISEASES.