Celiac Disease

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a condition in which a person develops a sensitivity to foods that contain ingredients with gluten in them.  Gluten is a protein that is found in most grains and is chemically considered a wheat-rye cross, or a triticale.

People with celiac disease suffer from an abnormal immune response when they eat gluten containing foods. This immune response causes damage to the small intestine and over time, will prevent the small intestine from taking in nutrients necessary to keep the body healthy.

It is extremely important that people who show symptoms of celiac disease seek medical treatment.

Signs

Children who suffer from celiac disease can have stunted or slow growth, weak bones, and serious digestive issues later in life.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

The symptoms of celiac disease can be different for every person. They may also come and go depending on how much gluten is contained in their diet. For many people, the symptoms are mild, so they don’t really notice them. Other people suffer from severe symptoms that impact, or completely stop their daily life.

Symptoms include

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Abnormal stools, including diarrhea, bulky stools, pale stools, or frothy and foul smelling stools)
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting after consuming foods that contain gluten

If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to discuss them with your doctor. Celiac disease may cause long term damage if it goes untreated.

Celiac Disease Causes

While the precise cause of celiac disease isn’t known, researchers conclude that a number of factors contribute to the development of the illness. While it’s suspected that genetics play a role, celiac disease can be instigated by environmental factors and by consuming foods containing gluten. Infant feeding practices, gastrointestinal infections, and infections in the digestive system are also thought to contribute to the development of the disease. Surgeries, including childbirth, and viral infections are thought to instigate the first presentation of celiac disease, as well.

Gluten poses a particular problem, because of the way it interacts with the body’s immune system. During the process, villi, tiny hair-like protrusions in the small intestine, can become damaged, preventing the body from absorbing enough nutrients.

While research has shown that those possessing certain gene variations are more likely to contract celiac disease, studies indicate that this genetic defect isn’t enough by itself to cause the individual to develop the illness. Instead, it seems to be a contributing factor that requires additional factors in order to manifest the disease.

How is Celiac Disease Treated?

No matter how mild your reaction to gluten is, the best treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten free diet. This diet must be followed strictly because even the smallest amount of gluten can trigger your symptoms.

In order to follow a gluten-free diet, one must avoid all foods containing:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Oats
  • Beer that is not gluten-free
  • Beer containing alcohol
  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat

Many people who must eat a gluten-free diet should avoid all milk products, including cheese. Special replacement products can be purchased, and many of them taste exactly like the product they are made to replace.

Because of the foods people with celiac must avoid, it is important that they ask their doctor about iron and calcium supplements.

Celiac Disease Prevention

While genetic factors can’t be prevented, lifestyle changes may help prevent one from manifesting the symptoms of celiac disease. The most widely recommended change is to eliminate gluten from one’s diet, as this can help prevent damage to the small intestine and thereby avoid the manifestation of celiac disease. A short list of gluten products to be avoided includes wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Some sweets, sauces, baked goods, seasonings, and beverages may also contain gluten, so it’s important to check labels on these products especially. Even in cases where the product is labeled “gluten free,” it’s still advised to check ingredient listings because in some instances that has become more of an advertising gimmick than a truthful product statement.

Additionally, screening has revealed that celiac disease weakens the spleen. Screening for this and receiving vaccinations can help prevent the onset of a pneumococcal infection.