The biggest mistake people make when thinking that a gluten-free diet is just another food trend is that it’s not a food whim. A gluten-free diet is vital for those suffering from celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder caused by gluten consumption. Albeit this digestive condition rarely leads to lethal outcome, it’s important to recognize and treat it. Read on to learn more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of celiac disease.
What’s celiac disease?
Also called gluten-sensitive enteropathy, nontropical sprue, or simply sprue, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the inflamed small intestine isn’t able to absorb nutrients.
This condition happens after eating foods high in gluten. Found in a variety of foods, beauty products, supplements, and medicines, gluten is actually a protein that the body might have difficulty to digest and process. The most popular sources of gluten are wheat, rye, barley, oats, and triticale.
People with celiac disease have a gluten-induced immune response that stimulates the formation of toxins that damage the intestinal villi. Located along the small intestine’s wall, the intestinal villi are little, finger-like projections that play an important role in nutrient absorption.
When the intestinal villi are damaged, the ability of the body to absorb food nutrients is reduced. If ignored, it can trigger malnutrition, permanent intestinal damage, and other health conditions.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases ✅ states that one in 141 Americans suffers from celiac disease. The complete elimination of gluten is the first important action to take to relieve the symptoms.
The most common sources of gluten are:
- Breads and pastries;
- Noodles and pasta;
- Baked Goods;
- Granola and cereal;
- Breading and coating mixes like breadcrumbs;
- Breakfast foods like biscuits, crepes, French toast, waffles, pancakes;
- Flour tortillas;
- Brewer’s yeast and beer.
Eliminate any food item that contains semolina, graham flour, farina, durum, bulgur, triticale, barley, rye, spelt, and wheat.
Gluten can also be found in many other packaged foods and it might not be mentioned in the ingredient list, so it’s important to test new food by eating small portions. This way, you’ll reduce the severity of celiac disease symptoms.
What are the causes of celiac disease?
A large number of researches have been done to find out the root cause of celiac disease, but still, there are no scientifically proven causes of it. Researchers suggest that this condition might be triggered by three factors:
Nowadays, most food items we consume contain gluten. If you have celiac disease, eating gluten-containing foods spurs the immunity to attack and damage the small intestine, and thus you start experiencing the symptoms of celiac disease. By eating too much gluten, you can’t develop a disease. There are environment and genes factors to consider and are kept studying these days.
The University of Chicago Medical Center ✅ revealed that there’s a 1 in 22 chance of developing celiac disease if one of your parents or siblings suffered or suffers from this condition.
Individuals with genetic disorders or autoimmune diseases are at risk, too. Certain illnesses can also be associated with celiac disease.
They are autoimmune liver disease, thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, intestinal lymphoma or cancer, lactose intolerance, Turner syndrome, Down syndrome, Addison’s disease, and others.
In very rare cases, a surgery, viral infection, stress, or an emotional trauma can be a cause of celiac disease. The condition can also develop after pregnancy and breastfeeding period. Caucasians are more prone to celiac disease than other nationalities.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Many people believe that celiac disease is just a form of food allergy. In reality, if you have an allergy to wheat, for instance, you might have difficulty breathing and have watery or itching eyes.
Wheat contains gluten, but it has nothing to do with allergy. If you suffer from celiac disease and you eat wheat, you’re more likely to experience intestinal issues, such as constipation, gas, or diarrhea.
In most cases, kids and adults have different symptoms of celiac disease. Kids start feeling irritable, tired, and anxious. Moreover, they might show the following symptoms:
- stomach pain;
- abdominal bloating;
- swelling in the belly;
- nausea and vomiting;
- long-term constipation or diarrhea;
- steatorrhea or pale, bulkier, foul-smelling stools;
- an unexpected drop in weight.
Adults can also experience many other symptoms, as celiac disease affects various areas of the body besides the digestive system. The most common symptoms include:
- itchy blistery rash;
- stomach pain;
- abdominal bloating;
- swelling in the belly;
- nausea and vomiting;
- pale sores inside the mouth;
- loss of enamel;
- intrinsic teeth stains;
- tingling and numbness in the feet or hands, or both;
- skin disorders, including itchy blistery rash or dermatitis herpetiformis;
- chronic fatigue;
- loss of bone density;
- joint stiffness or pain;
- iron-deficiency anemia;
- mouth ulcers;
- in women: irregular menstrual periods, miscarriage, and infertility.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation ✅, 15% to 25% of individuals with celiac disease tend to have dermatitis herpetiformis. This condition is characterized by a severely itchy skin rash triggered by blisters and bumps. People with dermatitis herpetiformis typically have no digestive issues.
There are certain factors that can impact on the development of celiac disease, such as:
- the level of intestinal damage;
- the amount of gluten-containing foods you eat;
- the time you began to consume gluten;
- the length of time you were breastfed as an infant.
How is celiac disease diagnosed?
As soon as you start experiencing the symptoms of celiac disease and turn to your doctor, you’ll need to take several blood tests, including complete blood count, serum albumin test, alkaline phosphatase level test, cholesterol test, and liver function tests. Individuals diagnosed with celiac disease tend to have the higher levels of anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTGA) and antiendomysium (EMA) antibodies.
Those with dermatitis herpetiformis need to undergo a skin biopsy to diagnose celiac disease. In rare cases, when blood tests and a skin biopsy don’t help to set a diagnosis, an upper endoscopy might be required.
The procedure involves an endoscope – a thin tube with a small camera – being inserted through the mouth into the small intestines. This allows a doctor to see any damages or changes in the villi. An intestinal biopsy might also be done during the procedure for a more detailed diagnosis.
How is celiac disease treated?
As soon as you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, the first thing you must do it to switch to a gluten-free diet. Not only will you have to avoid cakes, bread, baked goods, cereals, pastas, and beer, but you’ll also have to avoid taking medications or using toothpaste that contains gluten. The gluten-free diet will speed up the healing process of the intestinal villi and improve the absorption of nutrients.
The symptoms of the celiac disease usually disappear within several days after switching to a gluten-free diet. It’s important to discuss your diet changes with your doctor, especially if you’re going to do tests.
There are no medications to cure celiac disease. However, certain medications can be used to relieve the symptoms of the disease, such as vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. People with illnesses or conditions associated with celiac disease might need a specific treatment.
How to prevent celiac disease
Unless celiac disease runs in your family, it’s almost impossible to prevent this condition. However, if you stop the symptoms early, you can avoid the consequences of celiac disease.
What are the complications from celiac disease?
Since celiac disease is difficult to spot and diagnose, many patients have been suffering from it for many years. They keep eating gluten-containing foods, and this results in the prolonged damage to the small intestine. When left untreated, celiac disease begins to negatively impact other parts of the body.
Depending on how long you’ve been suffering from this condition, the recovery time can be increased and more treatment methods might be used. The most common complications that occur when celiac disease is ignored are:
- Nutrient deficiencies. The prolonged damage to the small intestine leads to poor vitamin and mineral absorption. You might be deficient in vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, niacin, folate, magnesium, zinc, fiber, calcium, and iron.
- Lactose intolerance. There’s a reason why people on a gluten-free diet eliminate dairy products from their eating plans. When the small intestine is damaged as a result of celiac disease, it becomes unable to digest lactose found in dairy products, especially milk. Therefore, a patient with untreated celiac disease develops lactose intolerance.
- Iron deficiency anemia. Iron is needed for stimulating the production of red blood cells, which are responsible for supplying oxygen throughout the body. As mentioned earlier, celiac disease causes nutrient deficiencies, including iron deficiency. The low levels of iron in the body lead to poor oxygen supply. When the blood has little oxygen supply, this triggers short of breath and fatigue, which are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia.
- Osteoporosis and osteopenia. The deficiency of calcium in the body makes your bones brittle. People with celiac disease are deficient in calcium, which is essential for the bone health. When left untreated, calcium deficiency leads to low bone density or osteopenia and weak and brittle bones or osteoporosis. Lactose intolerance caused by celiac disease can also lead to osteoporosis or osteopenia.
- Lymphocytes are part of the immunity and since celiac disease is considered as an immune system disease, it might trigger lymphoma. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the immune system’s infection-fighting cells. This is a rare case, though. Only certain people diagnosed with celiac disease have lymphoma.
- Nervous system disorders. Patients with celiac disease tend to develop nerve issues like neuropathy, or have difficulties controlling their body movement. Generally, vitamin and mineral deficiencies lead to nervous system disorders.
- Fertility issues. If you have trouble getting pregnant, see your doctor to find out if you have celiac disease. Miscarriage can also occur due to celiac disease.
These are just a few complications that can happen due to uncontrolled celiac disease. A lot of patients diagnosed with this disease also have an increased risk of developing pancreas, gall bladder, and liver conditions. Some researchers link anxiety and depression with celiac disease. However, more research is required to prove this fact.
Kids rarely develop the complications of celiac disease, as parents visit a pediatrician more often that their doctors. But, if a pediatrician fails to recognize the symptoms of celiac disease, a child begins to suffer from intussusception that leads to a part of the intestine folding like a telescope. Children with chronic celiac disease also have weak tooth enamel. The delayed puberty can also be a complication from celiac disease.
What are the gluten-free foods people with celiac disease can eat?
When switching to a gluten-free diet, you may notice that you have to remove most of the food items people usually eat. There are some perks of this diet, though. Since it includes healthy food, a gluten-free diet helps to boost overall health. So what are you allowed to eat on this diet? Here are a few foods to incorporate into your daily meal plan:
- veggies and fruit, especially starchy veggies like potatoes, peas, and corn;
- lentils, beans, rice, quinoa, and buckwheat;
- dairy products, if you’re not lactose intolerant;
- pure corn tortillas;
- flour made from soy, rice, corn, beans, or potatoes;
Before you place any food item in your shopping cart, be sure you read the label carefully. Some labels don’t say “gluten free”, so look for six most dangerous ingredients like oats, rye, barley, wheat, brewer’s yeast, and malt. People with celiac disease shouldn’t consume them anyway.
If you spot some or all of the symptoms of celiac disease – especially in your child – make sure you see your doctor as soon as possible. Don’t try to set a diagnosis yourself and treating the condition without taking blood tests first. Even though there are no medications for treating celiac disease, it’s still important to set the correct diagnosis in order to avoid the complications mentioned above.