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Celiac Disease

Why Does Gluten Need A Solution?

Did you know that up to an estimated 3,000,000 Americans suffer from wheat allergies, while up to 900,000 of those have a very severe intolerance to gluten, the sticky protein found in foods containing wheat, rye, barley and oats? People with a very severe, genetic intolerance to gluten have a condition known as Celiac Disease.

The problem is that most people who have Celiac Disease may not know it, since the symptoms often mask themselves as those of other conditions. In fact, the disease is so tricky to get a handle on, that physicians often misdiagnose Celiacs as having illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies, chronic fatigue, anorexia, or malnutrition.

Misdiagnoses can leave a Celiac sufferer with continued distress and further damage to their bodies, so it is important for people who think they might have the disease to see their physician for an accurate diagnosis. People have a tendency to put their physician on a pedestal, but with something as elusive as Celiac Disease, many patients are required to take on the role of educating their physician about the illness.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is a sensitivity to gluten that leads to flattening of the villi of the small intestine. Villi are small, hair-like projections that are responsible for absorbing nutrients. People with Celiac Disease lose the efficiency of their villi, and consequently fail to digest all the nutrients they need. Further, for Celiacs, gluten acts as a poison which can cause many other problematic symptoms, including indigestion, diarrhoea, lactose intolerance, irritability, weight loss, bone pain, osteoporosis, anaemia, dental problems, severe fatigue, and others.

People with Celiac Disease who continue to eat gluten are also 20 to 30 times more likely to develop intestinal lymphoma, a type of cancer, roughly 40% are also allergic to soy and corn, and many Celiacs develop a highly irritating skin condition called Dermatitis Herpetiformis.

People who think they may have Celiac Disease should make an appointment with their family physician or gastroenterologist immediately. Most often a blood test can tell whether the particular antibody is present that is thought to confirm Celiac Disease. However, a more accurate confirmation of the disease entails undergoing a blood test, and then going on a 100% gluten-free diet for six weeks or so, and then to get blood tested again. If symptoms disappear in the complete absence of gluten, then Celiac Disease is the diagnosis.

Some physicians may also perform what is thought to be the most accurate form of diagnosis -- an intestinal endoscopy. This is where they insert a tube into your small intestine and perform a biopsy. Among other things, they will be examining the villi of your small intestine to see whether they have flattened out (mucosal atrophy). Although a more invasive procedure, the biopsy technique can be more accurate because it more concretely illustrates damage to the villi.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?

The symptoms of wheat allergies, gluten intolerance, or Celiac Disease can vary widely and can come and go over time. Most commonly, an infant with Celiac Disease could experience abdominal pain, diarrhoea (with some blood) and an inability to gain weight.

A young child could experience abdominal pain along with nausea, anaemia, become anorexic, or get mouth ulcers.

An older child could act irritably, worrisome, emotionally despondent or excessively dependent, along with the other symptoms previously listed.

In later stages, a child could develop malnutrition, with or without vomiting and diarrhoea. Many children develop a bloated stomach and stringy, thin thigh muscles as well.

Teenagers may fail to grow properly or have a delayed onset of puberty. They may also lose some hair.

Adults often become very tired, irritable, depressed, and have bone pain. Diarrhoea and bloating may also be present, along with dental problems. Osteoporosis may occur due to a lack of calcium caused by mal-absorption. A majority of Celiacs also are lactose intolerant, which often goes away once they adhere to a gluten-free diet for a few weeks.

How Can I Control Celiac Disease?

If you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, fortunately there is a simple and effective treatment -- to maintain a strictly gluten-free diet forever. You must never be exposed to gluten again. Otherwise, you can continue to damage your small intestines, even if you do not experience any symptoms. Even the most minute traces of gluten can cause damage, such as licking a common postage stamp or eating a tiny piece of bread. People who "cheat" on their diet cause additional harm to their bodies because the debilitating effects of gluten accumulate over time.

What Celiac Disease means to those who are diagnosed is that they must be careful to never eat the gluten contaminated foods most people take for granted; including breads, rolls, muffins, pizza, cookies, pasta, bagels, crackers, soy sauce, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, birthday cake, and even beer. They must be very cautious and responsible with their eating, and will need to make sure that those who are close to them understand and are sensitive to their dietary needs.

What Can I Eat?

People with Celiac Disease do not necessarily have to give up the foods that they truly enjoy. Many companies have spent years developing an assortment of gluten-free foods that taste just like food that contains gluten. Surprisingly, many of the foods are undetectable as gluten-free by people without Celiac Disease. And keep in mind, that because ingesting gluten prevents absorption of certain nutrients (especially Calcium, Vitamin B-12 and Folic Acid), Celiacs have been missing out on many of the essential nutrients found in many of their foods all along. So after a few weeks on the gluten-free diet, most people find that their energy levels increase and that they begin to "feel better" overall. Plus, most or all of their symptoms should vanish within a few weeks of eliminating gluten from their diet.

Are Any Medical Conditions Related to Celiac Disease?

Many related medical problems can be aided by adhering to a gluten-free, wheat-free diet. A growing body of medical evidence suggests that those with autism should permanently eliminate all wheat and dairy products from their diet. This means removing all wheat, rye, barley, and oat products because they all contain a harmful protein called gluten. Further it has been shown that people with Multiple Sclerosis, Attention Deficit Disorder, and lactose intolerance can benefit by avoiding gluten and wheat.

Other Diseases that can be associated with Celiac Disease include:

  • Autism

  • Dermatitis Herpetiformis (an itchy, burning, blistering skin rash)

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

  • Thyroid Disease

  • ADD

  • Autoimmune Disorders

If left undiagnosed, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can result from Celiac Disease. Rickets and Osteomalacia are common complications along with pancreas disorders, infertility problems, miscarriage and nerve damage. Left untreated, the disease can cause irreversible damage and life threatening complications.

People should immediately contact their health practitioner once symptoms develop that are indicative of Celiac Disease. Since the cause of Celiac Disease is still unknown, there is no way to prevent it. However, symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks of beginning a gluten-free diet, and the diet must be followed continuously or the symptoms may return.

You may find more information on this subject in the Booklets entitled "Carbohydrate Diets", "Milk", "Wellness No1", "Wellness No2", "Wellness No3", and the Series of Booklets "Teen Files - Nutrition".