What is Celiac Disease?

A hot medical topic for the last few years features celiac disease, what it is, and how to combat it. Medically defined celiac disease is reaction brought on by the immune system when you eat gluten or the proteins originating in ryes, barley and wheat. Eating gluten activates an immune reaction in the small intestine. As the disease progresses this reaction harms the small intestine”s lining and stops absorption of nutrients. This is called malabsorption.

The intestinal damaged brought on by celiac disease can case weight loss, diarrhea and bloating symptoms. As time goes on your brain, bones, liver, nervous system and other vital organs can be deprived if the nourishment they need to survive. Malabsorption in children affects growth and development. Intestinal irritations cause stomach pain after eating which in turn causes children to cry at mealtimes and the fight to get children to eat begins.

Causes and Risks

There is no precise cause of celiac disease. It is known, however that when the body”s immune system overreacts to gluten your immune system damages the tiny projections or villi lining the small intestine. The villi”s duty is to absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients from the foods you eat. Usually villa look like deep pile on a plush carpet, but damage to the villi causes the inner surface of the small intestine appear similar to a tile floor.

It has been documented that about 1 in 140 people in the U.S. have celiac disease. It does go undiagnosed in many instances and those suffering from this disease just learn to ” “live with it.”  There are studies that celiac disease can be triggered after surgeries, pregnancy, childbirth, a viral infection or emotional stress.

Celiac disease is more common in those who have type 1 diabetes, downs syndrome, autoimmune thyroid disease, microscopic colitis, or if you have a family member with celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis.

Be aware celiac disease left untreated can cause malnutrition, loss of calcium and bone density plus infertility and miscarriages. Lactose intolerance may develop due to damage to small intestines. If you are diagnosed with celiac disease or have the symptoms of this disease and don”t maintain a gluten-free diet you do have a great risk of developing intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

People with celiac disease can present symptoms in different ways. The traditional signs are weight loss and diarrhea, but there are those who experience few or no digestive symptoms. One third of those diagnosed with celiac disease experience diarrhea and about half lose weight. There are those with celiac disease who have constipation and up to 10% are obese.

Other noticeable symptoms can include anemia which results from iron deficiencies, bone density loss or osteoporosis, softening of bones or osteomalacia, itchy rashes and damage to dental enamel. You may also experience headaches and fatigue and tingling in the feet and hands. There have been some with celiac disease who have problems with balance and joint pain. Hyposplenism or problems with the spleen are also symptoms and acid reflux plus heartburn often are present in those with celiac disease.

Children who have celiac disease can be overweight or obese. Up to 30% of children with this disease experience digestive symptoms. Infants are noted with failure to thrive, weight loss, pain, swollen bellies and chronic diarrhea. Watch for signs of diarrhea, constipation, short statures and delayed puberty in older children. There are learning or neurologic symptoms that include ADHD, headaches and lack of muscle coordination.


Once you have been diagnosed with celiac disease it is in your best interest to stay on a gluten free diet for the rest of our life. Stay away from the following foods:

  • Barley
  • Durum
  • Farina
  • Graham Flour
  • Bulgur
  • Malt
  • Rye
  • Semolina
  • Triticale
  • Spelt
  • Wheat

Once you begin to eat gluten free diets the inflammation in your small intestine begins to get better. Complete healing and regrowth of the villi will take many months to several years to heal. You will need to supplement your diet with vitamin and mineral supplements that contain calcium, folate, iron, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, Vitamin K and zinc. Most supplements can be taken in pill form, but if you have trouble absorbing vitamins you can receive them via injection.

Become a label reader. Even a small amount of gluten can give you painful symptoms and stop the healing process.   Packaged foods labeled as gluten-free are good and read the labels on beer, candies, gravies, imitation meats, processed luncheon meats, salad dressing, and self-basting poultry. Avoid oats unless they are labeled gluten free.

Eat fresh meats, fish and poultry that are not breaded. You can eat most fresh fruits and dairy products as well as vegetables and ciders. Go ahead and eat amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat and corn. Pure corn tortillas are fine as is rice and tapioca. With the recognition of celiac disease and the prevalence of gluten free products, you should have no trouble finding a diet to keep you healthy and pain free.


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