Celiac Disease

Celiac disease and (non-celiac) sensitivity to gluten are so common now that some groceries have entire gluten-free sections.But few people understand the difference or even what gluten is. So let's start there.  Gluten is a small part of the protein in certain grains, most notably wheat, but also rye, barley and spelt.It's not in oats, but because oats are often milled on the same equipment that is used for wheat, there can easily be some gluten with the oats (that's cross-contamination).

Bakers often add extra gluten to help dough hold its shape when it rises.Not a problem for most people, but for those with celiac disease, gluten triggers an auto-immune reaction, damaging the intestinal surface.That damage interferes with nutrient absorption.The auto-immune reaction can also cause other problems,including a skin rash and decreased fertility in women.The additional problem is that celiac disease (or celiac sprue, or in Europe, coeliac disease) is lifelong, meaning that,at least for the present,those with the condition have to follow a gluten-free diet.

Celiac Symptoms

These may not all be present (in fact, some children and adults won't show up with the usual symptoms, but will instead go to the doctor for one of the consequences of celiac disease listed here (and see the “Further Reading”):

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating and/or gassiness
  • Diarrhea, bulky stools or constipation
  • Poor weight gain or growth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue

Consequences of Celiac Disease

  • Anemia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy rash)
  • Infertility, shorter periods  
  • Intestinal cancers  
  • Migraines
  • Depression or Anxiety

Associated Autoimmune Disorders

Celiac disease is increased in these conditions. As many as 3-8% of these individuals will also have celiac disease

  • Diabetes, Type 1
  • Thyroid disease (especially Hashimoto's thyroid inflammation)
  • Juvenile arthritis
  • Lupus and Sjogren's Syndrome   
  • Liver diseases, especially autoimmune hepatitis.
  • Down, Turner and Williams Syndromes

Blood Test For Gluten Sensitivity

Genetics / Auto-immune

The gene responsible for celiac disease is actually present in 1/3 of the world's population, going from at least one parent to a child, but the disease doesn't actually develop until something turns it on. It might be a virus that, in part, has a similar structure to gluten. The body develops an immune reaction to the virus and that carries over so that it also reacts to gluten. So instead, only 1 out of a 100 individuals has celiac disease, but among those with the gene that can range all the way up to 1 in 7.

Enormous Confusion

Celiac disease can appear similar to a number of similar conditions.

  • Wheat allergy
  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Crohn's disease
  • Lactose Intolerance