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Understanding Celiac Disease as More Than a Gluten Intolerance

Many people think of Celiac Disease as just a gluten intolerance or a trendy diet to follow, but it is actually an autoimmune disorder affecting around three million Americans and 1% of the world’s population. This condition requires a deeper understanding than just a gluten-free diet.


What is Celiac Disease?


Celiac is an autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten, which is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley, damages the small intestine preventing absorption of nutrients because the villi, which are small projections present in the small intestine, become flat. It is common for individuals with Celiac to be genetically predisposed.


Symptoms and Signs


-        Abdominal pain

-        Chronic diarrhea/constipation

-        Weight loss

-        Short stature (not growing at a normal rate during growth years)

-        Joint pain

-        Fatigue

-        Skin rashes


It is also possible for individuals with Celiac to not show physical symptoms and roughly 60-70% of Americans are not diagnosed, which is dangerous to one’s health. Without a proper diagnosis leading to a proper diet, the body is suffering through damage of the villi. In the long term this can lead to many health conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility, anemia, malnutrition, liver failure, and particular cancers. Celiac also raises the risk of developing other autoimmune disorders. Diagnosing Celiac becomes challenging with the variety of symptoms or the asymptomatic presence, therefore awareness is crucial to understand the seriousness of the condition.


Many organizations have been created to support individuals with Celiac such as the Celiac Disease Foundation and the National Celiac Association. These programs search for a cure, research, education, advocacy, as well as provide resources to make the lives of those suffering a little easier. They push for diagnosing to promote health and wellbeing to all.


Coming to a diagnosis usually starts with a blood test to look for certain antibodies

present. The next step is an endoscopy to view the digestive tract and take a biopsy of the small intestine to view the damage. Once a strict gluten free diet is followed, the small intestine should heal within six months.


Foods Containing Gluten

The most common foods that are known to contain gluten include wheat, rye, and barley. These are common ingredients in most grain products such as bread or pasta but are also used in many products you wouldn’t think of such as soy sauce, particular candies like Twizzlers, imitation fish, beer, and even in medications and skincare products.


Beyond just following a gluten free diet, individuals need to be cautious with cross contamination especially in restaurants or shared kitchens. This diet requiresdiligence and education to be safe.


Living with Celiac Disease


Currently, there is no cure for Celiac Disease. The treatment is to follow a strict gluten-free diet to manage the symptoms and overall health. Adjusting to a gluten-free diet is intimidating but allows those with the condition to live a healthier life. There are many new food companies developing gluten-free alternatives that taste similar to the regular foods and it is common for many supermarkets and restaurants to have an entire gluten-free or allergy-friendly section or menu with these alternatives. With undergoing research, professionals hope to find a cure and there are many drug therapies that are in development for this today.

This blog was reviewed by Kelly's Choice writer, Shannon Hodson. 


Future therapies. Celiac Disease Foundation. (n.d.-a).

What is celiac disease?. Celiac Disease Foundation. (n.d.-c).



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