Celiac Disease and Lactose Intolerance

by Sam Malone

Celiac disease and lactose intolerance are two different types of digestive problems. If a person is lactose intolerant, he lacks the digestive enzyme known as lactase, which is needed to break down sugars found in milk and milk products. The undigested sugars remain within the digestive tract and cause unpleasant symptoms such as stomach pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Lactose intolerance is common among children and can affect adults as well. Unlike a food allergy that can cause severe reactions such as skin rashes, headaches, and even shock, food intolerances such as lactose intolerance are not dangerous. At the most, people suffering from lactose intolerance will face difficulties avoiding food items that contain milk or milk-based products in their diets. On the other hand, a food allergy such as a milk allergy or celiac disease can be potentially fatal if not taken seriously and treated properly.

Celiac disease (or gluten intolerance or celiac sprue) is a reaction against gluten that is usually found in wheat and wheat-based products. Apart from wheat, gluten includes a group of proteins that are found in rye, barley and other grains. The body is treats gluten as a harmful substance and starts attacking the lining of the small intestine. The damage caused by this internal attack affects the absorption of other foods as well and in the long run can lead to the development of anemia, malnourishment, and osteoporosis can occur. People with celiac disease are also more likely to suffer from other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus or conditions such as Down’s syndrome, Addison’s disease, type-1 diabetes, thyroid problems, and intestinal cancer.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Early detection of celiac disease is important to prevent severe damage of the intestines. However, since the symptoms of celiac disease are similar to those of other digestive disorders such as IBS or lactose intolerance, it is often difficult to diagnose. Symptoms may vary form person to person and include:

  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Gas and bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite or change in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stools that smell foul or contain blood
Over time due to the inability to absorb nutrients, minerals and vitamins, celiac disease can also lead to:

Celiac disease in babies cause symptoms such as irritability and fussiness, stomach pain, distension of the abdomen, and failure to grow and develop normally.

Celiac Disease Diet

There is no cure for celiac disease. However, the condition can be controlled by changing your eating habits and following a gluten-free diet. Since gluten can be found in number of food items, it is not as easy as just giving up wheat or wheat products. Consult with a dietician to help work out a special eating plan to suit your lifestyle.

After a few months of following a gluten-free diet, many people report feeling much better. This does not mean that one can resume eating gluten though. This is a lifelong commitment to making healthy and informed changes that will help your small intestine heal. If you suffer from celiac disease you will have to make reading food labels a habit. Educate yourself about what foods contain gluten and find out alternative to gluten-containing grains. Keep in mind also that wheat-free does not necessarily mean gluten free.

Foods that can be eaten in a gluten-free diet include corn, rice, buckwheat, chickpeas, tapioca, meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, dairy products, fresh fruit, vegetables, and seeds. The long list of foods to avoid includes grain-based alcohol like beer, cake flour, couscous, breaded vegetables and meats, gravies, processed meats, broths, marinades, non-dairy creamer, pastas, seasonings, soup mixes, and soy sauce.


  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001280/
  2. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases//pubs/celiac/#examples

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