Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by the intake of gluten. Youve probably heard of gluten allergies or come across gluten free products at your supermarket, but most people arent really sure of what gluten is. Gluten is a protein contained in many common foods such as bread and pasta. Foods made of wheat, rye and barley also contain gluten. Consumption of gluten foods triggers an immune response in the small intestine in people with celiac disease. This results in damage to the insides of the small intestine and the process of nutrient absorption is hampered. Celiac disease leads to symptoms such as stomach aches and diarrhea. Due to the poor absorption of nutrients, individuals with celiac disease may also suffer from vitamin deficiencies. Although there may be no specific treatment for the disease, individuals suffering from celiac disease can cope with and manage the condition quite effectively by making certain changes to their diet.
Individuals with celiac disease tend to experience some general signs and symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. There are also some who may experience no symptoms at all. The symptoms of celiac disease may sometimes be mistaken for those of other gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, crohns disease and stomach ulcers. There are also certain symptoms of celiac disease that are not related to the gastrointestinal system. These include joint pain, muscle cramps, mouth sores, anemia, rash, bone problems and depression. People who suffer from nutritional deficiencies due to celiac disease may display certain other symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue and osteoporosis. There may be stunted growth in children.
A condition that affects the small intestine in a similar way to celiac disease is dermatitis herpetiformis. This disorder is also a result of gluten intolerance and exposure to gluten containing foods can also lead to itching and blistering on the skin. However digestive symptoms are not usually experienced.
It is advisable to consult a doctor when any of the signs and symptoms of celiac disease are experienced. Those who have a family history of the disease may be at a higher risk of developing celiac disease, which is why testing may be recommended. If symptoms such as growth problems, irritability, paleness and bulky stools are noticed in a child, medical attention should be sought early so that treatment may be provided before the condition worsens. Celiac disease is diagnosed through testing of a blood sample. The doctor may also obtain a small sample of tissue from the small intestine and have it tested in a laboratory.
If celiac disease is not treated, many complications are likely to develop. One of the main complications of this disease is malnutrition. This can occur even if the diet seems to be adequate. Deficiencies of folate, iron, vitamins and minerals can lead to weight loss and anemia. Celiac disease leads to fat loss through the stools and this can also result in excessive loss of vitamin D and calcium. This could result in softening of the bones and osteoporosis. The damage that the disease causes in the small intestine may make it difficult to tolerate even gluten-free foods. People with celiac disease may be unable to tolerate lactose in dairy products. Once the intestine heals, most patients find that they can once again consume lactose foods. Those with celiac disease who do not manage the condition properly through a gluten-free diet may be at risk of developing cancers such as bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma. Celiac disease may also be linked to certain neurological complications such as nerve damage and seizures.
The exact cause of celiac disease is not known for certain. It is a condition that occurs when the immune system overreacts to foods that contain gluten. The lining of the small intestine contains tiny projections known as villi, which play an important role in absorbing nutrients such as vitamins and minerals from the food we consume. In individuals with celiac disease, the villi suffer damage. Without the villi, the body cannot absorb nutrients that it requires for proper growth and health. Nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fat that remain unabsorbed are passed out through the stool. Research has indicated that celiac disease runs in families. Therefore individuals who have a family member with celiac disease are susceptible to developing the condition themselves. Studies have also indicated that the risk of celiac disease is higher when there are certain genetic mutations. However it does not mean that individuals who have these mutations are certain to suffer from celiac disease because there are many other risk factors involved as well. The condition tends to occur more commonly in individuals with type 1 diabetes and thyroid disease. Those with Downs syndrome and microscopic colitis may also be at a higher risk of developing celiac disease.
There is no cure for celiac disease, but it can be effectively managed through dietary changes. In order to prevent a worsening of the symptoms and to prevent complications, certain foods must be avoided. Foods containing gluten such as barley, rye, semolina, wheat and bulgur should be excluded from the diet. Doctors generally refer patients to a dietician so that a gluten-free, healthy diet can be formulated. As soon as gluten is eliminated from the diet, the inflammation in the small intestine is reduced. Most individuals start feeling better within just a few weeks, but proper healing of the villi may take a lot longer. Complete healing may occur in some months or may take up to a couple of years. Children experience faster healing of the small intestine as compared to adults. In case a gluten food is accidentally consumed, there may be stomach pain and diarrhea. Some people may not suffer any symptoms, but the damage to the villi may still take place. Gluten in trace amounts can also adversely affect the small intestine.
Individuals who suffer from severe nutritional deficiencies due to celiac disease may be prescribed nutritional supplements. The levels of nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and the vitamins B12, D and K may have to be increased. These supplements are usually prescribed in the form of tablets. But they may also be given in the form injections if the digestive tract is not able to absorb them in tablet form. In order to treat the inflammation in the intestines, doctors may prescribe steroidal medications.
There are some natural remedies that are known to provide relief from celiac disease. Yogurt is known to help in healing of the digestive system. Fish oils are believed to help restrict intestinal inflammation. Several herbs are known to be beneficial in managing the symptoms of this disease. Golden seal has a strengthening effect on the immune system as does olive leaf extract. Chamomile and slippery elm also serve as good natural remedies for celiac disease. Horsetail tea has anti-inflammatory properties and consuming the tea at least thrice a day can help to reduce intestinal inflammation and it also strengthens the digestive system.
Individuals diagnosed with celiac disease need to avoid any foods that have gluten in them. Always read the labels on packaged foods and avoid foods such as wheat, barley, semolina and rye. Foods like bread, cakes, cookies, cereals, crackers, beer, oats, pastas, luncheon meats, salad dressings, soups and sauces should also be avoided unless they are specifically labeled as gluten-free. It also helps to check the labels to find out if the food product has been made in a facility that is free of any gluten-containing product. Grains such as oats may sometimes undergo contamination due to exposure to wheat while they are being grown and processed. Even though it is not known for certain if oats cause damage to individuals with celiac disease, doctors generally advise patients to avoid eating them unless they are known to be gluten-free. A gluten-free diet can still contain many basic foods such as corn, buckwheat, rice, quinoa, cornmeal, arrowroot, tapioca and amaranth. Even with these foods, it is advisable to check the food labels. Other foods that can be safely included in a gluten-free diet include fruits, dairy products, fish, poultry, potatoes, rice, vegetables and wine. Some individuals may find it difficult to exclude breads and pastas from the diet. Fortunately for them there are some gluten-free breads and pastas available in the market today. With proper research, it is possible to find healthy substitutes for many gluten foods.
There are certain precautions that must be taken by individuals with celiac disease. Firstly it is absolutely essential to adhere to dietary instructions if you wish to effectively manage the disease. It is also important to keep yourself informed about the ingredients that go into various foods, and which ingredients contain gluten. A beneficial habit that those with celiac disease must develop is to check food labels constantly and carefully. In case there is any doubt regarding a certain foods product, one can contact the manufacturer for more information. In case there is still a lingering doubt about any food, the safest thing to do is to avoid it. This is because even the slightest exposure to a small quantity of gluten can trigger inflammation in the intestine and lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea. The best source of information and advice with regard to diet and lifestyle would be your doctor and dietician, as they can give you personalized guidance and diet recommendations, based on your specific needs.