Understanding Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a hereditary auto-immune disease that causes the body to identify gluten, a protein found in some grains, as an invader. The body mounts an immune response when people with the disease eat gluten. This causes damage to the small intestine. This damage can result over time in a failure to take in nutrients.

The Celiac Disease Foundation estimates that 1% of people in the world may have celiac disease.  People with a child, parent, or sibling who has celiac disease have a 1 in 10 chance of developing the disease. 

Currently, there is no cure for the disease. However, it can be controlled with a gluten-free diet. Celiac disease can usually be diagnosed with a blood test. It can affect children and adults, and is more effectively treated if it is caught early.

Health issues associated with celiac disease

The most common symptom of celiac disease is diarrhea. However, many other health issues are associated with untreated celiac disease:

  • Anemia and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Neurological disorders
  • Gall bladder malfunction
  • Liver disease
  • Infertility, miscarriages
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Increased chances of certain cancers
  • Pain, including joint pain
  • Fatigue

Celiac disease is most common in white people of European heritage, especially those who have Type 1 diabetes or are obese. You may have celiac disease with no symptoms, or with symptoms that look like another disorder. You should see your doctor if you think you might have this disorder.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, and in foods and drinks made from these grains, like bread and beer.

Avoiding these foods is essential for people who have this disorder. However, it’s not as easy as just avoiding bread and beer. Everything from soy sauce to candy may contain gluten.

With increased awareness of gluten sensitivity, it is now easier to find foods and beverages that are labeled “gluten free.”

Eating gluten-free

Choose these foods for the easiest gluten-free diet:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Dairy
  • Beans, legumes, and nuts

None of these foods will naturally contain gluten. Remember that processing may add gluten. For example, French fries made just from potatoes and oil will not contain gluten, but restaurants may use batters containing gluten to fry potatoes. Meats also may be prepared with flour, and many prepared foods contain gluten.

Avoiding prepared food and choosing fresh foods from the list above makes gluten-free eating easy. 

However, you may miss favorite foods. If it’s hard to give up baked goods, try some alternative flours:

  • coconut flour
  • potato flour
  • almond flour
  • pecan flour 
  • oat flour

All of these flours are normally gluten free, and popular enough that you can easily find recipes using them. 

You can also use these flours to bread fish and thicken sauces.

The Celiac Foundation has a gluten-free candy list, and many frozen desserts such as ice cream are gluten free. Fruit and nuts are safe snacks for the gluten-free lifestyle.

See your gastroenterologist

If you think you may have this disorder, do not stop eating gluten before you see your doctor. This can cause test results to change. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a specialist in digestive issues.