What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that is triggered when a person ingests or comes into contact with gluten. In autoimmune conditions, the body attacks itself. With celiac disease, the body does this because the immune system perceives gluten, a group of proteins found in wheat and some other grains, to be harmful.
As an autoimmune condition, celiac disease is different from standard food allergies, including allergies to wheat. It is true that wheat typically contains the highest percentage of gluten compared to other grains. However, barley and rye also contain gluten and can cause symptoms to someone with celiac disease! On the other hand, grains like rice, maize, quinoa, and buckwheat don’t contain gluten, so they are safe to eat for people with celiac disease.
When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, they can experience a wide variety of gastrointestinal symptoms. Gas, bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea are the classic symptoms, and some people may even have blood in their stool., The inside of the small intestine is has thousands of finger-like projections called villi that help digest nutrients from food. Celiac disease causes these villi to become flattened and unable to properly absorb nutrients or properly digest food, leading to the symptoms described above.
There is only one way to treat celiac disease and that is to eliminate gluten from your diet. The bad news is that this is easier said than done, as many foods either contain gluten, or can become cross-contaminated with it. The good news is that eating a gluten-free diet is much easier now than it used to be, as far more people, companies, restaurants, and grocery stores are aware of the disease.
People with celiac disease may experience symptoms for years before obtaining an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes, people do not even realize something was wrong until after they go on a gluten-free diet and find they feel much better than before. So, if you have any of the symptoms described above, or any of those mentioned in other celiac blogs on this site, it is very important to discuss your symptoms with your gastroenterologist. Tell your doctor if you have an autoimmune condition. Those who have one may be at a higher risk of developing others. Your gastroenterologist can order tests to help evaluate your specific condition.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
What if a person has many of the symptoms of celiac disease but their tests came back negative? They may have something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Many of the symptoms are similar, while not usually as severe. Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity does not cause permanent damage to the body. Additional symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity are fatigue, muscle aches, and brain fog.
There is no specific medical test for determining gluten sensitivity, so the diagnosis process is one of exclusion to rule out conditions like celiac disease or a wheat allergy. There are many people that test negative for these conditions; however, they still find that eliminating gluten from their diet alleviates their symptoms.
I will close this section of this blog with the advice that if you are having digestive health symptoms that are painful or are interrupting your life, it’s time to talk to a gastroenterology specialist at Granite Peaks Gastroenterology. They have the experience to find answers to your gastrointestinal questions and put you on the road toward feeling better.
Watch for Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity – The Nutritional Considerations – Part 2. This second installment discusses the nutritional concerns with gluten-free eating and how to detect gluten in forms you may not otherwise recognize.