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What is Celiac Disease?
Disease, also known as Celiac Sprue, is an autoimmune intestinal disorder that
affects the way the body reacts to ingested gluten, a protein found in wheat,
rye and barley. The body mistakenly attacks intestinal tissue due to the
presence of gluten, causing the lining of the intestines to become damaged and
permeable, allowing gluten and other toxins to escape the intestinal tract and
enter into the blood stream. This causes
an even more pronounced immune response as white blood cells try to remove the
foreign elements, leading to even more physical discomfort and fatigue. When
there is no gluten in the system, such attacks on healthy tissue do not occur
and the body functions normally.
The condition is characterized by a host of
symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, and weight loss. If left untreated for long periods of time, Celiac
Disease will also lead to other more serious symptoms including nutrient
deficiency, osteoporosis, arthritis, infertility, and tooth decay. Unlike other
gastrointestinal disorders, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease is a
progressive condition that causes serious damage over time.
According to the National Digestive Diseases
Clearinghouse, it is estimated that 1 in 133 people, or approximately 2 million
Americans, suffer from Celiac Disease.
However, among individuals who have an immediate family member who also
suffers from the condition, the incidence is approximately 1 in 22 people. Like
many autoimmune conditions, while the exact cause of Celiac Disease is unknown
it is suspected that genetics play a significant role in the development of the
Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat,
rye, and barley, as well as all of the products made from these grains, such as
cereals, breads, cookies, pizza, and pasta. There are several common grain
products that do not include gluten such as varieties of rice, corn, millet,
oats, and soybeans.
more valuable information on gluten, check out our full length report!
While there are several characteristic symptoms of Celiac
Disease that are common among most patients, there are a host of other symptoms
associated with the condition that are seemingly unrelated to the digestive
process. Some individuals may experience
only non-digestive related symptoms, making the identification and diagnosis of
Celiac Disease at times challenging. Why
Celiac Disease manifests in such a diverse way person to person is still largely
unknown to researchers. The symptoms of Celiac Disease also tend to vary by age
Childhood Onset Symptoms
Children who develop Celiac
Disease tend to experience the characteristic digestive problems of Celiac
- Chronic diarrhea
- Unintentional weight loss
- Frequent nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal tenderness, pain, or discomfort
- Abnormal amounts of flatulence
- Pervasive constipation
- Grayish, pungent stools
- Stools that contain visible traces of fat
Children with Celiac Disease also exhibit stunted growth,
delayed puberty, discoloration of teeth, and bones that are susceptible to
fractures and breaks due to weakness. These symptoms are the result of
malnutrition due to improper digestion.
Adult Onset Symptoms
Ironically, many adults with Celiac Disease do not exhibit
any digestive symptoms at all. They are less focused on digestive issues and
more the result of prolonged nutrient depletion. While some do note chronic diarrhea, weight
loss, and increased flatulence as symptoms, there are few reports of patients
experiencing notable abdominal distention, bloating, constipation, or cramping.
More common symptoms of Celiac Disease in adults include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Arthritis (especially young onset of arthritis)
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia
- Chronic headaches
- Unexplained depression
- Muscle pain
- Chronic anxiety
- Irregular or missed menstrual periods
- Chronic miscarriages or infertility
- Canker sores inside the mouth
- Lactose intolerance
Another symptom that develops as the result of prolonged and
untreated Celiac Disease is the condition dermatitis herpetiformis, a skin
disease that is also aggravated by gluten.
Dermatitis herpetiformis is characterized by a blistering skin rash that
is itchy and located on the elbows, buttocks, and knees. In addition to causing visible sores on the
skin, dermatitis herpetiformis also causes rashes on the lining of the
intestines which can hinder nutrient absorption even more.
For more valuable information on the symptoms of Celiac Disease
check out our full length report!
As with many autoimmune disorders, the exact cause of Celiac
Disease remains elusive to members of the medical community. However, there is strong evidence to suggest
that genetics, as well as several other factors, play a significant role in the
development of the condition.
- Genetics - There
is a strong indication that genetics play heavily into the cause of Celiac
Disease. The evidence for this assertion
is based on the number of individuals with an immediate family member who
already has Celiac who also develop the disease. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation,
up to 15% of individuals with an immediate family member with Celiac Disease
will develop the condition. Also, 30% of
fraternal twins both develop the condition, and 70% of individuals with an
identical twin who has the condition will also develop it.
Exposure -One of the
potential causes for Celiac Disease is viral exposure. A variety of studies have indicated that the
rotavirus or adenovirus can trigger the development of Celiac Disease in
individuals who are predisposed to the condition. Candidiasis infection, or the overgrowth of
yeast in the body, may also be a cause of Celiac Disease. A 1993 study on the
effects of candida states that when it overgrows it, “incites disease in hosts
whose local or systemic immune system attributes have been impaired, damaged,
or innately dysfunctional.”
Introduction of Gluten – A factor that may contribute to the
development of Celiac Disease is the age at which gluten is introduced into an
individual’s diet. A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American
Medical Association reported that babies who ingested gluten containing
products (wheat, barley, and rye) before three months of age were five times
more likely to develop Celiac Disease during life than those who ingested
gluten for the first time between four and six months of age.
Autoimmune Condition - The development of another autoimmune
condition can also contribute to the development of Celiac Disease. People who
have conditions like autoimmune thyroid disease, Type 1 diabetes, lupus, or
rheumatoid arthritis, or have an immediate family member with one of these
conditions are 25% more likely to develop Celiac Disease.
Stress - While the physical stresses mentioned above, like viral
infection and already compromised immune response, have been shown to trigger
Celiac Disease in predisposed individuals, it has been shown that instances of
emotional or psychological stress can also provoke the development of Celiac
Disease. What is perhaps the most
intriguing about the emotional/psychological cause factor is that it can cause
an individual without a genetic predisposition to develop the condition.
For more valuable information on the causes of Celiac Disease
check out our full length report!
In their 2002 book entitled Dangerous Grains, James
Braly, M.D. and Ron Hoggan, M.D. note that “The treatment for Celiac Disease
has changed very little since the 1930s…a strict gluten-free diet remains the
only proven means of controlling this disease.”
While the most effective means of treatment for Celiac Disease is to
adhere to a strict gluten-free diet, there are other types of treatment
available that can help the Celiac digestive system handle gluten if it must be
Diet - Adopting a gluten-free diet is the most effective means of eliminating
the symptoms and long term effects of Celiac Disease. Damage done to the
intestinal tract from Celiac Disease can be healed within several years of
eliminating gluten from the diet. When looking at nutritional labels, Celiac
patients should be wary of several phrases which can signify gluten is present
in the product regardless of whether or not an identifiable gluten ingredient
is listed. Some key phrases to be on
alert for include “modified food starch,” “texturized vegetable protein (TVP),”
“natural flavorings,” any unidentified starches, and anything labeled as a
filler, extender, or binder.
Therapy - There has been some recent research to suggest enzyme
therapy may help individuals with Celiac Disease process gluten before it can
damage the intestinal lining. Dr. Chaitan Khosla, founder of the Celiac Sprue
Research Foundation, published an article in a 2007 edition of Science
magazine reporting that Aspergillus oryzae, a plant-based enzyme, can rapidly
break down gluten in the stomach before it can damage the lining of the
intestines or enter into the bloodstream.
Leaf - Another treatment for the symptoms of Celiac Disease that
has been used by alternative healers for centuries is papaya leaf. Papaya leaf has long been utilized for the
treatment of digestive disorders due to the active enzyme in the plant,
Papain. Papain works in much the same
way that Aspergillus oryzae does by breaking down proteins in the stomach
before they enter the intestinal tract.
However, like Aspergillus oryzae, papaya leaf only treats the
symptoms of Celiac Disease and does not address the underlying condition.
For more valuable information on the treatments for Celiac
Disease, as well as an extended gluten-free diet guide, check out our full
Misdiagnosis of Symptoms
One of the most challenging elements of Celiac Disease is
that its symptoms are broad and common among a variety of conditions. Therefore, it is easy to misdiagnose the
symptoms of Celiac Disease in patients of all ages. Left untreated or
undiagnosed, Celiac Disease has been shown to lead to several intestinal
cancers, as well as severe nutrient deficiencies. To help you understand your
symptoms more clearly so you can seek the appropriate medical attention, below
is a list of the most common conditions Celiac Disease can be mistaken for
including what their symptoms are and how they can be distinguished from Celiac
Disease. As the symptoms common for children and adults are so different, the
list has been broken up into two sections for your convenience.
of Common Celiac Disease Symptoms in Children
allergies - Food
allergies are immune system reactions to chemical compounds found in certain
types of food such as lactic acid (in dairy) and gluten (in wheat
products). Reactions are triggered when
even just a small amount of the offending compound is ingested. In children and
adolescents, food allergies and Celiac Disease may be hard to differentiate between
due to the similarity in symptoms. Both
conditions are immune responses to foreign particles, however the immune cell
that is released during an allergic reaction, immunoglobin E, differs
significantly from the anti-gluten antibodies produced as a result of Celiac
Disease. The best way to distinguish between a food allergy and Celiac Disease
is through blood tests which can identify the specific immune cell that is
intolerances - Food
intolerances are physical reactions to chemical compounds found in certain types
of food, such as lactic acid (in dairy) or glucose (in wheat). Unlike a food allergy, food intolerances are
not caused by immune system responses but instead by a variety of issues,
ranging from the absence of necessary digestive enzymes to sensitivity to
synthetic preservatives. In children and adolescents, food intolerances exhibit
similar gastrointestinal symptoms as Celiac Disease. A common method used to definitively
differentiate between the two is by performing a breath test which can identify
whether or not an individual is lacking proper stomach enzymes to digest common
proteins. If these tests do not isolate one specific food type as the cause of
symptoms, then tests for Celiac-specific antibodies will likely be the next
step in diagnosing the symptoms.
Disease - Crohn’s Disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease
(IBD) that is characterized by an inflammation of the intestines. Symptoms include
diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping bloody stools, undesired weight loss, and
ulcers. Children with Celiac Disease may experience abnormal stools, however
they are characterized by excessive mucus or fatty deposits, not blood. To definitively differentiate between the two
conditions is to perform tests such as a fecal analysis, blood tests, and small
bowel imaging to check for ulcers or scalloping of the intestinal tissue.
Colitis - Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is a type of inflammatory bowel
disease (IBD) which is characterized by continual inflammation of the lining of
the large intestine and rectum. The basic symptoms of UC are abdominal pain and
diarrhea. While Ulcerative Colitis
shares symptoms with Celiac Disease, it is easily distinguished from it through
bloody stools and side-specific pain. If you are experiencing any symptoms of
bleeding or pain, contact your health care provider immediately.
of Common Celiac Disease Symptoms in Adults
- Hypothyroidism is a
dysfunction of the thyroid gland that is characterized by a reduced production
of thyroid hormones. Symptoms of hypothyroidism are broad due to the effect the
thyroid has on the whole body. Common
symptoms include chronic fatigue, depression, constipation, sensitivity to
cold, hair loss, weight gain, frequent headaches, and brittle nails. On the surface,
many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism may match up with symptoms for Celiac
Disease. Brittle nails, chronic fatigue, and depression are also common in
Celiac patients due to nutrient deficiencies.
However, a simple blood test examining the amount of thyroid hormones in
the blood can simply distinguish whether an individual may be suffering from
here to read more about the relationship between Celiac Disease and autoimmune
is a condition that occurs when an individual does not have enough red blood
cells in their body. The symptoms of all types of anemia include chronic
fatigue, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, poor circulation to extremities,
dizziness, and headache. Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are
common in patients with Celiac Disease. While the two are completely separate
conditions, they overlap significantly as anemia is often a symptom of Celiac
Disease due to improper iron absorption.
If an individual is diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, it is
important that a medical investigation continues to identify the source of the
deficiency which should include testing for Celiac Disease.
Bowel Syndrome -Irritable
Bowel Syndrome, known better simply as IBS, is an intestinal disorder
characterized by a host of gastrointestinal symptoms. While IBS is an uncomfortable condition, it
does not cause serious or long term damage. Symptoms of Irritable Bowel
Syndrome include increased flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal
bloating, and cramping. Some of the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome are
similar to some of the symptoms an adult with Celiac Disease might exhibit
after consuming gluten. However, Celiac
Disease in an adult will cause a host of other symptoms that are not typically
reported by individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, such as nutrient
deficiencies, anemia, depression, infertility problems, and skin rash. Click here to
read more about Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Fatigue Syndrome - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition that
is characterized by an individual experiencing constant serious fatigue that is
not relieved by rest or sleep. This fatigue gets worse after physical exertion
or stress. The condition is not fully
understood by the medical community at this time, and both a cause and cure
have yet to be identified. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, while a totally separate
condition, is often seen as a symptom of Celiac Disease due to the high number
of patients who suffer from both conditions. Typically, a patient will first be
diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and during the further investigation
of that condition elevated antibodies to gluten will be identified. While the two conditions may be related in
some cases, they are unique disorders that can be easily distinguished with an
For more valuable information on the misdiagnosis of Celiac Disease,
check out our full length report
of its crucial role in digestion and nutrient absorption, dysfunctions of the
gastrointestinal system like Celiac Disease can affect other systems in the
body, causing not only a host of side effects but also an increased risk for
developing several other conditions. There are a few common “companion
conditions” that often develop in tandem with Celiac Disease as a result of the
you are being treated for Celiac Disease, be sure to ask your health care
provider to frequently test and keep an eye out for the following companion conditions. In many cases, eliminating gluten consumption
and halting the damage the immune system is doing to the intestinal tract will
reduce risk and improve the symptoms of the following companion conditions.
Thyroid Disease - There is a growing body of research which has linked Celiac
Disease with autoimmune thyroid dysfunction. It has been reported that almost
20% of individuals who suffer from Celiac Disease develop an autoimmune thyroid
- Type 1
Diabetes - A correlation between Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes has
emerged, with one indicating a higher risk of developing the other. The
specific cause of the relationship between Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes
is yet to be fully understood. However,
both conditions are autoimmune diseases, and it has been shown that once the
immune system mistakenly attacks one gland it is more likely to attack another.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation reports that Celiac Disease occurs in
1 out of every 10 Type 1 Diabetes patients.
- Autism -
Over the past five years, medical researchers have concluded there is a
definite link between Celiac Disease and Autism. A 2009 study which reported that children who
have mothers with Celiac Disease have more than three times the risk of developing
Autism as other children. Further evidence that speaks to the link between
Autism and Celiac Disease is the recent discovery that placing children with
Autism on a gluten-free diet may drastically improve the symptoms of their
- Chronic Fatigue
Syndrome - While there have been reports that allergies, autoimmune
conditions, emotional stress, nutrient deficiencies, and physical trauma can
trigger Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, there is a portion of the medical community
who place the blame on Celiac Disease. A
study done in 1996 reported that out of the 53 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
patients who participated in the test, over 30 had gluten-specific antibodies
in their blood. Furthermore, while none of those patients had been previously
diagnosed with Celiac Disease, more than 20 showed signs of inflammation and
scalloping in their intestinal tract.
Autoimmune Conditions - In addition to autoimmune thyroid disease and Type
1 Diabetes being highly prevalent among individuals with Celiac Disease, a
variety of other autoimmune conditions can also be common companion
conditions. Other autoimmune conditions
that have been reported in notable numbers among Celiac Disease patients
include Addison’s Disease, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, autoimmune liver
disease, and Sjogren’s Syndrome.
For more valuable information on the companion conditions for
Celiac Disease, check out our full length report!
Talk with your Doctor
To make sure you get the treatment and solutions you need to
experience digestive function at optimal levels, it is vital that you advocate
for your own intestinal health through asking questions of your health care
professional and educating yourself. If
you suspect you may be suffering from Celiac Disease, use the guide below to
start getting the information and treatment you need from your health care
Remember, if you believe you are suffering from Celiac
Disease, do not stop consuming gluten containing products until after your
health care provider has had a chance to thoroughly examine you for
- Keep a
Symptoms Journal - The Symptoms Journal is essentially a record of your
observations regarding the nature, severity, frequency, and duration of
intestinal symptoms you experience. You
should also include a daily record of all the food you eat and note any
correlations you see between specific foods and gastrointestinal reactions.
After you have 2-3 weeks of data recorded in your Symptoms Journal, review what
you have observed and, if you feel something is out of the ordinary, call your
health care provider and make an appointment to investigate. Be sure to take your Symptoms Journal with
you to the appointment!
- Ask The
Right Questions - Help direct the examination with your health care
provider and also advocate for yourself by asking specific questions regarding
what they are noticing. Here are a few
questions to ask as they are performing a physical exam:
- Are you noticing bloating in my abdomen?
- Do you suspect a food allergy?
- Does my skin have a different consistency than
normal to you?
- Have I gained or lost weight since my last
- Do I appear to have any symptoms of nutrient
- Do you suspect Celiac Disease as a cause of my
symptoms? Why or why not?
Certain Tests - When you are at your appointment with your health care
provider, insist they order blood tests for gluten-specific antibodies as well
as intestinal endoscopies to check for any indication of inflammation or
scalloping of the bowel walls. Remember,
the symptoms of Celiac Disease are similar to many less sinister conditions,
like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and in-depth tests such as these are the ways to
truly distinguish between the two. Don’t be afraid to ask for these tests to be
For more valuable information on talking about Celiac Disease,
check out our full length report!
Promoting general intestinal wellness and eating a
gluten-free diet are the two staple elements to soothing the symptoms and
healing the damage caused by Celiac Disease. Incorporating the elements below
into your daily lifestyle can positively influence the healing process and help
alleviate your symptoms as well as lay the foundation for continued intestinal
- As soon as your diagnosis is confirmed, remove
all sources of gluten from your diet.
Remember that gluten may be found in things you don’t expect, like beer,
soy sauce, and vegetable starches.
- Remove unnecessary toxins from your life as soon
as possible. Cut down on alcohol consumption, tobacco products, recreational
drugs, and high amounts of sugars in your diet.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine intake. Caffeine
can irritate the intestines and encourage abnormal colon spasms. Click here to
read more about caffeine.
- Seek out a support group online or in person to
provide suggestions on gluten-free foods as well as other helpful hints.
- Reduce the number of times you eat out per month
significantly. Restaurant food is often loaded with hidden gluten-containing
elements, such as MSG. Most Celiac patients report that cooking at home is the
surest way to keep their bodies gluten-free.
- Consider investing in several gluten-free
cookbooks to keep on hand for when you are dining at home or entertaining. Many gluten-free cookbooks provide key tips
and tricks to making gluten-free food that tastes identical to recipes made
traditionally with gluten-containing ingredients.
- Drink adequate amounts of water to keep stools
soft and flush toxins out of the digestive tract. It is recommended you drink
one ounce of water for every two pounds of your body weight.
- Take between 30-60 minutes of exercise daily. Be
sure to slowly increase the length and severity of your exercise to give your
body time to adjust. Even walking for 30-45 minutes daily will make a big
positive influence on your digestive health by promoting bowel movement and
increasing circulation to the intestines.
- Reduce your intake of dairy-containing products
as they strain the digestive system and may irritate the lining of the
- Maintain close communication with your health
care provider to monitor the healing of your intestinal lining as well as the
state of your bone and joint health.
For an extended Celiac Disease wellness plan, check out our full
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