What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestines. It is generally determined by genetics and can affect people of all ages starting at infancy. Although the exact number of people affected by this disease is unknown, it’s estimated that 1 in 105 in the United States alone is affected.
Celiac disease is primarily caused by a reaction to gluten protein, called gliadin that is found in wheat. However, there are similar reactions found in other common grains, most notably barley and rye for example. Basically, when a person with this disorder consumes gliadin in wheat products, an enzyme in the small intestines known as prolamins reacts with the immune system and causes the bowel tissue to inflame. This means that other nutrients are not absorbed as efficiently because the villi found in the small intestines is under duress from the inflaming reaction. Despite the descriptive similarity to wheat allergies, celiac disease is of a different order.
While so many people in the US are diagnosed with celiac disease, very few people of Japanese, African or Chinese descents are diagnosed, which is why the worldwide rate of is estimated to be 1 in 1,750. However, in many other countries this disease may be masked or mistaken for other ailments, plus the lack of gluten found in their natural diet may also mean that far more people may suffer from this condition, but it is never discovered because they never consumed gluten in the first place.
- Chronic diarrhea
- A failure to thrive in children affected with Celiac Disease
The inflammation results in chronic diarrhea which can be very discomforting to those suffering from this disease. Combined with the lack of absorption of nutrients can lead to fatigue. Children are especially vulnerable since their organs have not fully developed at this point, which can leave the child vulnerable to more illness and failure to thrive overall.
Currently, there is no prescription or surgical treatment, nor is there any known cure. The only effective means to be found in combating the disease is avoiding gluten in the diet entirely. Avoiding gluten is not really a treatment, but it does help avoid the problems faced by those with this condition.
For a very small amount of people who suffer from this disease, avoiding gluten does not improve their overall condition. The reasons are unknown as to why this tiny minority does not improve, though it is suspected that this disease has been present for such a great period of time that the intestines do not heal as they normally should.
However, many of these people may be consuming gluten products and not realize it. Wheat products are found hidden in many different foods and it’s possible that people who have found no relief may still be consuming gluten unknowingly. For instance, flavorings or seasonings commonly have wheat added, but not listed on the labels. It is most likely listed as an ingredient that you do not know has wheat in it.
Research continues, but there is no known treatment in sight as of yet. However, with the avoidance of gluten being significant enough to eliminate the symptoms of the disease for most who are affected, this means that diagnosis of celiac disease can lead to very quick relief simply by changing to a gluten-free diet.