Celiac disease (also spelled coeliac) is an autoimmune disorder that does not allow the body to digest gluten that is found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats. When a celiac consumes food containing gluten, the villi in the small intestine reacts and send antibodies to kill what they think is a foreign substance, but there isn’t any so the antibodies attack and harm the villi, which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in food. The result is typically a very nasty stomach ache. Some of the most common symptoms include diarrhea/constipation, vomiting, weight loss, iron-deficiency anemia that does not respond to iron therapy, fatigue, delayed puberty, joint pain, pale sores inside the mouth, a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), unexplained infertility, and psychiatric disorders such as anxiety or depression and in my case migraines. Most celiacs will have one or more of those symptoms. It is a genetic disorder that affects both children and adults. There are no medicines and there is no cure. The only known treatment is a life-long strict adherence to a gluten-free diet, which is not as easy as it sounds but is getting easier.
You want to know facts? Well here you go:
How common is celiac disease? Research shows that 1%, or 3 million, Americans alone have celiac disease. However about 97% are undiagnosed because it is difficult to diagnose.
The University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center states that in average, 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac Disease. About 1 in 22 will have celiac disease if a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) already has the disorder and about 1 in 39 if a second-degree relative (aunt, uncle, cousin) who are Celiac.
The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research states that “celiac is twice as common as Chron’s disease, ulceric colitis and cystic fibrosis combined.”
Is celiac disease a food allergy? No. Food allergies are usually something that people can grow out of, like lactose intolerance (just not in my case). Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that you will have for the rest of your life. Sucks I know but that’s the truth.
Is celiac disease related or linked to any other disorders? Yes. According to The University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, “Celiacs are more likely to be afflicted with problems relating to malabsorbtions, including osteoporosis, tooth enamel defects, central and peripheral nervous system disease, pancreatic disease, internal hemorrhaging, organ disorders (gall bladder, liver, and spleen), and gynecological disorders.” Celiacs that do not adhere to a gluten-free diet are at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer, especially intestinal lymphoma. About 180,000 American that have Type 1 Diabetes also have celiac disease. And about 350,000 Americans with Down’s Syndrome also have celiac disease.
Is celiac disease life threatening? Only when not treated by sticking to a gluten-free diet.
What should I do if I think I have celiac disease? Ask your doctor right away. Please don’t put if off, because if you do have celiac disease and you put it off, you could cause even more damage.
There are plenty of books and websites out there ready and more than willing to help. Some of my favorite books are: The Gluten-free Bible by Jax Peters Lowell
(ISBN 0-8050-7746-4) and The Gluten-free Gourmet Cooks Fast and Healthy by Bette Hagman (ISBN 0-8050-6525-3). More companies are recognizing celiac disease and marking their packaging as being a gluten-free product.