“Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine, which can lead to malabsorption of nutrients. A genetic intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, triggers this destructive reaction of the immune system”, according to Dr. Peter Green of Columbia University Medical Center, and one of the premier celiac specialists in the world. Indeed, I reference his book, “Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic” throughout this page.
Many researchers theorize that celiac disease has been around since humans switched from foraging and hunting to domestic agriculture. The exact cause of the disease is unknown, but it tends to be inherited. There is a 5 to 15 percent chance that you may have the disease if someone in your family does. The disease may also emerge after some form of trauma (infection, injury, severe stress, surgery, etc). Like diabetes, it is an autoimmune disorder, not a food allergy that people grow out of.
There currently is no cure for celiac disease. The only treatment is a gluten free diet.
Everybody reacts differently. Symptoms of celiac disease vary from one person to the next. The majority of complaints consist of, though are not limited to:
- weight loss
- abdominal cramps, gas and bloating
- foul-smelling or grayish stools that may be fatty or oily
- stunted growth (in children)
Other issues attributed to celiac disease include:
- irritability or depression
- stomach upset
- joint pain
- muscle cramps
- skin rash
- mouth sores
- dental and bone disorders (such as osteoporosis)
- tingling in the legs and feet (neuropathy)
Dr. Green has dubbed celiac disease as the “great pretender.” Its protean symptoms and systemic manifestations can easily masquerade as a number of other illnesses. Some people report having no symptoms at all.
Celiac disease is particularly challenging to diagnose. Dr. Green suggests the following blood tests in aiding in the diagnosis of of celiac disease:
- Anti-gliadin antibodies (AGA) both IgA and IgG
- Anti-endomysial antibodies (EMA) – IgA
- Anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTG) – IgA
- Total IgA level.
For test results to be accurate, a person must be consuming gluten, as these tests determine if you are a having an immune response to it. The simple blood tests above can be ordered by any internist. If your doctor won’t order the test, find one that will. Remember, you can have celiac disease and still have negative blood tests.
I would also recommend genotyping from Enterolab. Having at least one of these genes, HLA DQ2, DQ6 and DQ8 are necessary to develop celiac disease. Since 1/3 of the general population have these genes, the presence usually means they have a genetic compatibility with celiac disease. Conversely, the absence of DQ2/DQ6/DQ8 almost certainly rules out celiac disease.
You can effectively manage celiac disease with a gluten free diet.
Celiac disease can be effectively managed by avoiding food with gluten (and foods that are often contaminated with gluten). This includes:
- Any type of wheat, including spelt, kamut, bulgur, durum, semolina, triticale, etc.
- Any type of barley or malt (food additives)
- Amaranth and buckwheat
How do you know the food you buy is gluten free, if it does not have the gluten free label? One of the easiest answers is to stay away from processed foods. Many of the foods that are commonly allergenic did not exist in their current, peculiar, omnipresent forms a century ago –think peanut oil, high fructose corn syrup and soy –cheap, subsidized products pervasive in today’s processed foods.
Fear not. Although you may not be able to eat your favorite bread or crackers anymore, there are alternatives. There are plenty of gluten free recipes online and beyond.