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Celiac Disease: Food and Management


What is Celiac Disease


Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that’s triggered when you will eat gluten. It’s also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy. Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. It’s what makes dough elastic and gives bread its chewy texture. When someone with celiac disease eats something with gluten, their body overreacts to the protein and damages their villi, small finger-like projections found along the wall of their small intestine. When your villi are injured, your small intestine can’t properly absorb nutrients from food. Eventually, this can lead to malnourishment, as well as loss of bone density, miscarriage, infertility or even neurological diseases or certain cancers.


If your celiac disease isn’t better after at least a year without gluten, it’s called refractory or nonresponsive celiac disease. Most people with celiac disease never know that they have it. Researchers think that as few as 20% of people with the disease get the right diagnosis. The damage to your intestine is very slow, and symptoms are so varied that it can take years to get a diagnosis.


Celiac disease symptoms in adults


If you have celiac disease and accidentally eat something with gluten in it, you may have symptoms including:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Anemia

  • Bloating or a feeling of fullness

  • Bone or joint pain

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Gas

  • Heartburn

  • Itchy, blistery rash (doctors call this dermatitis herpetiformis)

  • Headaches or fatigue

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Nausea

  • Nervous system injury, including numb or tingling hands or feet, balance problems or changes in awareness

  • Poop that’s pale, smells especially bad, or floats (steatorrhea)

  • Weight loss

Celiac disease can also cause a loss of bone density and reduced spleen function (hyposplenism).


Celiac disease symptoms in children


Children with celiac disease are more likely to have intestinal problems, including:

  • Bloating or belly swelling

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Pale, foul-smelling poop

  • Upset stomach or vomiting

  • Weightloss

If celiac disease keeps a child’s body from absorbing the nutrients they need, they can have problems including:

  • Anemia

  • Damaged tooth enamel

  • Delayed puberty

  • Failure to thrive, in infants

  • Crankiness or mood changes

  • Neurological problems like learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Slow growth and short height

Not everyone with celiac disease will have these symptoms. Some people don’t notice any problems, which can make diagnosis difficult.


Celiac Disease Causes and Risk Factors


Research hasn’t found a definite cause of celiac disease. It tends to run in families and might be linked to certain genes. Stressful medical events such as a viral infection or surgery can trigger it. So, can emotional trauma or pregnancy. If one of your close family members has it, like a parent or sibling, you have a 1 in 10 chance of getting celiac disease. The disease is most common among Caucasians and people who have other diseases, including:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

  • Type1 diabetes

  • Addison’s disease

  • Down syndrome

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Turner syndrome (a condition in which a female is missing an X chromosome)

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Autoimmune hepatitis

  • Sjogren’s syndrome

  • Idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy

  • IgA nephropathy

  • Lupus

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

  • Chronic pancreatitis

  • Psoriasis

  • Scleroderma

  • Williams syndrome

  • Primary biliary cirrhosis

  • Lactose intolerance

  • Intestinal lymphoma

  • Intestinal cancer

Celiac Disease Complications


Celiac disease can be dangerous if you don’t get treatment. Complications may include:

  • Cancer, including intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer

  • Damaged tooth enamel

  • Infertility and miscarriage

  • Lactose Intolerance

  • Malnutrition

  • Nervous system problems like seizures or pain and numbness in your hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy)

  • Pancreatic disease

  • Weak bones

Celiac Management


The only way to treat celiac disease is to permanently remove gluten from your diet. This allows the intestinal villi to heal and to begin absorbing nutrients properly. Your doctor will teach you how to avoid gluten while following a nutritious and healthy diet. They will also give you instructions on how to read food and product labels so you can identify any ingredients that contain gluten. Symptoms can improve within days of removing gluten from the diet. However, you shouldn’t stop eating gluten until a diagnosis is made. Removing gluten prematurely may interfere with test results and lead to an inaccurate diagnosis.

Food precautions for people with celiac disease

Maintaining a gluten-free diet isn’t easy. Fortunately, many companies are now making gluten-free products, which can be found at various grocery stores and specialty food stores. The labels on these products will say “gluten-free.”

If you have celiac disease, it is important to know which foods are safe. Here is a series of food guidelines that can help you determine what to eat and what to avoid.

Avoid the following ingredients:

  • wheat

  • spelt

  • rye

  • barley

  • triticale

  • bulgur

  • durum

  • farina

  • graham flour

  • semolina

Avoid unless the label says gluten-free:

  • beer

  • bread

  • cakes and pies

  • candy

  • cereals

  • cookies

  • crackers

  • croutons

  • gravies

  • imitation meats or seafood

  • oats

  • pasta

  • processed lunch meats, sausages, and hot dogs

  • salad dressings

  • sauces (includes soy sauce)

  • self-basting poultry

  • soups

You can eat these gluten-free grains and starches:

  • buckwheat

  • corn

  • amaranth

  • arrowroot

  • cornmeal

  • flour made from rice, soy, corn, potatoes, or beans

  • pure corn tortillas

  • quinoa

  • rice

  • tapioca

Healthy, gluten-free foods include:

  • fresh meats, fish, and poultry that haven’t been breaded, coated, or marinated

  • fruit

  • most dairy products

  • starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes, including sweet potatoes, and corn

  • rice, beans, and lentils

  • vegetables

  • wine, distilled liquors, ciders, and spirits

Your symptoms should improve within days to weeks of making these dietary adjustments. In children, the intestine usually heals in three to six months. Intestinal healing may take several years in adults. Once the intestine completely heals, the body will be able to absorb nutrients properly.

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