Just What is Celiac Disease?
What Is It?
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to have an immune reaction to the protein gluten, which can seriously damage your small intestine. Gluten is a protein that can be found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, which are fairly common components in many of the foods that we eat. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten, their immune systems attack the lining of the intestine. This causes inflammation (swelling) in the intestines and damages the villi, the hair-like structures on the lining of the small intestine,” (Source).
Common Misconceptions Celiac disease is not an allergy, it is an autoimmune disease. When a person with Celiac consumes gluten, their body begins to produce antibodies (transglutaminase or TTG) that attack the cell lining of their small intestines. Gluten is not an “ingredient” in wheat, gluten is a structural protein that is naturally found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten contains fragments called glutenins and gliadins that are extremely toxic to individuals with Celiac.
However, gluten is not in all grains. People with Celiac can still eat rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and
potatoes. Additionally, people with Celiac can still have dairy, meat, fruit, and vegetable
products, as long as they have no other food allergy that prevents them from eating that thing.
But gluten can be found in some of the most surprising things, even non-food items. For example, some types of medicine, toothpaste and even cosmetics can have some level of gluten in them. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, and the only treatment is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Diagnosing a person with Celiac disease begins with a blood test that searches for the TTG antibodies, but the diagnosis can only be determined after a biopsy.
Some of the most common symptoms of Celiac are:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating and gas
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches and fatigue
- Itchy skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
When To See A Doctor
Children older than the age of three and experiencing symptoms should be tested. First-degree
relatives of a person with Celiac such as parents, siblings, or children should be tested. Any
individual with an associated autoimmune disorder or other condition such as type one diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune liver disease, Down Syndrome, or other should be
The Gold Standard of Testing
The only way to determine for certain that you have Celiac disease is an intestinal (duodenal)
biopsy. This test will tell you if you have Celiac disease, if your symptoms improve on a
gluten-free diet due to a placebo effect (you feel better because you think you should), or if you
have a different gastrointestinal disorder or sensitivity that responds to changes in your diet.
This testing begins with a blood test that searches for elevated levels of the antibody
transglutaminase. If these results are positive, your doctor may suggest an endoscopic biopsy
of your small intestine, which is a procedure that allows your physician to see what is going on
inside of your GI tract. This procedure gives the physician a clear view of your small intestine
and the option of taking a sample of the tissue. The samples that were taken will be studied
under a microscope to look for damage and/or inflammation due to Celiac disease.
Should I start eating gluten-free?
If you do not have Celiac disease or a hypersensitivity to gluten, then you do not have to stop
eating foods with gluten in them. Gluten is usually found in whole grains and is not bad for the
average person’s health. Many people think that eating gluten-free can solve their health
problems, but that is not necessarily the case. The average person can also experience some
of the symptoms above simply from a reaction to poorly digested carbohydrates or another food that maybe their body just isn’t used to consuming.
Trying to go gluten-free if you don’t have Celiac or enough knowledge about your nutrition can
actually be harmful to your body. Going gluten-free may reduce an individual’s intake of whole
grains and fiber, and that can be very detrimental to your health. Gluten is only a problem to
those who have Celiac disease or react negatively to it; most people eat gluten most of their
lives without any adverse side effects. If you don’t have Celiac or another condition where you
react negatively to gluten, cutting gluten out of your diet is unnecessary.