Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. In addition to being found in many foods, it can also be found in medicines, vitamins, and lip balms. While many of us consume gluten with no problems, an estimated one out of every one hundred people are not able to do so. These people suffer from celiac disease. In addition to the millions of people who have been diagnosed and know they are living with the disease, it is believed that as many as two million people in the United States are currently suffering from celiac disease but have not been diagnosed as such.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s white blood cells go into fight mode and attack the body’s own tissue, in this case the lining of the small intestine. Typically the small intestine is lined with villi, which are tiny, fingerlike projections. When functioning normally the villi allow nutrients from food to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the walls of the small intestine. With celiac disease the villi become damaged over time, leading the walls of the small intestine to become smooth and unable to absorb nutrients. This causes the person with celiac disease to become malnourished, regardless of how much food they eat.
While it may be considered a digestive disease, symptoms of celiac can affect a person’s entire body. Common symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss, while other symptoms might be joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes. Complicating the ability of the medical community to diagnose celiac disease is the fact that there are about three hundred symptoms currently associated with the disease (and some people experience no symptoms at all). Digestive symptoms seem to be more common in children, while adults often present with myriad other symptoms. Diagnosis of the disease may include multiple blood tests, an endoscopy (a procedure in which a surgeon views and takes samples of the small intestine), and in some cases, skin testing if a particular type of rash is present. If left undiagnosed and/or untreated, celiac disease can lead to various long-term health concerns including osteoporosis, gallbladder issues, neurological problems, and infertility.
Some people who experience symptoms similar to those associated with celiac disease who test negative for the disease through blood tests may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (sometimes referred to as gluten intolerance or gluten allergy). In these individuals the presence of gluten in their body triggers an attack on the gluten itself which causes inflammation both inside and outside of the digestive tract. This condition, identified by researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in 2011, is controversial in the medical world as many physicians still doubt that it truly exists.
Currently the only treatment for celiac disease or other gluten sensitivity is following a gluten-free diet. Since gluten is present in many foods, including those you might not expect, this can be a time consuming endeavor requiring a lot of research. The search feature at greenestbeans.com is a quick and easy way to find gluten-free food. Check it out today, and for more information on celiac disease or other gluten related issues visit the Celiac Disease Foundation.Share