Celiac disease, or also known as gluten intolerance and celiac sprue, was once thought as a rare case of digestive disorder. In 2003, however, the condition began getting more attention – approximately 40,000 Americans were diagnosed with the disorder. Today, the number has skyrocketed to hundreds of thousands and many are curious why a gluten-free diet is the best treatment for celiac disease.
To understand why, let’s take a close look at celiac disease and what happens to the body of a person who consumes gluten.
First of all, celiac disease or gluten intolerance, just as the name implies, is a digestive disorder that develops in reaction to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, oats, and many other food products made with these grains. The body’s immune system considers gluten as a foreign substance, reacts to its presence, and causes damage to the villi that line the small intestine.
This immune reaction results in a wide variety of symptoms that can vary from mild to severe. Some people may present no symptoms at all, especially if the large portion of their small intestine can still absorb much of the nutrients it receives. However, when the small intestines fail to absorb much of the nutrients needed by the body, it may lead to other more serious health issues such as malnutrition and weight loss. The signs and symptoms of celiac disease that is related to malnutrition and weight loss include fatigue (iron-deficiency), anemia (iron-deficiency), and osteoporosis (calcium deficiency).
For some individuals, the condition causes a very itchy rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis. It usually begins as an intense burning sensation in areas like the elbows, scalp, knees, buttocks, and back. The itchy bumps normally occur in the teenage years and are more common in males than in females.
But, who exactly gets celiac disease? The answer to that is just about everybody. While not everyone will develop full-blown celiac disease, if you are suffering any kind of chronic illness, your small intestine has probably been damaged by gluten and if you continue eating gluten you will eventually develop other diseases.
Now the million-dollar question is: why a gluten-free diet? Well, basically, Dr. Glidden, Dr. Wallach, and others recommend a gluten-free diet regimen because it is the only solution to the symptoms of celiac disease. Completely eliminating gluten in the diet usually clears away the symptoms associated with the condition and contributes to the faster healing of the damaged intestine. The consumption of gluten puts a person with celiac disease at risk of developing other health problems which can be permanent and sometimes even fatal. Thyroid disease, diabetes, and enteropathy-associated T-cell lymphoma (a type of cancer) are just some examples of what can happen.
In individuals suffering from celiac, the body’s immune system is triggered by the presence of gluten in food. Antibodies consequently attack the lining of the small intestine, damaging the tiny, fingerlike projections called villi. Damaged villi are not capable of effectively absorbing nutrients and as a result, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals get passed through the stool. Again, why gluten-free diet? Because you don’t want to trigger the immune system and cause damage to the colon. It’s very simple, right?
The problem is, wheat is a staple ingredient of many food products in Western countries. Breads, pasta, pizza, cakes, muffins, and pies all contain gluten. Most fried chicken in restaurants are also to be avoided, thanks to the breading. If you love Japanese food, stay away from udon noodles. Since barley and rye also contain gluten, beer and barley soup are off limits to those with celiac. What makes the problem even worse is the fact that celiac disease has many different symptoms that it is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Because of this, people with celiac fail to adhere to gluten-free diet and unknowingly cause damage to their small intestine.
This basically explains why it’s very important to stop eating gluten and why I particularly like the gluten free foods.
Celiac disease is a lifelong disease and unless you stick to a gluten-free diet, you’ll continue to inflict damage to your colon.