May has been designated celiac awareness month, but don’t celebrate it with a cake. Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley or rye grains. A reaction to gluten causes an inflammatory response that damages the tissue within the small intestine, the tube-shaped organ between the stomach and large intestine where nutrients are absorbed. This reaction causes elevated levels of antibodies that trigger the release of cytokine chemicals. Cytokines are usually beneficial, helping protect the body from bacteria, viruses, infections and injuries. But in excess, they can cause chronic inflammation, the root of most diseases.
Anti-nutrients are present in grains that have evolved to protect themselves from threats like insects, bugs, rodents and fungus by forming “toxins” that repel them. These anti-nutrients can also act like a toxin when some humans eat it. It can damage the lining of the gut, making essential minerals unavailable to the body, and inhibit digestion and absorption of essential nutrients, including protein.
Research shows that only about 15 percent of those who have the disease are aware of it.
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, there are hundreds of symptoms of celiac disease within the body that are related to the effects of the disease on the immune and digestive systems.
- Brain fog (trouble concentrating)
- Canker sores
- Chronic Fatigue
- Cramping and abdominal pain
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Irregular periods
- Joint pains
- Neuropathy (tingling numbness in the hands and feet)
- Skin problems
- Thinning hair
- Unusual weight gain or loss
Some people with celiac disease can remain asymptomatic, but the disease can eventually lead to long term damage like dementia in older people. Symptoms are usually very similar to those caused by other digestive issues and autoimmune conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), iron-deficiency anemia, food allergies, lactose intolerance, or inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulitis, so it can sometimes be hard to nail down a diagnosis.
Untreated, inflammatory reactions to gluten will cause health problems within the gut microbiome, brain, endocrine system, stomach, liver, blood vessels and muscles.
Celiac patients are at a high risk for diseases like:
- Anxiety or depression
- Autoimmune thyroid disease
- Heart complications
- Multiple sclerosis
- Other food allergies
- Skin disorders (like dermatitis or eczema)
- Type 1 diabetes
Gluten is in most processed foods. It’s often hidden and used as a binding agent that holds the foods together. Patients who have been diagnosed with celiac disease should follow a strict gluten-free diet. The best way is to eat only whole, gluten free foods like vegetables and fruits, but it’s necessary to carefully read content labels to ensure the product is gluten free when purchasing processed foods.