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What Is Celiac Disease?

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
A field of wheat.

Celiac disease is an allergy to dietary gluten. It affects individuals who are genetically predisposed to the allergy and differs from gluten sensitivity, as celiac disease elicits within the body a very defined response to gluten. [1]

When gluten enters the small intestine in an individual with celiac disease, the body initiates an immune response. The cause of the response has been identified as gliadin, one of two proteins that comprise gluten. The autoimmune response gliadin triggers creates intestinal redness and irritation.

Over time, the mucosal layer of the intestine is reduced. This layer protects the intestinal wall from toxins – without this, the chance of toxins crossing from the intestine into the blood stream increases. This layer also facilitates the absorption of nutrition into the body. Malnourishment coupled with intestinal irritation is an extremely unpleasant combination.

Left unaddressed, celiac disease can cause serious complications. What's the best way to address celiac disease? Avoid gluten. A gluten-free diet can prevent the allergic response and has been observed to reverse many of the concerns associated with celiac disease.

Causes of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease results from a genetically-induced allergy. Foods that contain gluten trigger the immune response and include cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley contain gluten. Be aware that many processed foods contain gluten to enhance flavoring and protein content.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Symptoms of celiac disease can be identified in one of two categories. The first consist of the intestinal symptoms – bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, steathorrea, flatulence and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The second category of symptoms consists of health and medical complications resulting from regular gluten consumption. Common complications associated with celiac disease include dermatitis herpatiformis, osteoporosis, weight loss and fatigue. Recent research has associated gluten consumption to additional chronic, and in some cases very serious, medical conditions.

Dangers of Celiac Disease

Individuals with celiac disease who continue to consume gluten regularly put themselves at risk of more serious conditions. Some of these more serious conditions include:

1. Brain Injury

Studies have found individuals suffering from Celiac Disease present brain abnormalities and damage to the nervous system. [2] Lesions similar to those found on patients with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) have even been observed. [3]

2. Chronic Headaches

Headaches and migraines can occur with regular frequency as a result of damage to, and the malfunctioning of, the nervous system. [4]

3. Seizures

Damage to the brain and nervous system resulting from autoimmune response to gluten consumption can manifest in the form of seizures. [5]

4. Height

Male children who develop with Celiac Disease have been found to attain a shorter stature than their peers. There is good news. For boys who have Celiac Disease that adhere to a gluten-free diet, ‘catch-up’ growth can occur. [6]

Celiac Disease has been associated with other serious concern, including hearing concerns, inadequate nutrient absorption and early onset cardio vascular disease.[7] [8] [9] Ultimately, if celiac disease is even suspected, a medical evaluation should be sought.

What Can Be Done?

As celiac disease is a gluten allergy, the easiest solution is to adopt a gluten free diet. Research shows that conditions of celiac disease are potentially reversible once a gluten free diet is adopted. Some people have also found additional support by taking probiotics to support their digestive system.

References (9)
  1. Ludvigsson JF, Leffler DA, Bai JC, Biagi F, Fasano A, Green PH, Hadjivassiliou M, Kaukinen K, Kelly CP, Leonard JN, Lundin KE, Murray JA, Sanders DS, Walker MM, Zingone F, Ciacci C. The Oslo definitions for coeliac disease and related terms. Gut. 2013 Jan;62(1):43-52. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2011-301346. Epub 2012 Feb 16.
  2. Bilgic B, Aygun D, Arslan AB, Bayram A, Akyuz F, Sencer S, Hanagasi HA. Silent neurological involvement in biopsy-defined coeliac patients. Neurol Sci. 2013 Apr 25.
  3. Brown KJ, Jewells V, Herfarth H, Castillo M. White matter lesions suggestive of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis attributed to celiac disease. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2010 May;31(5):880-1. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A1826. Epub 2009 Nov 12.
  4. Ford RP. The gluten syndrome: a neurological disease. Med Hypotheses. 2009 Sep;73(3):438-40. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.03.037. Epub 2009 Apr 29.
  5. Devinsky O, Schein A, Najjar S. Epilepsy associated with systemic autoimmune disorders. Epilepsy Curr. 2013 Mar;13(2):62-8. doi: 10.5698/1535-7597-13.2.62.
  6. Sonti R, Lebwohl B, Lewis SK, Abu Daya H, Klavan H, Aguilar K, Green PH. Men with celiac disease are shorter than their peers in the general population. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013 Jun 5.
  7. Solmaz F, Unal F, Apuhan T. Celiac disease and sensorineural hearing loss in children. Acta Otolaryngol. 2012 Feb;132(2):146-51. doi: 10.3109/00016489.2011.635384.
  8. Martin J, Geisel T, Maresch C, Krieger K, Stein J. Inadequate nutrient intake in patients with celiac disease: results from a german dietary survey. Digestion. 2013;87(4):240-6. doi: 10.1159/000348850. Epub 2013 Jun 6.
  9. De Marchi S, Chiarioni G, Prior M, Arosio E. Young adults with coeliac disease may be at increased risk of early atherosclerosis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013 Jul;38(2):162-9. doi: 10.1111/apt.12360. Epub 2013 Jun 3.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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