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Celiac: What is it and how does it affect my health?



It’s likely you've heard of the gluten-free diet trend. But for 2 million Americans diagnosed with Celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet is not a choice. In fact, their lives may depend on it.


What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a hereditary chronic autoimmune disease, meaning it's passed from parent to child. When people with Celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system attacks the small intestine, causing intestinal damage and inhibiting their ability to absorb nutrients.

This intestinal damage causes inflammation and can lead to diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating, anemia, and other serious complications.

Studies show that Celiac disease is more common in people who are white, have type 1 diabetes, are obese, or have ancestors from Europe.


So, what exactly is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. This means foods with gluten include products such as bread, pasta, cereals, beer, soups, and salad dressings often contain gluten.


Symptoms of Celiac disease

There is no cure for Celiac disease and it's difficult to diagnose because common symptoms often look like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or lactose intolerance. If you're not sure if you have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, the 10 most common digestive signs and Celiac disease symptoms you might encounter as an adult include:

1. Diarrhea

2. Bloating and gas

3. Unexplained weight loss

4. Fatigue, as a result of a deficiency in vitamins and minerals

5. Constipation, a side effect of the intestinal villi absorbing extra moisture from stool

6. Itchy skin rashes on knees, elbows and buttocks - otherwise called dermatitis herpetiformis

7. Anemia (iron deficiency), which is present in about 40% of people with Celiac disease

8. Depression and anxiety

9. Abdominal pain

10. Nausea and vomiting

Note: symptoms in children with Celiac disease may look different.



How does Celiac disease affect my health?

It's most dangerous if Celiac disease goes undiagnosed. Untreated Celiac disease can lead to other autoimmune disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and health complications. Additionally, patients with Celiac disease are at a greater risk to develop coronary artery disease and small bowel cancers.

In fact, one source notes that "people with one autoimmune disorder have a 25% higher risk of developing others as well", such as multiple sclerosis, Graves disease, Crohn's disease, or type 1 diabetes.



A gluten-free diet

A gluten-free (GF) or grain-free (Gf) dietary plan tends to be low in fiber, which plays an important part in digestive health and regular bowel movements. A strict gluten-free diet requires an intentional and well-planned approach to meet nutritional requirements. Generally, whole and unprocessed foods are gluten-free. Here are some suggestions for gluten-free foods to include in your daily meals:

Gluten-free whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, sorghum, tapioca, millet, amaranth, teff, arrowroot, gluten-free oats.

Gluten-free fruits: citrus fruits (including oranges and grapefruit), bananas, apples, berries, peaches, pears.

Gluten-free vegetables: cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli, leafy greens such as kale and spinach, starchy vegetable like potatoes and squash, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, carrots, radishes, green beans.

Gluten-free proteins: legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts), nuts and seeds, red meat (beef, pork, lamb, bison), poultry (chicken and turkey), seafood (fish, scallops, shellfish), unflavored soy foods (tofu, tempeh, edamame).

Gluten-free dairy: milk, butter, ghee, cheese, cream, cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt.

Gluten-free fats: butter and ghee, olives and olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, coconut oil




If you suspect you have Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, meet with your doctor as soon as you can for a blood test. Catching this disease early and altering your diet and lifestyle could greatly enhance your well-being and longevity.

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