Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body is unable to properly digest gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Sufferers should also avoid oats, unless they are certified gluten-free because oats are grown and transported with wheat, and thus are often contaminated with gluten.
Symptoms are most often gastrointestinal, but a range of other symptoms are common. If a Celiac sufferer eats gluten, their immune system reacts and attacks and damages the small intestine’s lining. The villi – the finger-like structures that help the body absorb food – are damaged. As a result, celiac sufferers cannot absorb the nutrients they need. When the villi are damaged, they also often become intolerant to dairy.
celiac disease is serious. If a sufferer continues to ingest gluten (even in small doses) it can cause anemia, infertility, cancer, weak and brittle bones and a host of other problems.
There is no cure for celiac disease. The only way to avoid the damaging effects of this disease are to completely avoid eating gluten. Subsequently, after a celiac sufferer goes 100% gluten-free, their small intestine will heal, and they can often digest dairy again.
The most common way to be diagnosed is through a blood test (but do not go gluten-free beforehand or the test may be inaccurate). The blood test is not always accurate, and false negatives can happen. Other ways a person is diagnosed are by performing a biopsy of the small intestine, performing a dietary challenge, and genetic testing.
Sites I find helpful:
- “Unsafe” (gluten) food list here.
- Wm. K. Warren Medical Research Center for Celiac Disease
- Celiac Sprue Association
- Celiac Disease Foundation