At least one in 250 persons in the United States suffers from an inherited
gluten sensitivity known as Celiac Sprue Disease or Gluten-Sensitive
Enteropathy. Gluten is a type of protein mostly found in grains like wheat,
barley, rye, and oats. Gluten sensitivity is not the same thing as food allergy,
even though wheat is a common food allergen. Celiac disease most typically
affects genetically susceptible Caucasians as opposed to those of Asian or Black
African heritage. The only treatment is strict and life long adherence to a
gluten -free diet.
Celiac disease causes severe inflammation of the small intestine when foods
containing gluten are eaten. The small intestine controls digestion and the
absorption of basic nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins,
minerals, and, in some cases, water and bile salts).
The most common clinical symptoms in adults and children are abdominal
cramping, intestinal gas, distention and bloating, chronic diarrhea or
constipation or both, infertility, fatigue, weakness and lack of energy, bone or
joint pain, depression, and dental enamel defects.
If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to severe diarrhea, weight loss,
and in children, multiple deficiencies, and failure to thrive. It is also linked
to skin blisters known as dermatitis herpetiformis. Long-term disorders
resulting from untreated celiac disease include:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Vitamin K deficiency associated with risk for hemorrhaging
- Intestinal lymphomas and other gastro-intestinal malignancies
- Liver Disease
- Other food sensitivities/lactose intolerance.
- Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus
- Thyroid disease
Your healthcare provider may order specific antibody blood tests used to
identify the possibility of celiac disease. This is important in screening
individuals who are at risk of having celiac disease but have no symptoms, but
who ho have family members who have been diagnosed with it. A person going for
preliminary diagnosis must be consuming gluten. If a diagnosis of celiac disease
is confirmed, you will need to plan active participation in the treatment plan.
Because gluten is present in just about every processed food product and in
numerous medications, adapting to a gluten-free diet requires a considerable
lifestyle change. It is crucial to learn to read labels, and identify
ingredients that may contain hidden gluten. Examples of possible hidden gluten
are some soups salad dressings, processed foods, soy sauce, even licorice. Even
medications can contain gluten. I it is important to talk to both your physician
and your pharmacist about any side effects or unusual health problems which may
have occurred in the past when you were taking a medication. Many drug companies
are now excluding wheat starch and other gluten-containing materials from their
products—however, gluten may still find its way into
vitamin products, which may contain wheat germ oil, wheat bran, or other forms
of wheat extract.
A dietician can help you learn more about celiac disease, plan and prepare
gluten-free meals, and give advice on how to eat out in restaurants safely. To
locate a registered dietitian, go to the American Dietetic Association's website
at www.eatright.org .
For more information on how to manage celiac disease, contact The American
Celiac Society Dietary Support Coalition in West Orange, NJ 973/325-8837
Other useful websites:
- Celiac Disease Foundation,
- Celiac Sprue Association,
- Gluten Intolerance Group of North America,