Gluten-free foods are trendy right now, but those with Celiac disease have higher than normal levels of antibodies, or infection-fighting cells, that attack gluten. When someone with Celiac disease ingests gluten – which can be found in wheat, rye and barley – their body views the gluten as a foreign invader. The body then attacks the small intestine, limiting the amount of nutrients a person absorbs from their food. Celiac disease is genetic, and it is believed that as many as 1 in 133 Americans may have the condition.
Some people are at a higher risk of Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, including:
- People with European ancestors
- People with type 1 diabetes
- People with Down Syndrome
- People with autoimmune disorders
- People who are infertile
- People who are pregnant
- People with irritable bowel syndrome
Celiac disease is often a diagnosis of elimination; only blood work or a biopsy performed by your doctor can determine if you have Celiac disease. Celiac disease shares symptoms with many other chronic digestive issues, including Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis and diverticulitis. Symptoms of Celiac disease include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent flatulence
- Chronic diarrhea or constipation
- Stomach and muscle cramps
- Joint pain
- Missed periods
- Numbness and tingling in the legs
- Painful, itchy skin rash
- Weak bones
- Enamel loss
- Delayed growth in children
Some people who have Celiac disease may have no symptoms at all.
When to See Your Doctor
If you’re experiencing recurrence of these symptoms, see your doctor. He or she will likely suggest removing gluten entirely from your diet. You may find this to be rather difficult, as gluten is present in many foods in the Western diet. However, once you stop eating foods containing gluten, you may notice your symptoms clear up in as little as three days. Within three to six months, your small intestine should be fully healed. Ceasing the intake of gluten is the only treatment for Celiac disease.