Written by Rebekah Scott (last updated December 18, 2009)
Celiac Disease is a digestive condition that causes a severe immune reaction in the small intestine when any type of protein gluten such as wheat, barley, or rye is consumed. This reaction damages the thousands of tiny finger-like nodes in the small intestine called villi, which aid in digestion by increasing the surface area available for absorbing minerals. Over a period of time when protein gluten continues to be consumed, these villi become inflamed or flattened, which decreases the surface area available for vitamin absorption. This in turn leads to serious nutritional deficiencies and possible damage to critical body organs such as the brain and liver. Celiac can cause osteoporosis, anemia, and even the loss of teeth. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Celiac Disease. The most successful way to address this disease is though a very careful diet that eliminates all foods that contains any amount of protein gluten.
Celiac Disease is not something that you can catch. Rather, it is a genetic disorder that is passed down from parents to their children. It is currently believed that 1 in 100 people in America have Celiac, though many of those people don't know that they have it because the disease can lay dormant for many years. Some of the symptoms of Celiac include diarrhea, weight loss, and incredibly painful stomach cramps. Once the disease does begin to manifest, Celiac Disease can go undiagnosed for a variety of reasons.
For example, a large portion of the population simply doesn't have an awareness of the disease, and therefore don't consider it when symptoms do arise. Furthermore, if a patient has not had previous problems related to Celiac, there may be nothing in their medical history to indicate to a doctor that they could have this disease. It also isn't uncommon for doctors to misdiagnose Celiac as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), another digestive disorder.
For these reasons, doctors who specialize in treating Celiac and patients who suffer from it have launched education campaigns and non-profit organizations to promote further research into this disorder, and to prevent cases of Celiac Disease from going unnoticed by patients and doctors.
People with Celiac must be extremely careful as protein gluten is present in many everyday foods. When these foods are no longer consumed, there will be no negative immune reaction in the digestive tract, the villi in the small intestine can be regenerated, and the body will again be able to absorb the nutrients it needs to fuel its vital functions. Thankfully, these days there are many gluten-free products on the market and a host of recipes tailored to a gluten-free diet.
Celiac Disease is a serious condition that does require medical intervention. If there is a family history of this disease, or if any symptoms of Celiac arise, protein gluten should be eliminated from the diet and a doctor should be consulted and pressed to test for this disorder.
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