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Gluten free products can be deliciousWhat You Should Know: Celiac disease (CD) is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects nearly 3 million Americans. 

Celiac disease occurs when the small intestine reacts in a negative way after gluten is digested from wheat and grains. The small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged, creating problems with absorption of nutrients. Though no cure is available, a strict avoidance of gluten-free products can alleviate symptoms and allow the small intestine to heal. It’s also important to distinguish between sensitivity to gluten and true Celiac disease.

The word “gluten” originates from Latin, meaning “glue” and is a sticky protein found in wheat and other grains. Celiac disease is also known as “sprue” or “gluten sensitive enteropathy” (GSE) and can occur at any age, even among the elderly who may have tolerated gluten for decades. Celiac disease is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed because of symptoms that can mimic other disorders. A blood test will help determine whether high levels of certain antibodies are present that can indicate Celiac disease. Genetic testing may be helpful to see if you carry the DQ2 or DQ8 genes considered necessary to develop the disease.


What is the link between gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease?

In people with Celiac disease, gluten insensitivity triggers the immune system, resulting in antibodies attacking the intestinal lining. Tiny, hair-like projections called villi, which reside in the small bowel, become inflamed or damaged. Over time, nutrients that are normally absorbed into the body, pass through unabsorbed and are eliminated, leading to malnutrition and a host of other problems. Those diagnosed with Celiac disease are at higher risk for developing type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and certain autoimmune  and neurological disorders.

What is the underlying cause of Celiac disease?

Researchers aren’t sure of the precise cause. What is known is that certain factors put some people more at risk than others for developing Celiac disease. Mutations in genes appear as a major risk. But not everyone who carries the gene will develop Celiac disease. In some cases, Celiac disease can be triggered from severe high-stress, surgical procedures, childbirth or viral infections.

Is having Celiac disease the same as having a wheat or gluten allergy?

No. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by an intolerance or sensitivity to wheat or gluten products. Those with wheat allergies can eat some grains that a person with Celiac disease cannot.

What confuses some individuals is that symptoms for wheat or gluten insensitivity without the presence of Celiac disease can be similar: abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss, anemia, joint pain, headaches and fatigue, among others. Some people experience few or no symptoms, which contributes to the disease being undiagnosed.

What products contain gluten?

Gluten is a common food antigen that is found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It gives bread dough its elasticity and chewiness, and is also used in a variety of processed foods and personal care products. Not all grains and flours contain gluten. For example, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, flax, and nut flours are all gluten-free.

Many may find it surprising to know just how many products typically contain gluten. It is used not only in food products, but in personal care items as well. Cosmetics, body lotion, toothpaste, and dietary supplements are just several examples of items where gluten may be found.

Is wheat-free the same as gluten-free?

Many people tend to confuse wheat-free with gluten-free. Even if a product does not use wheat, it may still contain gluten from other sources. 

What tests are available for gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease?

A blood test may be performed to discover if a person has antibodies associated with celiac disease. Negative results do not necessarily rule out the possibility of celiac disease or some level of gluten sensitivity. In order to determine if a person is allergic to gluten a Gluten Sensitivity Blood Test can be performed. 

Those who test positive for celiac disease may not always exhibit symptoms even though damage is done to the intestine with the consumption of gluten. The only treatment option is to avoid gluten in the diet. Whether they exhibit symptoms or not, the effects of gluten may be devastating to those who suffer from celiac disease.

By Keith Kloss, Health Testing Centers