What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is a medical condition where  the small intestine is damaged by gluten, a  protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.   This damage makes the small intestine unable to absorb nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.

Symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss or failure to gain weight (in children), and fatigue, but these may be absent, and symptoms may occur in other organ systems.  Abdominal pain and cramping, bloatedness with abdominal and mouth ulcers may occur.   As the intestine becomes more damaged, a degree of lactose intolerance may develop.  Anemia may develop because the small intestine is unable to absorb iron, folic acid and vitamin B12.   The inability to absorb food may cause weight loss (or failure to thrive/stunted growth in children) and fatigue or lack of energy.   Calcium and vitamin D malabsorption may cause osteopenia (decreased mineral content of the bone) or osteoporosis (bone weakening).  People with milder Celiac disease may have symptoms that are much more subtle and occur in other organs rather than the bowel itself.   It is possible to have Celiac disease without any symptoms at all.  Celiac disease leads to an increased risk of both small intestine cancer and lymphoma of the small bowel .  Longstanding and untreated disease may lead to other complications.

Currently, the only treatment for Celiac Disease is to follow a lifelong gluten-free diet.

While the disease is caused by a reaction to wheat proteins, it is not the same as wheat allergy.

Other grains

Wheat subspecies (such as spelt, semolina and durum) and related species such as barley, rye, triticale and Kamut also induce symptoms of celiac disease.  A small minority of celiac patients also react to oats.  It is most probable that oats produce symptoms due to cross contamination with other grains in the fields or in the distribution channels. Generally, oats are therefore not recommended. Other cereals such as maize (corn), quinoa, millet, sorghum, teff, amaranth, buckwheat, rice, and wild rice are safe for patients to consume.


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