What is Celiac Disease?

May 16, 2017

Being gluten-free is pretty on trend at the moment. We all have a friend who is on this diet yet indulges in the occasional scone at your weekly meet ups. Celiac Disease, however, is much more serious than this and those who suffer from this autoimmune disease have to be extremely careful about what they eat. In this blog, we’re going to break down what Celiac disease is and how it affects those with it.

Celiac disease is a permanent intestinal reaction to gluten. The most common symptom of this disease is diarrhoea although this can differ from person to person and some don’t experience any symptoms at all. It is an autoimmune disorder that means that gluten damages the cells lining the bowel, these are called villi. This reaction to gluten causes the finger-like villi to become flattened, thus reducing the surface area of the intestine and increasing chances of malabsorption. This means that sufferers cannot absorb minerals and vitamins such as folic acid, calcium, iron, and many others correctly. This can result in serious deficiencies such as anaemia, osteoporosis, infertility, and the like.

It is thought that Coeliac Disease is hereditary, with immediate family members having a 10-15% chance of receiving coeliac disease themselves. In saying this, both genetic and environmental factors weigh in and can influence Coeliac Disease. It is thought that 1 in 70 New Zealanders have Coeliac disease, with many reporting symptoms of the autoimmune condition while many are still unaware that they have it. Symptoms can become prevalent at any age; children with Coeliac Disease may experience stunted growth and other complications due to malabsorption.

Symptoms of celiac disease may include some, or all, of the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Indigestion, abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence. This may be general or associated with digestion of particular foods
  • Gastrointestinal changes such as bulky fatty bowel motions, sometimes pale and bad smelling
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anaemia (usually resulting from iron deficiency)
  • Folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies.
  • Fatigue and generalised weakness
  • Muscle cramps due to low calcium levels
  • Blistering, itchy or painful rash - particularly about the knees, elbows, buttocks and back (dermatitis herpetiformis)

Treatment for Coeliac Disease involves eliminating gluten from diets completely, it’s only when this is achieved that the villi has a chance to repair itself and can start absorbing nutrients again. This does not mean, however that gluten is something that can necessarily ever be tolerated by someone with Celiac Disease, mind you.

Having Celiac Disease is tough, it involves an extremely controlled diet for some to the point where eating out at restaurants or consuming anything not prepared at home could potentially be dangerous. If reading this blog has got you thinking that you or someone you know may have Celiac Disease then please contact your medical professional.

Also, is it Coeliac or Celiac? We have no idea...

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