Celiac disease affects an estimated 3 million people in the United States, however only a small percentage of these cases have been diagnosed.  Here is some pertinent information in recognition of this often misunderstood, undiagnosed, and misdiagnosed disease.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and other foods (for a complete list of gluten-containing foods, go to http://celiac.org/live-gluten-free/gluten-free-diet/).  Gluten intolerance is the term used when referring to not only celiac disease, but also gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy.  However, a gluten sensitivity causes the body to mount a stress response different from the immunological response that occurs in celiac disease.

Why is Gluten Intolerance So Prevalent Today?

Not only are we more aware of the problems gluten can cause, but gluten intolerance is significantly more common today than it was over 60 years ago.  One of the reasons this is true is because modern wheat contains much higher amounts of the gluten protein as a result of hybridization.  Prior to the 1900’s, wheat was typically mixed with other grains, beans and nuts.  However, since that time, wheat flour has been milled into refined white flour, resulting in a high-gluten, refined grain, which is difficult to digest.

To add to the mix, grains in general, whether they contain gluten or not, are high on the glycemic index (meaning they turn into sugar more rapidly), causing rises in insulin that can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer.

Why is it Difficult to Diagnose?

It is difficult to diagnose celiac disease and related gluten health issues because the symptoms frequently mimic those of other diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, intestinal infections, lactose intolerance, depression, as well as other disease states.  Some individuals with celiac disease can be asymptomatic.  A delayed diagnosis can increase your risk of developing other diseases, including autoimmune disorders, neurological problems, and cancer.

Blood tests can be done by a physician to identify whether or not you have celiac disease or any other gluten-related health issue.

Treatment

The only treatment for celiac disease is a lifelong gluten-free diet.  Even small amounts of gluten can cause damage to the small intestine.  A gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, can usually resolve once gluten has been avoided for a period of time.  In any case, remember that one has to vigilant about asking questions and reading labels to make sure no gluten/hidden gluten is ingested.

 

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