Celiac disease (also often celiac sprue) is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients. Although leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability is not generally recognized by conventional physicians, evidence is accumulating that it is a measurable condition affecting the lining of the gut.
According to some experts, there are about 300 possible symptoms of the disease. Different people will experience the disease in different ways because the symptoms vary greatly from one person to the next. Often, symptoms of celiac disease are confused with other disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance.
Celiac disease can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Eventually, the decreased absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) that occurs with celiac disease can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, peripheral nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment.
Celiac disease is caused by a reaction to gliadin, a prolamin (gluten protein) found in wheat, and similar proteins found in the crops of the tribe Triticeae (which includes other common grains such as barley and rye). Upon exposure to gliadin, and specifically to three peptides found in prolamins, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase modifies the protein, and the immune system cross-reacts with the small-bowel tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction. That leads to a truncating (shortening) of the villi lining the small intestine (called villous atrophy). This interferes with the absorption of nutrients, because the intestinal villi are responsible for absorption. While the disease is caused by a reaction to wheat proteins, it is not the same as wheat allergy.
Symptoms for Children
Infants and children with celiac disease tend to have digestive problems. Common symptoms for infants and children include:
- Growth problems
- Decreased appetite and failure to gain weight
- Chronic diarrhea, which can be bloody
- Chronic constipation
- Abdominal bloating and pain
Children may also show signs of malnourishment. That’s because the disease prevents the body from absorbing essential nutrients.
Symptoms for teens may not reveal themselves until they are triggered by something stressful, such as:
- Leaving home for college
- Suffering an injury or illness
Common symptoms for teenagers include:
- Delayed puberty
- Growth problems
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Weight loss
- Irritability and/or depression
- Dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin rash that looks like eczema or poison ivy)
- Mouth sores
Symptoms for Adults
In adults with celiac disease, the inability of the body to absorb a sufficient amount of calcium to keep bones strong often leads to osteoporosis.
Anemia, or low red blood cell count from iron deficiency, is another common problem caused by celiac disease.
Infertility and miscarriages are also potential complications of the disease.
Adults often have fewer gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease. Diarrhea, for example, affects only one-third of adults with the disease.
Common symptoms for adults include:
- Iron deficiency
- Bone or joint pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Bone loss or osteoporosis
- Tingling numbness in hands and feet
- Erratic menstrual periods
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
Dr. Gary Hardy will take an extensive case history and recommend lab tests when necessary to ascertain whether has patient has celiac disease along with a thorough examination.
If a patient does have celiac disease, it is recommended that he or she follow a gluten-free diet — for life. Eating even a small amount of this protein can result in damage to the intestine. You can’t eat regular pizza, or sourdough bread, on a gluten-free diet. Remember it is the avoidance of all foods containing wheat, oats, barley and rye that helps the body move quicker to a symptom-free solution.
One must read labels carefully because gluten can turn up where you don’t expect it: in cold cuts, soups, candies, and even soy sauce. Also, one must be aware of ingredients such as starch, modified food starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), texturized vegetable protein (TVP), binders, fillers, excipients, extenders, malt, and natural flavorings, all of which may indicate the presence of gluten.
Following a gluten-free diet will usually greatly improve and may even completely resolve symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further problems. Improvements can begin within days of starting the diet. Healing completely involves a restoration of the intestinal villi that can absorb nutrients from food into the bloodstream as well as keep the gut from leaking. This usually takes place faster in children than in adults -– kids having resolution in as little as 3 to 6 months while older adults may need much longer, depending on the severity of the condition.
Dr. Hardy will also prescribe homeopathic medicine and other natural remedies to accelerate the healing response of your body depending on your overall condition.
What is the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity?
Gluten sensitivity doesn’t seem to result in the intestinal inflammation that leads to a flattening of the villi of the small intestine that characterizes celiac disease. Also, the development of tissue transglutaminase (tTG) autoantibodies, used to diagnose celiac disease, is not present in gluten sensitivity. A different immune mechanism, the innate immune response, comes into play in reactions of gluten sensitivity, as opposed to the long-term adaptive immune response that arises in celiac disease.
Celiac disease is an immune-mediated disease triggered by gluten, which results in significant inflammation and damage to the small intestine as well as formation of antibodies, which can attack tissues in your body. Gluten sensitivity is a disorder where people have symptoms related to gluten exposure that may be indistinguishable from celiac disease but does not damage the intestine or result in abnormal antibody production.