In people with celiac disease, the lining of the small intestine is attacked and damaged by the immune system when a protein called gluten is introduced into the body.
The function of the intestine is to absorb nutrients from food into the body. When the lining of the small intestine is healthy and functioning normally, under a microscope it looks like it has fingers sticking up from the surface. Those fingers, called “villi”, are vital for absorbing nutrients. With celiac disease, the immune reaction from eating gluten damages those villi and causes them to become flat. When they are flat they are unable to effectively absorb food.
Untreated celiac disease can result in significant nutrient deficiencies and digestive symptoms like diarrhea and stomach pain, just to name a couple of many symptoms people can experience. Having the immune system in constant high gear also puts an untreated person with celiac disease at risk for other diseases like certain types of cancers, other autoimmune diseases and bone disease.
Celiac disease is screened for using a blood test and diagnosed with a biopsy of the lining of the small intestine.
The only current treatment for celiac disease is a completely gluten free diet. Simply that.
With time eating a gluten free diet, the immune system will calm down and the intestinal lining will heal. Any exposure to gluten in the diet can cause the immune system to kick into gear again and cause damage.
Foods containing gluten are:
- all forms of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and farro)
- triticale (rye and barley mix)
How much gluten is too much? The amount of gluten in 1/10th of a breadcrumb is enough to cause damage to the intestine in a person with celiac disease. That means special care needs to be made to ensure no food cross contamination occurs with gluten containing foods.
Why do people develop celiac disease? It is a combination of having certain genes and environmental triggers that cause the development of the disease. It can happen at any time in a person’s life.
Those are the basics of celiac disease. Stay tuned for more in-depth articles.