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  • Writer's pictureValerie Smith, APRN

How Gluten Affects Celiac Disease

In today’s world, you can find a diet for anything - a diet that lowers blood pressure, improves heart health, supports the immune system, helps you lose weight, aids the digestive system, and more.

Diets come in all varieties, and some diets might even come across as the latest fad offering quick solutions to all your health problems. But if you are an individual living with Celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet makes all the difference in how you feel and how your body functions.

What is Celiac disease?

Celiac disease, also referred to as CD, is an autoimmune condition.

The Mayo Clinic explains: “Celiac disease, sometimes called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an immune reaction to eating gluten.”

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein. More specifically, it is a structural protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a hybrid wheat and rye product). Gluten acts as a binder, providing shape and structure to hold these foods together.

Do grains or oats contain gluten?

Grains and gluten go hand-in-hand, too. Gluten is in grains such as wheat berries, khorasan wheat, spelt, semolina, emmer, durum, farina, farro, and graham.

As for oats, they do not contain gluten naturally. On the other hand, oats are usually grown next to gluten products and then processed within the same facilities as gluten. So while oats are not in the gluten family, many people that avoid eating gluten also choose to steer clear of oats.

How does gluten affect an individual with Celiac disease?

An individual with Celiac disease cannot ingest gluten without experiencing health consequences.

The Mayo Clinic further states: “If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction damages your small intestine's lining and prevents it from absorbing some nutrients (malabsorption).”

What happens to the small intestine if you have Celiac disease and eat gluten?

If you have Celiac disease, your digestive system and small intestine will be the first areas of the body to feel the effects of this autoimmune disease.

The Cleveland Clinic states: “Gluten in your digestive system triggers your immune system to produce antibodies against it. These antibodies damage the lining of your small intestine (the mucosa). Damage to the mucosa in your small intestine impairs its ability to absorb nutrients from your food, causing nutritional deficiencies.”

Furthermore, the Celiac Disease Foundation describes: “When people with celiac disease eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley), their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks lead to damage on the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine, that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body.”

What are the symptoms of Celiac disease?

Many of the symptoms correlated with Celiac disease coincide with how gluten impacts the small intestine. Individuals living with Celiac disease might experience:

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating or cramping

  • Indigestion

  • Gas

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss

Some individuals living with Celiac disease experience additional symptoms, though. These symptoms might include:

  • Joint pain

  • Headaches

  • Skins rashes or blistered, itchy skin

  • Bone loss

  • Iron deficiency

Children with Celiac disease can encounter developmental problems, such as slow growth, delayed puberty, short stature, and neurological concerns.

Why is it important to avoid gluten if you have Celiac disease?

Damage to your small intestine can lead to other serious health challenges.

The Celiac Disease Foundation says: “People with celiac disease have an increased incidence of microscopic colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).”

The Celiac Disease Foundation further states: “People with celiac disease have a 2x greater risk of developing coronary artery disease, and a 4x greater risk of developing small bowel cancers.”

If you have Celiac disease, what is the first line of treatment?

Following a strict, gluten-free diet is the best approach to managing a Celiac disease diagnosis.

When you have Celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet is the most effective way to safeguard your small intestine and avoid additional health complications due to a damaged small intestine.

If your small intestine is already damaged due to ingesting gluten, eliminating gluten from your diet can help your body begin to heal.

Should you seek the help of a doctor if you have Celiac disease?

Absolutely! Here at Paducah Rheumatology, our team strives to improve your quality of life by providing thorough and proactive medical care.

We create treatment plans based on your specific autoimmune condition diagnosis, symptoms, and concerns. At times, blood work and imaging are necessary components of a treatment plan, and we can help with those aspects as well.

Give us a call at 270-408-6100 to set up an appointment, and don’t forget to send in a physician’s referral if you are a new patient.

We look forward to supporting your healthcare needs here at Paducah Rheumatology.

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