Celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and other foods containing wheat, barley or rye and oats. When someone with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, an immune reaction occurs in the small intestine, resulting in damage to the surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients from food.
Eventually, decreased absorption of nutrients (malabsorption) can cause vitamin deficiencies that deprive your brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs of vital nourishment, which can lead to other illnesses. This is especially serious in children, who need proper nutrition to develop and grow.
Also known as nontropical sprue, celiac sprue and gluten-sensitive enteropathy, celiac disease occurs in people who have a susceptibility to gluten intolerance. Some speculate that celiac disease has been around since humankind switched from a foraging diet of meat and nuts to a cultivated diet that included grains such as wheat. Nonetheless, it has only been in the last 50 years that researchers have gained a better understanding of the condition and how to treat it.
No treatment can eliminate celiac disease. However, you can effectively manage the disease through changing your diet.
Celiac Disease Signs and Symptoms
Celiac disease does not provide us with any typical signs and symptoms. People with the disease have general complaints such as abdominal pain and bloating, intermittent diarrhea, or no gastrointestinal symptoms at all. The symptoms of celiac disease can also mimic those of other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, parasite infections, anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, gastric ulcers, skin disorders or a nervous condition.
Celiac disease may also present itself in less obvious ways, including irritability or depression, stomach upset, joint pain, muscle cramps, skin rash, mouth sores, dental and bone disorders, and tingling in the legs and feet (neuropathy).
Some indications of malabsorption that may result from celiac disease include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal cramps, gas and bloating
- General weakness
- Foul-smelling or grayish stools that may be fatty or oily, including stools that float
- Stunted growth (in children)
Dermatitis herpetiformis is an itchy, blistering skin disease that also stems from gluten intolerance. The rash usually occurs on the elbows, knees and buttocks. Dermatitis herpetiformis can cause significant intestinal damage identical to that of celiac disease. However, it may not produce noticeable digestive symptoms. This disease is treated with a gluten-free diet, in addition to medication to control the rash.
Celiac Disease Causes
Normally, your small intestine is lined with tiny, hair-like projections called villi. Resembling the deep pile of a plush carpet on a microscopic scale, villi work to absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food you eat. Celiac disease damages the villi.
Without villi, the inner surface of your small intestine becomes less like a plush carpet and more like a tile floor, and your body is unable to digest and absorb nutrients necessary for health and growth. Instead, nutrients such as fat, protein, vitamins and minerals are eliminated with your stool.
The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown. What is known is that the disease is often inherited. If someone in your immediate family has it, chances are 10 percent to 20 percent that you may have it too. It can occur at any age, although symptoms don’t appear until gluten is introduced into the diet.
Many times, for unclear reasons, the disease emerges following some form of trauma: an infection, a physical injury, pregnancy, severe stress or surgery.
Celiac Disease Treatment
You can effectively manage this disease through changing your diet. Once gluten is removed from the diet, inflammation in your small intestine will begin to subside, usually within several weeks. If your nutritional deficiencies are severe, you may need to take vitamin and mineral supplements recommended by your doctor or dietitian to help correct these deficiencies. Complete healing and regrowth of the villi may take several months in younger people and as long as 2 to 3 years in older people.
Improvements after starting a gluten-free diet may be especially dramatic in children. Not only do their physical symptoms improve, but also their behavior. In addition, their growth starts to pick up.
To manage the disease and prevent complications, it’s crucial that you avoid all foods that contain gluten. That means all foods or food ingredients made from many grains, including wheat, barley and rye. This includes any type of wheat (including farina, graham flour, semolina and durum), barley, rye, bulgur, Kamut, kasha, matzo meal, spelt and triticale. Amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa are gluten-free as grown, but may be contaminated by other grains during harvesting and processing. Oats may not be harmful for most people, but oat products are frequently contaminated with wheat, so it’s best to avoid oats as well.
The question of whether people on a gluten-free diet can eat pure oat products remains a subject of scientific debate. Difficulties in identifying the precise components responsible for the immune response and the chemical differences between wheat and oats have contributed to the controversy.
Basic foods are allowed in a gluten-free diet. These include:
- Dark Vegetables
- Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato)
- Fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded or marinated)
- Most dairy products
Avoid these foods unless they’re labeled as gluten-free or made with corn, rice, soy or other gluten-free grain:
- Cakes and pies
Many other foods have ingredients that contain gluten. Grains containing gluten are often used in food additives such as malt flavoring, modified food starch and others. Other sources of gluten that might come as a surprise include medications and vitamins that use gluten as a binding agent, lipstick, postage stamps and contamination of gluten-free foods with those containing gluten. Cross-contamination may occur anywhere ingredients come together, such as a cutting board. You may also be exposed to gluten by using the same utensils as others, such as a bread knife, or by sharing the same condiment containers.
An increasing number of gluten-free products are available on the market for bread and pasta lovers with celiac disease. If you can’t find any at your local bakery or grocery store, check with a celiac support group or the Internet for availability. In fact, there are gluten-free substitutes for many gluten-containing foods, from brownies to beer.
Identifying gluten-free foods can be difficult. You may wish to consult a registered dietitian who is experienced in teaching the gluten-free diet. A dietitian can advise you on how to best maintain the nutritional quality of your diet and help you come up with gluten-free alternatives.
You may experience abdominal pain and diarrhea if you accidentally eat a product that contains gluten. Some people experience no symptoms after eating gluten, but this doesn’t mean it’s not hurting them. Even trace amounts of gluten in your diet can be damaging, whether or not they cause signs or symptoms. Going on and off a gluten-free diet can lead to serious complications.
Most people with celiac disease who follow a gluten-free diet have a complete recovery. Only a small percentage of people who have severely damaged small intestines don’t improve with a gluten-free diet. When diet isn’t effective, treatment often includes medications to help control intestinal inflammation and other conditions resulting from malabsorption.
People who don’t respond to dietary changes need frequent monitoring by their doctor because this disease can lead to many complications.
Celiac Disease Alternative Treatment
Restoration of the balance of friendly bacteria to the gastrointestinal tract is essential to recovery. The complete avoidance of disaccharide-containing foods such as grains, most beans, sugar, maple syrup, non-cultured fluid dairy products (milk and ice cream), potatoes and corn is a must in order to heal the digestive tract and improve microbial balance.
Because people with chronic digestive diseases such as Celiac Disease, Crohn’s, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Ulcerative Colitis appear to have a predisposed weakness in their intestinal tracts, it is strongly recommended that they adhere to a diet high in dark green vegetables, good quality protein and healthy fats.
Celiac Disease Recommended Nutritional Protocol:
Primal Defense: Start with one caplet per day on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before or one hour after meals. Increase usage by adding one additional caplet per day (i.e. one caplet the first day, two the second day, three the third day and so on). Once your dosage is up to 12 caplets per day, stay on that amount for a minimum of 3 months and then begin to gradually decrease to a maintenance dosage of between three to six caplets per day. Primal Defense is best taken first thing in the morning and right before bedtime with eight ounces of pure water. Primal Defense may be taken with other nutritional supplements, but should be taken one hour apart from medications. If you experience symptoms of detoxification (i.e. increased elimination, loose stools, constipation, excess gas, flu-like symptoms or fever), reduce the dosage and work up slowly to 12 per day.
Omega Zyme: Take one to three caplets with each meal or snack.
FYI: Take six caplets two times per day on an empty stomach for one to four weeks, followed by 12 caplets per day for three to six months, and then reduce to a maintenance level of three caplets per day. If a relapse or “flare-up” occurs, take 12 caplets per day for at least one week or until symptoms are under control.
Perfect Food: Take two tablespoons or 5 caplets twice daily with eight ounces water or fresh vegetable juice.
Springs of Life: Consume at least eight, eight-ounce glasses per day of purified water mixed with 12 drops of Springs of Life living water concentrate.
Goatein: The only protein powder on the market made from organically produced goat’s milk. This protein powder is partially pre-digested, low temperature dried and is usually well tolerated by those with food allergies and digestive problems. Take one to four tablespoons per day mixed in water, juice, smoothies, yogurt or can be used in baking. (For those with known milk allergies and/or lactose intolerance it is best to add Goatein once symptoms have begun to improve.)
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Crohn’s Disease Living Probiotics