Fact Sheet: Celiac Disease

Those with celiac disease can often feel surrounded by wheat, but there are many tasty and nutritious alternatives.
Those with celiac disease can often feel surrounded by wheat, but there are many tasty and nutritious alternatives.

By Adam Farley, Editorial Assistant
August / September 2013

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by an intolerance for gluten (a protein most commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye). Consuming gluten triggers an immune response that causes inflammation in the lower intestine that can permanently damage the intestinal lining. This damage results in malabsorption of essential nutrients and can lead to stomach pain, bloating, and diarrhea.

Left untreated, celiac disease can cause serious complications, starving the brain, nervous system, bones, liver, and other organs of necessary nutrients. Studies show that celiac patients also face a higher risk of other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease, and various forms of cancer, including melanoma, and it has also been linked to candida, osteoporosis and schizophrenia.

The exact genes that cause celiac disease have not been discovered. It is very common among people of Northern European descent, and is very prevalent in Ireland. Studies have shown that in Belfast one in 122 have the disease. Roughly one in 141 Americans suffer from the disease.

Unfortunately, only about ten percent of those are officially diagnosed.  The Coeliac Society of Ireland (where celiac is sometimes spelled with an “oe”) estimates that for every person who is diagnosed, between five and ten more people have it, leading some to call it the silent disease.

Risk Factors

Celiac disease can happen to anyone, though it is more common in those who are genetically predisposed. It is sometimes accompanied by:
• A family member with celiac
• Type 1 diabetes
• Down syndrome or Turner syndrome
• An autoimmune thyroid disease
• Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that most commonly destroys the glands that produce tears and saliva
• Microscopic colitis, a disease characterized by chronic, watery diarrhea

In addition to the risk factors above, adults over 40 may consider testing if they experience the following:
• Chronic or intermittent diarrhea
• Unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea or vomiting
• Unexpected and sudden weight loss
• Unexplained iron deficiency anemia or other unspecified anemia
• Dermatitis herpetiformis, an itchy, blistering skin rash that sometimes accompanies celiac

More importantly, complications from untreated celiac can be severe and sometimes are the only indicator of the disease itself, as not all people with celiac disease exhibit symptoms. Complications include:
• Loss of calcium and bone density
• Infertility and/or miscarriage
• Lactose intolerance
• Cancer, especially intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer

Symptoms

Symptoms for celiac disease can vary by age, sometimes becoming less obvious as you get older, while the classic symptoms below are more commonly associated with celiac in children and young adults.
• Steatorrhea, marked by an excess of fat in the stool, causing it to appear oily and often float
• Diarrhea
• Abdominal Cramps
• Bloating
• Weight Loss

Treatment

There is no cure for celiac disease – the only way to treat it is by eliminating gluten from the diet altogether. Most commonly found in wheat, gluten is also found in:

• Barley
• Bulgur
• Durum
• Farina
• Graham flour
• Malt
• Rye
• Semolina
• Spelt
• Triticale

Because of the ubiquity of these ingredients in most packaged foods, ingredient lists should be read before buying and consuming any foods like:

• Cereal
• Pasta
• Beer
• Some candies
• Gravy
• Baked goods like bread, cake, pie, cookies
• Imitation meats or seafood
• Processed lunch meat
• Soups, salad dressing and sauces, including soy
• Self-basting poultry

The good news, however, is that you’ll probably eat healthier, because foods like the following are 100 percent okay:

• Fresh meat, fish, poultry that aren’t breaded, battered, or marinated
• Fruit, vegetables, and potatoes
• Most dairy
• Wine and distilled liquors, ciders, and spirits
• Corn and corn flour
• Tapioca
• Rice and rice flour
• Quinoa
• Buckwheat
• Arrowroot
• Amaranth

As celiac disease becomes more widely known, there are also an increasing number of gluten-free substitutes for all those grain-containing foods you’d want to eat. Check out celiacdiseasecenter.columbia.edu, or the the 5,000-member-strong Coeliac Society of Ireland for more information, food lists, and cooking tips.

5 Responses to “Fact Sheet: Celiac Disease”

  1. mary twomey tracy mcpherson mcintyre says:

    Thank you for your vital info. I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease at age 66 yrs.by

    Kristina kim, DO & MD at family practice at
    Benicia Family Health Clinic of Benicia, Ca 94510.

    She had spent her residency at Univ of Calif, San Francisco & had the smarts to order the blood test. (ethnic clinics abound at UCSF).

    My entire Irish/Scottish relatives have been sent a copy of my tests with the warning that they should be tested.

    My grandmother Twomey-Tracy emigrated from County Cork Ireland in 1880’s.

    It is ironic that her family and my grandfather Campbell-McPherson ran a wheat farm on the US-Canadian border the Midwest plans of Canada/US. our Canadian cousins raised wheat & rye and of Bootlegged Whiskey & Rye.

    We have generations of Ulcerative Colitis (my daughter Amy McIntyre – of Irish & Highland Scotts decent has active severe UC.

    My son, Tom married a Norwegian decent lady, whose grandfather was Ernest Lawrence, the Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1939 — who had reoccurring UC until his death.

    All of my relatives are actively being tested for Celiac Disease.
    The cure is simple: eliminate the offending foods. Much easier because local restaurants and food stores offer Gluten Free Menus and Foods.

    Too bad the testing in the US is years behind Europe’s example.

    A simple blood test is easy and inexpensive.

    Thank you for your research, info etc.. I will share my info,

    Mary Julia McIntyre
    1860 Johnson Drive
    Concord, CA 94520
    USA

    Phone: 310-544-2850
    email: maryjuliamac46@gmail.com

  2. mary wier says:

    Dear friends. We are in Tennessee. And my husband is Irish English descent and has been tested for hemochromatosis due to elevated iron after he went gluten free and his iron tripled. He is type two diabetes and was iron pills for anemia I took him off the pills. We are gluten free but I was thinking does he need to be gluten free. The iron seems worse but I saw on the Web that celiac is high in Irish English also. He has not had genetic test here. It is expensive can he have celiac or be gluten sensitive and also have excess iron. We know American flour is highly fortified with iron and that this gluten is everywhere in western diet. I am working on getting iron down more than keeping gluten free. I saw celiac can manifest in later life without intestine problems just joint pain brain fog etc. Can you comment for us. His family has lost four siblings to type two diabetes. Could he have celiac and iron problems with the Irish family.

  3. Diane says:

    Where in the US (Dallas TX) can I get testing. and what is the name of the
    test that I should get. If you have an idea of cost please let me know because as of 9/24/15, I was laid off from work but, I need this testing to
    see if I have this disease. I am severely under weight, and my iron is very low I have symptoms of the above mentioned in the article. Any information
    would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Debbie says:

    Researching Celiac Disease brought me to your blog. I found genetic markers from the raw data from AncestryDNA for $89, sometimes it’s $99. I will be doing my next tests through Requestatest, an online service that you can order tests and go to local lab. Costs are variable, depending on the test. I have no insurance and have found this to be cheaper and very effective for when I go to one of my Dr’s. I feel a part of my own solution and they appreciate not having to go in random directions for labs, especially the pay scale clinic. My love and prayers to everyone who is searching for your answers to your health problems. Note: DNA helps give one a direction, it is not an affirmative of a condition.

  5. Teri Shahan says:

    Good morning. I am of Scotch-Irush descent, diagnosed with Celiac’s disease at age 50 by a very knowledgeable Doctor who connected the dots of a lifetime of unexplained severe anemia and other ailments. I was 95 lbs at that point, (having lost one-third of my body weight) though for whatever reason, my general practitioner was not concerned about my weight loss. I have been gluten-free for 9 years now, and if anything am overweight because of too much fun processed gluten-free foods! So beware of that! My hope is that more general practitioners will be made aware of the vagueries of this disease to catch it sooner.

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