The sharp increase in diagnoses of celiac disease and the subsequent market boom surrounding gluten-free products have undoubtedly reformed our collective thoughts on bread and our health. From Wheat Belly to FDA labeling guidelines – everyone is taking notice.
And just this week, the results of two new studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine proved yet again that the actual cause of the disease still evades medical scientists’ grasps.
Because we don’t fully understand the cause of the disease (and because its effects and solutions have become so entrenched in marketing jargon) there’s no possible way to wade through each bit of information regarding celiacs, or even the gluten-free lifestyle.
That’s why we’re going to break down the parts of the topic that could be most relevant to you, and give you resources that can help you dive in further to each topic should you want to take your research that far.
Ready? Let’s break bread.
What the heck is celiac disease, anyway?
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation (an informed source, to be sure), celiac disease is “an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide.”
The Foundation estimates that at least 2.5 million Americans remain undiagnosed, which could cause potential health complications in their futures.
What are some theories on its cause?
While there are many, it’s agreed that there is a genetic component to the disease. Some argue that we are overdosing on the bread protein – but the USDA has shown that we don’t actually eat more of it than we used to.
Some speculate that the way we process products that contain gluten has changed so significantly that disease has arisen from our body’s evolution lag time.
Almost everyone who has celiac disease has a version of a cellular receptor called H.L.A., or the human leukocyte antigen, which comes in two forms.
It is believed that these receptors increase a person’s immune response to the culprit, gluten.
So there are two key factors at work in the development of the disease, one being cellular and one being genetic.
But blood tests in mice and humans, as well as studies that crossed cultural barriers, show us that there is seemingly something else at work – as holds true with other autoimmune disorders.
Many researchers speculated that the timing of gluten’s introduction might have an effect on infants such that they develop sensitivity later in life. The recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed a flaw in this thinking, too.
As of today, the answer still escapes us – but we do know that when symptoms appear, eliminating gluten usually eliminates the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
It’s important to remember that number we mentioned about undiagnosed instances of celiac disease. That number is so high because celiac disease often features symptoms that vary in frequency, severity and type.
Some people with celiac disease may not even experience symptoms.
The digestive symptoms of celiac disease are more common in infants and children. The most common symptoms for children include:
• abdominal pain
• weight loss
• behavioral issues
• fatty stool, pale stool
Though adults are less likely to experience severe digestive issues, they are more likely to experience:
• depression and anxiety
• numbness in hands and feet
• bone loss
• iron-deficiency anemia
• joint pain
For a full list of symptoms, see here, and speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your immune system’s health.
How does celiac disease affect a sufferer’s life?
The actual effects of celiac disease on a person’s day-to-day routine can’t be overstated. Not only does a sufferer need to completely change their eating habits, (which sometimes interferes with traditional, local and financial aspects of his or her life), s/he also may have adjustments to make with mental wellness.
Though there is limited research about such a restrictive diet and mental health, there is research surrounding the link between celiac disease itself and mental function.
Brain fog and confusion are common occurrences, as well as anxiety, depression and other affective disorders. Further, celiac disease can affect behavior and interaction, with associated concerns like weight loss and hyperactivity.
Of course, if there are errors in a dining establishment or at a traditional family meal, the physical symptoms of celiac disease can come roaring back for a celiac sufferer.
There are many adjustments, both physical and mental, that a person diagnosed with celiac disease must make in order to manage symptoms.
Next week, we’ll dive into how our government affects those lifestyle changes and symptom management, by examining some of the recent changes to regulatory standards associated with gluten-free products.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in supporting normal digestive functions not associated with celiac disease specifically, check out our selection of probiotics and enzymes to learn more.