Celiac Disease

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Celiac Disease

An autoimmune disorder that renders the small intestine incapable of tolerating the protein gluten, which is found in certain grains. The body’s efforts to prevent gluten from being absorbed into the bloodstream result in damage to the tiny villi, the finger-like folds in the lining of the intestine that allow it to absorb nutrients. Celiac disease is more common in people with Type 1 diabetes than it is in the general population.

The symptoms of celiac disease may include gas, diarrhea, stomach pain, fatigue, weight loss, and slow growth, but nearly half of all people newly diagnosed with celiac disease have no symptoms at all. Because of this, and because the symptoms of celiac disease are the same as those for many other digestive problems, people with celiac disease often go undiagnosed and untreated for years. Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a blood test and a biopsy of tissue taken from the small intestine. The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet.

Any form of wheat, barley, or rye — including the flours that go into most breads, cakes, cookies, and crackers — contains gluten and must be avoided. But gluten can also be found in less expected places; preservatives, food colorings, and seasonings can also include gluten. A dietitian can help people with celiac disease learn how to select gluten-free foods.

People with Type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop celiac disease than the general population: up to 10% of children and 2% of adults with Type 1 diabetes test positive for anti-transglutaminase antibodies (a marker for celiac disease). Some researchers have suggested that gluten consumption is a factor in the development of Type 1 diabetes, and that Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease share some common causative genetic and environmental factors. A recent Australian study has also shown that following a gluten-free diet may protect people with Type 1 diabetes against the development of diabetic kidney disease.

Originally Published March 13, 2012

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