How Does Celiac Disease Affect The Body & What Triggers It?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by an allergic reaction to a particular protein, gluten. Gluten is the protein that gives many starchy foods their stickiness and can be found in many common foods. (1)

For those who suffer from this condition, the consumption of gluten eventually causes damage to the small intestine, the main organ responsible for the absorption of nutrients. This often results in nutritional deficiencies, in addition to many inconveniences and complications.

Unlike many food allergies, celiac disease does not cause respiratory symptoms or anaphylactic shock. It is estimated that up to 1% of the population may be affected by celiac disease in different parts of the world. (2)

How Does Celiac Disease Affect The Body?

How Does Celiac Disease Affect The Body?

The symptoms of celiac disease are attributable to the state of chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa rather than to the disease itself. Abundant, foamy and sticky stools, abnormal in color, often with a rancid odor is the most common symptom of celiac disease. Other symptoms include: Severe diarrhea, cramps and bloating; significant weight loss; and eventually, symptoms related to dietary deficiencies take place.

Some people with celiac disease have no symptoms. In these cases, symptoms related to nutritional deficiencies alone may eventually put the treating physician on the right track. (4)

What Triggers Celiac Disease?

In people with celiac disease, gluten is perceived as a harmful foreign body by the immune system. The immune system starts attacking the villi present in the inner walls of the small intestine. The villi are responsible for the absorption of nutrients. Indeed, the allergic reaction in contact with gluten has the effect of flattening or even destroying the villi of the small intestine, which can no longer absorb nutrients. Therefore, dietary absorption of gluten causes damage to the small intestine, prevents it from functioning properly and absorbing nutrients. The unabsorbed foods are excreted as such in the stool. This results in severe digestive discomfort and malnutrition. (1)

The hereditary factor is very important, and those with celiac disease in their families are more likely to suffer from it. Although it was earlier thought that the disease always appears in childhood, it has since been observed that it can occur at any age, including among the elderly. People with diabetes (type 1) are at higher risk of being diagnosed with celiac disease. In general, people who already have an autoimmune disease are more likely to suffer from celiac disease. (3)

How Celiac Disease Is Diagnosed?

An observation of the symptoms of celiac disease and laboratory tests allows the diagnosis. The doctor will question the patient about his diet and symptoms. The patient may need to keep a diary describing ingested foods and symptoms at the same time.

Using blood tests, the doctor will search for specific antibodies produced by the body to fight gluten, perceived as a danger by the immune system.

Tissue analysis from the lining of the small intestine will confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease. (4)

How Is Celiac Disease Treated?

A gluten-free diet remains the only effective way to control the consequences of celiac disease.

It is not possible today to cure celiac disease, but a person who conscientiously avoids gluten in his diet will avoid the symptoms and complications associated with it. His gut will rebuild and begin to function normally, as long as the gluten-free diet is followed scrupulously.

Good hydration is necessary. The consumption of vitamin and mineral supplements may be recommended. It is, of course, important to make sure that these supplements do not contain gluten.

Patients with celiac disease must make sure to get enough fiber, calories, and micronutrients, which is not always easy with such a severe exclusion scheme. It is recommended to consult a nutritionist. Specialty cookbooks are also a good option. (5)

How To Prevent It?

It is not possible to prevent the onset of celiac disease. Once diagnosed, it can be controlled effectively by excluding gluten from the diet. This way you can prevent seizures, the appearance of disturbing symptoms and complications.

References:

  1. Green PH, Lebwohl B, Greywoode R. Celiac disease. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2015;135(5):1099-1106.
  2. Lebwohl B, Ludvigsson JF, Green PH. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Bmj. 2015;351:h4347.
  3. Owen DR, Owen DA. Celiac disease and other causes of duodenitis. Archives of pathology & laboratory medicine. 2017;142(1):35-43.
  4. Kelly CP, Bai JC, Liu E, Leffler DA. Advances in diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Gastroenterology. 2015;148(6):1175-1186.
  5. Parzanese I, Qehajaj D, Patrinicola F, et al. Celiac disease: From pathophysiology to treatment. World journal of gastrointestinal pathophysiology. 2017;8(2):27.

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