September 13th is National Celiac Disease Awareness Day.
September 13 is known as “National Celiac Disease Awareness Day” in honor of Dr. Samuel Gee, a leader in celiac disease research who was born on Sept. 13, 1839. He identified the link between celiac disease and diet.
Most of us have heard about this disease by now, but this article will help you understand more about it and how it impacts people who are living with it.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. People who suffer from it cannot tolerate a protein called gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley (¹), amongst other substances.
The disease is treated by eliminating gluten. Sounds simple enough, right? Not quite. Did you know that gluten may be found in stamp and envelope adhesives, vitamins, and medicines? The person diagnosed with celiac disease must be careful to read labels and must be careful not to eat shared foods like baked goods brought into work unless the item is gluten-free.
Food-sharing is an innate way that we show our love for people we care about. Including others in times of celebration is an act of kindness.― Dr. Theresa Nicassio
What happens when people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten?
The immune system is activated when people with celiac disease eat gluten. The small, finger-like protrusions in the small intestine, called villi, get damaged. The function of these villi is to absorb nutrients from food. Without healthy villi, a person becomes malnourished, regardless of the quantity and quality of food eaten. (¹)
What causes celiac disease?
Researchers are not sure. They think that it is an autoimmune disease that has a genetic component. This means they believe it runs in families. It can be brought on by stress, pregnancy, a viral infection, or medication. Those affected by it usually remember the precise circumstances that triggered their symptoms to get worse.
What are some of the symptoms of celiac disease?
Here are some of them:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Chronic fatigue
Although more people are exhibiting:
- Oral ulcers
- Reduced spleen size
- Reduced liver enzymes (²)
How many people have celiac disease?
- If you have a relative with celiac disease, you have a 1 in 22 chance of having it.
- About 2 million people in the United States or 1 in 133 people have celiac disease.
- In Italy, 1 in 250 people have it.
- In Ireland, 1 in 300 people have it.
- Recent studies show it may be affecting people in Africa, South America, and Asia. (³)
How is celiac disease treated?
Celiac disease is treated with a gluten-free diet. When you are initially diagnosed with it, your doctor will recommend working with a dietician to educate yourself on what you can and cannot eat. For most people, healing begins within days of starting a gluten-free diet. However, it takes time for the small bowel to completely heal.
“The small intestine is usually completely healed in three to six months in children and younger adults, and within two years for older adults. \’Healed\’ means a person now has villi that can absorb nutrients from food into the bloodstream.” (⁴)
Isn’t the body’s ability to heal, amazing? Look after your gut!
Where can you get more information about this disease?
- The Celiac Disease Foundation: https://celiac.org/
- Beyond Celiac: https://www.beyondceliac.org/about/overview/
- NASPGHAN Foundation for Children’s Digestive Health and Nutrition: https://www.gikids.org/
- Celiac Support Association (CSA): http://www.csaceliacs.org/
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*Previously published on September 7, 2018
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