Managing celiac disease with gluten-free diet
Celiac disease, also called Celiac Sprue, is a hereditary autoimmune intolerance to gluten. The consumption of foods containing gluten - a protein found in rye, barley and wheat - triggers an immune response that damages the villi of the small intestines and prevents it absorbing nutrients.
Apart from occurring naturally in the wheat plant and in some other grains, gluten can be extracted, concentrated and added to foods to add protein, flavour and texture. It can also be used as a binding agent to give processed foods shape and hold them together.
Overtime, celiac disease damages the small intestines lining causing inflammation and malabsorption. Due to this, individuals with the condition are likely to suffer from malnutrition, osteoporosis, nervous system impairment, seizures, birth defects, pancreatic disease, infertility and miscarriages.
This intestinal damage causes symptoms that vary from person to person depending on the age someone started eating gluten, the amount of gluten eaten, length of time one was breast-fed and the severity of the intestinal damage.
The common symptoms, include abdominal pain, bloating, joint or bone pain, constipation, diarrhoea, fatigue, headache, mouth ulcers, nauseas and anaemia among others.
Mild and severe symptoms
In children, the condition manifests itself around six to nine months of age when they are introduced to cereals during complementary feeding and can easily be mistaken with lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome due to their similarity in symptoms.
The symptoms may last several days up to two weeks and may vary from mild to severe symptoms, such as stunted growth, weight loss, undernourished appearance, vomiting, itchy skin and mouth sores.
People who have certain genetic disorders and other autoimmune conditions are more likely to develop celiac disease. Other conditions associated with the disease are Down syndrome, lupus, lactose intolerance, type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Celiac disease can be diagnosed through physical examination, blood tests, medical history and even through skin biopsy.
Currently, there is no known cure for celiac disease, but it can be managed by permanently adopting a completely gluten free diet. Removing gluten foods from the diet relieves symptoms and allows the intestinal lining to heal and begin absorbing nutrients.
It is advisable to avoid gluten containing foods unless they are labelled as gluten free versions, check food labels, including additives for hidden sources of gluten and also be cautious of some non-food products that may contain gluten.