Lately, we can find more and more gluten-free foods at the grocery store. What do you really know about celiac disease, sometimes called gluten intolerance? Here are answers to your questions.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease results from an inappropriate response of the immune system in the presence of gluten. It causes inflammation of the lining of the intestine. Since the wall is damaged, it can no longer adequately fulfill its functions, causing various problems, such as malabsorption of essential nutrients to maintain good health.
Who does it affect?
Celiac disease affects approximately 1% of the Canadian population, including both children and adults. First signs of symptoms are usually conditioned by a genetic disposition associated with a trigger (stress, infection, surgery, pregnancy, etc.). People with diabetes, thyroid disease or Down syndrome, for example, are most at risk.
Is it an intolerance or an allergy?
There is no consensus about the definition of celiac disease. Given the involvement of the immune system, some argue that it is an allergy, especially since people with the disease should avoid contact with gluten. However, typical food allergy symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis, rashes or hives, are not normally present. Others believe it to be a food intolerance because the symptoms are particularly relevant to the digestive system. In fact, it would be fair to say that celiac disease is an autoimmune disease induced by gluten ingestion.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of celiac disease vary widely from one person to another, and many of them are common to other disorders. This makes the diagnosis difficult enough in many cases. Among the most common symptoms are bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. Celiac disease can also cause other symptoms such as nausea, weight change, persistent fatigue, muscle cramps, bone pain, mouth sores (ulcers), menstrual irregularities and anemia.
How is it diagnosed?
If you experience any unusual symptoms, talk to your doctor without delay so you can be diagnosed. If celiac disease is suspected, you will be asked to provide a blood sample to be analyzed to detect the presence of antibodies. If the test results are positive, an intestinal biopsy is recommended. It is important not to start a gluten-free diet before this analysis to avoid being misdiagnosed.
How do we treat it?
The basis of celiac disease treatment is to avoid gluten consumption throughout your entire life. It is possible for symptoms to disappear after 6 to 12 months once the diet has started. Gluten is a protein that is found mostly in grains of wheat, barley, rye and oats. Gluten is hidden in many foods, such as cereals, pasta, cookies, pastries, bread crumbs, ketchup, beer, meats, soy sauce, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, peanut butter and canned soups.
Is it important to thoroughly follow a gluten-free diet?
Yes, because even the slightest diet adjustment can result in the return of undesirable symptoms and long-term complications. The gluten-free diet involves a radical change in lifestyle. People who adhere to it with seriousness and rigor can enjoy the benefits quickly and live a better health. People with celiac disease must be mindful of cross-contamination, which can be just as damaging to them. For example, they should not grill their gluten-free bread in a toaster used by the rest of the family, because it could contain traces of gluten.
Certain products, foods or changes in lifestyle may not be appropriate for you. Always consult your pharmacist or a healthcare professional.