Celiac disease is a type of malabsorption syndrome. During digestion, food is broken down into nutrient molecules that can be absorbed by the bloodstream. In people with malabsorption syndrome, nutrients are not released into the bloodstream but are instead eliminated in the stool. As a result, the body does not get the nutrients it needs from food.
Also called celiac sprue, celiac disease is a relatively uncommon ailment, affecting approximately 1 person in 1000. It is caused by a sensitivity to gluten, a substance found in wheat, rye, oats, and barley. With extended exposure to gluten, the intestinal lining loses the tiny folds through which nutrients are absorbed and stops producing adequate amounts of digestive enzymes.
While the precise cause of gluten sensitivity is unknown, celiac disease is believed to be hereditary. The disease is diagnosed most often in children, though it can appear in adults with no prior sensitivity to gluten.
Signs and Symptoms
Abdominal pain or cramps
Foul-smelling, grayish stools that may float and may be larger than normal
General weakness and fatigue
In children, failure to grow or muscle weakness
Conventional Medical Treatment
To diagnose celiac disease, your physician may take a stool sample and a barium X-ray of your small intestine. You may also have to have a biopsy (tissue sample) taken from the lining of your small intestine. Celiac disease is usually treated with a strict gluten-free diet. When carefully followed, a gluten-free diet allows the villi of the small intestines to resume their normal shape and absorption ability. Within two to four months, you should resume normal digestion and will begin to regain weight.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
The number one enemy of celiac is gluten in any form. Avoid all products containing barley, rye, wheat, oats, hydrolyzed vegetable or plant protein, textured vegetable protein, malt, modified food starch, binders, fillers, and “natural flavorings.” Do not eat hot dogs, gravies, luncheon meat, beer, mustard, catsup, non-dairy creamer, white vinegar, curry powder, or seasonings. Be sure your nutritional supplements do not contain gluten. Gluten-free products are available at health food stores, call 800-633-3826 and ask for a gluten-free product catalog.
Because lactose intolerance often occurs with liac disease, eliminate milk and dairy products from your diet. For optimum health, breastfeed your child for a longer period of time and postpone introducing cow’s milk and grains into the diet until the child is older. Do not eat sugary products, processed foods, bouillon cubes, chocolate, or bottled salad dressings.
Although it may sound as though there aren’t any foods left to eat, you can and should eat foods rich in folic acid, such as green leafy vegetables, lentils, seeds, nuts, and beans. Be sure to include raisins, strawberries, raspberries, fresh vegetables, sunflower seeds, and rice bran. Pay close attention to your intake of iron and B vitamins; people with celiac disease are often deficient in these nutrients.
Because celiac disease affects the intestine, your body is unable to absorb many vital nutrients. Make sure your healthcare professional checks your digestion and nutrient absorption. Supplementation is necessary, and the daily guidelines that follow should help manage your symptoms. (Note: To avoid any digestive problems you should gradually build up to these amounts. Always do so under the supervision of your healthcare professional.)