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What Exactly is Celiac Disease, Anyway?

by Teresa Valdez on July 24, 2013

Did you know that the word “celiac” comes from the Greek word for “bellyache”?  The bellyache is a classic symptom of celiac disease.  Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder affecting the intestine.  It can emerge in in childhood but it can also be triggered by stressful events such as surgery, viral infection, pregnancy, childbirth or severe emotional stress.  The damage caused to the intestine is the main problem caused by celiac disease in response to the consumption of gluten.  So what exactly is “gluten”?  Gluten is a protein found primarily in rye, barley, and different types of wheat.  You’ve seen how sometimes bread is doughy and elastic, right?  Well, it’s the gluten that gives it those properties.  Other common names for “celiac disease” are “gluten-sensitive enteropathy” and “celiac sprue”.

About 1 out of 100 Americans have celiac disease.  That’s approximately 3 million people.  The disease affects mostly Caucasians especially those of European descent.  It affects women 2-3 times more than men.  However, the manifestations in men are more severe.

The ingestion of gluten by people with celiac disease causes an autoimmune response which, in turn, causes inflammation and damage to the intestines.  When the intestine is damaged malabsorption can result and the risk of certain types of cancer increases.

The only treatment for Celiac disease is to follow a lifelong gluten-free diet.  With strict adherence to a gluten-free diet the symptoms are reduced and the intestine heals.

Some helpful tips and rules to maintain a gluten-free diet include:

1.  Reading food labels carefully.  Oftentimes it’s the additives and not necessarily the main ingredients that are the problem.  Additives that stabilize or emulsify often contain gluten.

2.  Sometimes lactose intolerance can be an issue as well.  When starting a gluten-free diet avoiding dairy can be helpful

3.  “Wheat-free” does not necessarily mean “gluten-free”.  Other grains containing gluten may be present in the product such as spelt, rye, or barley

4.  Surprisingly also, some medications and supplements may contain gluten as well.  To find out more please visit:


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