Gluten Free Diet

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.

Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten allergy should not be taken lightly.

Celiac disease is a common lifelong intestinal disorder and runs in families. A first-degree relative with celiac disease has a 10-fold increased risk of acquiring the condition.

It affects about one in 100 people. A person can be critically ill to being completely well.

The risk is increased among people with autoimmune thyroid disease (three to five per cent), type one diabetes mellitus (five to 10 per cent) and Down syndrome (5.5 per cent).

Patients with celiac disease can present with a variety of symptoms. The classical symptoms include chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, malabsorption and weight loss.

When gluten is ingested, it causes immunologically toxic reaction in the lining of the small intestine. The toxic reaction damages the lining of the intestine thus interfering with the absorption of nutrients and leading to diarrhea and malnutrition.

How to diagnose celiac disease?

The most widely available test is the tissue transglutaminase IgA antibody test, which has an estimated 95 per cent accuracy rate. If antibody testing is negative and celiac disease is suspected, the IgA level should be measured. All adults with an abnormal screening result should undergo a small-bowel biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease.

Celiac Disease Foundation website says first-degree relatives of people with celiac disease – parents, siblings and children should be screened.

What is non-celiac gluten sensitivity?

The term non-celiac gluten sensitivity is used to describe the clinical state of individuals who develop symptoms when they consume gluten-containing foods and feel better on a gluten-free diet but do not have celiac disease.

Research estimates that 18 million Americans have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. That’s six times the number of Americans who have celiac disease. More research is needed to understand this problem.

Besides being sensitive to gluten often these individuals experience headaches, rashes and fatigue. These individuals have no inflammation or damage to the intestinal lining as in celiac disease.

Treatment is lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet. The follow-up is most often provided on an annual basis, and includes reinforcement of the need to adhere to a gluten-free diet, dietary review, physical examination, laboratory tests and a recommendation to join a patient support and advocacy group.

Prognosis

The long-term prognosis for celiac disease is good as long as people with celiac disease follow a gluten-free diet.

Eating out is not always easy. Sometimes, no matter how prepared and informed you are, there is not a satisfying gluten-free choice. There are two strategies to address this. The first is to eat at home prior to dining out so that your hunger is under control and you are less tempted to make unsafe menu choices. The second is to bring gluten-free foods with you such as bread, crackers or even pasta, which you can ask the chef to cook in a clean pot.

Life is not easy for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten allergy. Patience and perseverance with dietary choices is the key to good health.

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