What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a chronic digestive and immune disorder that affects an estimated 1 in every 100 people worldwide.

People with celiac disease must avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When they eat gluten, their bodies mistakenly go into attack mode and damage the small intestine lining. This prevents the small intestine from absorbing essential nutrients from food, leading to deficiencies and other health problems.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

The symptoms of celiac disease can vary from person to person. Some people have very mild symptoms and don’t even know they have the disease, while others have severe and debilitating symptoms.

Common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • depression or anxiety
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • gas
  • lactose intolerance
  • loose, greasy, and bad-smelling stools
  • joint pain
  • nausea and vomiting

For growing children and patients with significantly diminished nutrient absorption, celiac disease can lead to issues such as:

  • delayed puberty
  • developmental disorders
  • failure to thrive
  • irritability and mood changes
  • slowed or stunted growth
  • weakness
  • weight loss

Celiac disease is much more severe than gluten sensitivity or intolerance. While gluten intolerance may experience similar symptoms, they will not undergo the same damage to the small intestine as those with celiac disease.

Untreated celiac disease may also lead to the development of other conditions and disorders, such as:

  • anemia
  • dementia
  • dermatitis
  • epilepsy
  • heart disease
  • infertility or miscarriage
  • migraines
  • multiple sclerosis
  • organ malfunction or failure
  • osteoporosis
  • type 1 diabetes

Treating Celiac Disease

Living with celiac disease means avoiding gluten so that the small intestine can heal and further damage can be prevented.

Unless the label specifically says “gluten-free,” assume that any food containing wheat, barley, or rye also contains gluten. Avoid:

  • beer
  • bread
  • cakes
  • candy
  • cereals
  • cookies
  • crackers
  • gravy
  • oats
  • pasta
  • pies
  • plant-based “imitation” meats
  • processed meats, sausages, hot dogs
  • salad dressings
  • sauces
  • soups

Gluten may also sometimes be found in:

  • cosmetics
  • lipstick and lip balm
  • medications
  • skincare products
  • supplements
  • toothpaste and mouthwash

The best foods for people with celiac to eat include:

  • beans
  • corn
  • dairy
  • fish (not breaded, coated, or marinated)
  • fruit
  • meat (not breaded, coated, or marinated)
  • nuts
  • peas
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • soy
  • vegetables

Label reading is vital when living with celiac disease.

Your symptoms should improve once you’ve eliminated gluten from your diet and the small intestine has had a chance to heal. If you continue to have symptoms or worsen, you may need to see a gastroenterologist for further testing.

Living with celiac disease can be frustrating if you can no longer eat many of your favorite foods. But many gluten-free alternatives are now available to substitute in place of gluten-containing ingredients. Many recipes and cookbooks are available specifically for people with celiac disease.

With a bit of creativity, plenty of delicious and healthy meals you can learn to love.