First, let’s define Celiac (coeliac) Disease
It is an autoimmune disorder which leads the body’s immune system (the body’s defence against infection) cross-reacting with the small-bowel tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction. Basically the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
This disease effects 1 in 100 people in the world. However, some scientists say this number is underestimated, because a lot of people do not even think about celiac disease when they have only mild or early stage symptoms. Few people never develop symptoms but it does not mean they do not have celiac disease or inflammation in the intestine.
The autoimmune reaction is caused by gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, oat and other wheat subspecies (durum, spelt, kamut).
Symptoms are the following:
– Frequently the symptoms are ascribed to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), only later to be recognised as celiac disease.
– Diarrhoea, caused by the body not being able to fully absorb nutrients (malabsorption).
– Bloating, or stomach pain.
– Weight loss.
– Tiredness and fatigue.
– Tingling and numbness in your hands and feet.
– Vomiting (usually only affects children).
– Swelling of your hands, feet, arms and legs.
– Lactose intolerance may develop, as the bowel becomes more damaged.
Long-standing and untreated disease may lead to other serious complications
Malabsorption leads to being malnourished, lacking in energy, making you feel tired. I would say the worst is not the lack of energy rather the lack of vitamins and minerals, because your body cannot absorb them either.
It can also lead to stools containing abnormally high levels of fat. This can make them foul smelling, greasy and frothy. In children can lead to failure to grow at the expected rate (weight, height) and delayed puberty.
You may also develop a skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. The rash is itchy and mostly appears on the elbows, knees, buttocks; however, it can appear anywhere on the body. The cause of the skin rash is not known, but 1 in 5 people who have celiac disease develops it. As soon as they change to a gluten free diet, the rash disappears as well the celiac disease.
Back in 2006, I had allergy tests and they found I am lactose intolerant and my body does not absorb/digest fat completely. A stool test showed that it contained higher levels of fat, even though it was not abnormal. So it seemed I had started to develop celiac, but the doctors had said nothing about it.
So I did not know those were the early stages of it. To avoid bloating, I eliminated dairy products from one day to another, but what could I do about the other things? I thought it was my genes and the dietician told me to eat whole grain products. Obviously it did not help!
A few years later I read a book, Robb Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution” and it changed my life. I followed that with Dr Loren Cordain – The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Diet for Athletes. I adopted the dietary recommendations which are: eggs, fish, meat, vegetable, fruits, nuts and seeds.
I really do not intend to convert anyone here, because everybody has their own belief about diets, eating habits, etc. But I can only speak from personal experience.
I would say the whole paleo diet (or sometimes called the Caveman Diet) is not about proving what our ancestors ate, because it is varied by locations and it would be a never-ending argument. It is much more about the theory behind it.
To know more about it, read two interesting success stories from Sarah and Shannon Ford, Mrs USA 2011.
Is there a treatment?
The most common answer is: “There is no treatment for this disorder”. I would say there is no medical or medicinal treatment, but there is a solution.
Even if symptoms are mild or non-existent, it is still recommended to change your diet, as continuing to eat gluten can lead to serious complications. The only thing you can do is change your diet to a gluten free one.
When I say gluten free I do not necessarily mean buy only gluten free products, because what guarantees it is completely free of gluten? It helps a lot, but a gluten free diet could mean eliminating grains from your diet.
“I got better going gluten free. But I got well going grain free”, Shannon Ford, Mrs USA 2011.
I warn all of you, because going grain free requires a lot of attention nowadays. Why? Because even sausages contain wheat. What? Yes my friends. Have you ever noticed “GLUTEN FREE” labels on the package of sausages or frankfurters or other meat product?
You would think meat is meat, that’s it, but NO. Companies put flour (wheat, barley, corn, soya) in products, to make it more producible, thicker or cheaper.
Gluten free is an easier option. Grain free requires a bit more reading and researching to find products without grains
This celiac disease is very nasty, because it has many symptoms and when you develop one or more of them you do not think it is celiac disease, but you think “My mum or sister or brother or dad has the same, so it is in my genes”.
WRONG! Go and ask for tests from your doctor and take steps to make your condition better. It is challenging (you have to change your diet) but not impossible. Many people have done it, I have done it, so you can too!
To read more from Richard Csosza, visit his Expert Profile.
Celiac Disease Foundation