Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that insidiously damages the villi of the small intestine. It progressively interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. The body is basically attacking itself every time a person with CD consumes gluten.
CD is thus a disease of malabsorption (nutrients are not absorbed adequately) but also an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. CD has also been known as Celiac Sprue, Nontropical Sprue, and Gluten-Sensitive Enteropathy.
The “gluten” that causes these reactions is a generic term for the storage proteins that are found in grains. In reality, each type of protein (glutenin and gliadin in wheat, secalin in rye, hordein in barley, avenin in oats, zein in corn and oryzenin in rice) is slightly different from the others. The “gluten” in wheat, rye, barley, and in a much lower concentration in oats, contains particular amino acid sequences that are harmful to persons with Celiac Disease. These detrimental proteins are particularly rich in proline and glutamine. In an individual with Celiac Disease, such proteins stimulate T-cells to produce antibodies. The antibodies, in turn, attack the villi in the small intestine destroying the intestinal epithelium and impeding the absorption of any nutrients ingested by the patient.
There are a large number of symptoms associated with Celiac Disease. Furthermore, symptoms may vary among different people. Correct diagnosis of the disease becomes exceedingly difficult and time-consuming.
One person might have diarrhea and abdominal pain, while another person has irritability, depression or a seemingly unrelated skin disorder. Some patients develop celiac symptoms early in life, while others feel relatively healthy well into adulthood. It has recently been determined that some people with Celiac Disease have no outward symptoms but, instead, suffer the degenerative process of the disease silently. This is known as asymptomatic CD.
These discrepancies can make the diagnosis extremely difficult, resulting in 83% of people with Celiac Disease to be undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed with other conditions. The average Celiac Disease patient undergoes a number of costly and unnecessary tests and treatments that do nothing to resolve the underlying cause of the affliction.
Whether the patient is a child or an adult who has suffered the disease for years, there are certain deficiencies common to both age groups: folic acid, Vitamin B12, iron and Vitamin D. Lesser known problems are pancreatic insufficiency, dairy intolerance, disbyosis, dyspepsia and accelerated bone loss.
Closely related to pancreatic insufficiency, there is a high incidence of gallbladder disease in CD patients. In both cases, pancreatic enzyme supplementation seems to help these individuals as well as those with persistent diarrhea and bacterial overgrowth.
Only second to gastrointestinal symptoms, peripheral neuropathy is the most common disorder among CD patients. The condition is characterized by constant tingling and numbness in the lower extremities.
In recent times, a number of associated conditions are being considered as less common manifestations of Celiac Disease. These disorders can coexist with CD or be caused by an untreated, long standing case of Celiac Disease. They range from fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease and ADHD to rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.