Understanding Celiac Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Gluten-Free Diet

Learn about celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, causing the immune system to attack the body. Discover the importance of following a strict gluten-free diet for effective t...

Gluten-Free Girl

3/16/20242 min read

celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which is triggered by gluten
celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which is triggered by gluten
Celiac Disease - it's more than an intolerance to gluten

Celiac disease – it's a term you've probably heard thrown around, especially in discussions about gluten-free diets. But what exactly is it, and how does it differ from gluten intolerance? Let's break it down.

Celiac disease is not just a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten – it's a full-blown autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune - what does that mean?

In autoimmune diseases, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and damages healthy body tissue and cells. There are over 100 known autoimmune diseases including celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, type 1 diabetes...

what happens when someone with celiac disease eats gluten?

When someone with celiac disease eats gluten, their immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the lining of the small intestine. This attack leads to inflammation and damage to the intestinal villi – tiny finger-like projections responsible for absorbing nutrients. Without healthy villi, the body struggles to absorb essential vitamins and minerals, leading to a range of symptoms including digestive issues, fatigue, joint pain, and even neurological problems. Yes, celiac disease is more than just a bad tummy.

Put simply, continued exposure to gluten continues to damage the villi and absorption issues will cause malabsorption and lead to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, which can then impact how the body works.

People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) show an immune response distinct from celiac disease.

Gluten intolerance or sensitivity doesn't involve the immune system. Instead, it's more of a digestive issue, where the body has difficulty processing gluten. While symptoms may overlap with celiac disease – think bloating, abdominal pain, and fatigue – there's no immune system involvement or intestinal damage in gluten intolerance.

So, why does celiac disease trigger this autoimmune response?

The exact cause is still unclear, but genetics play a role. People with certain genetic markers are more predisposed to developing celiac disease, although environmental factors like diet and gut health also come into play.

Diagnosing celiac disease typically involves a combination of blood tests and a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm damage to the villi. Once diagnosed, the only treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. That means cutting out all sources of gluten, from bread and pasta to sauces and even some medications and beauty products.

One of the biggest challenges for those living with celiac disease is ensuring gluten does not enter their diet through cross-contamination! Even the smallest crumb of gluten can set off the autoimmune response. This is why celiacs ask so many questions about food and food prep. It is also why many restaurants catering to those with celiac disease have separate gluten-free kitchens.

Living with celiac disease can be challenging, but it's also manageable with the right knowledge and support. With the rise of gluten-free options and increased awareness of celiac disease, it's becoming easier for those affected to navigate their dietary needs and live a full, healthy life.

Whether you're personally affected, have a friend or family member with celiac disease, or just curious, understanding the nuances of these conditions is essential for promoting awareness and supporting those living with celiac disease.

Interested in learning more?

If you want to learn more about celiac disease, autoimmune processes and other autoimmune diseases, I recommend reading these fantastic books:

The Autoimmune Fix by Dr. Tom O’Bryan

The Autoimmune Answer by Dr. John Bartemus


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