Our weekly news column bringing the most current, non-biased health
information to the consumer.
February 02, 2010
A Publication of QVHD
By: V. Deborah Culligan, RN, MPH,
Deputy Director QVHD
You have probably seen
marketing that touts gluten-free. But unless you have diagnosed celiac
disease, you may not know why that is important. Furthermore, you might
even have celiac disease and not know it because the symptoms can be
mild and progress as you age. For many years, it was thought to be a
disease diagnosed in childhood, but today it is actually being diagnosed
more frequently in middle and older ages. It is estimated that more than
2 million people in the U.S. have this disease. There also may be a
genetic connection, increasing your odds of having it if you have a
parent, sibling or child with it.
What is celiac disease? To understand what celiac disease is, you must
first learn about gluten, commonly found in many foods. Gluten is a
special type of protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. It is what
helps to give dough an elastic texture and strength. When people have
celiac disease and ingest gluten, the body's immune system attacks the
villi that line the small intestine. This causes permanent damage to the
intestinal wall, resulting in a decreased ability to absorb nutrients
from food. Celiac disease is considered to be a digestive disease. Over
time, persons with celiac disease can become malnourished no matter how
well they eat.
Symptoms of celiac disease may range from none to mild to severe. But
even without symptoms, damage may be occurring to the small intestine.
The classic symptoms are chronic diarrhea, indigestion, abdominal pain,
bloating, vomiting, constipation, pale, foul-smelling or fatty stool and
weight loss. These symptoms are more commonly seen in children. Adults
are less likely to have these types of digestive symptoms, but may
suffer from unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, fatigue, bone or joint
pain, bone loss or osteoporosis, missed menstrual periods, infertility
or recurrent miscarriage, canker sores in the mouth or an itchy skin
Diagnosing this disease can be difficult because of the lack of symptoms
and because many of the symptoms can be attributed to other disorders.
There are some blood tests that can be performed. If the tests suggest
celiac disease, a biopsy of the small intestine can be done to confirm
the diagnosis. There is also a particular type of skin rash that people
with celiac disease may get. Doctors use this as a diagnostic tool, as
The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. That means
not eating foods that contain wheat, rye, barley and some sources
include oats. This can be very tricky and take some getting used to.
However, the good news is that there are many products now on the market
and in stores that are gluten-free. The biggest challenge can be eating
in restaurants, although some are stepping up to the challenge and
creating gluten-free items. The grains you can eat include bean flours,
buckwheat, corn, flaxseed, nut flours, nut meals, oats, potato flour,
soy flour, rice, quinoa, millet and amaranth. If you have celiac disease
you should also be weary of certain medications and cosmetics that
contain gluten. Check ingredients listings.
For more information on celiac disease including some information on the
gluten-free diet, District residents can call QVHD, 203 248-4528 or
request on line, www.qvhd.org.
|An Ounce of Prevention is a
publication of the Quinnipiack Valley Health District, located at
1151 Hartford Turnpike, North Haven, CT 06473. Telephone:
248-4528. An Ounce of Prevention is
written by V. Deborah Culligan. The articles are published in the following local newspapers, The Advisor &
The content is provided as health education and
information to help you make health decisions. It is not intended to
be legal or medical advice, or substitute for recommendations made
by your health care provider. Address all comments to the district