Healthy Routes Column: Preventing and Coping with Serious Illness Through Digestion: Celiac Disease

by Gladys Kublik, coowner Neighbors Vitamin Shop

As we continue in our series of Health Through Digestion, we are making a slight shift from understanding the basic components of a healthy digestive system to exploring a few of the common diseases which are closely linked to our stomach et al.

The first such disease that comes to mind is Celiac Disease a condition where what you eat is what makes you sick. Here we’ll turn it over to the experts who can best explain it, the Canadian Celiac Association.

Definition:

Celiac disease is a medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine, the villi, is damaged by a substance called gluten. This results in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.

Although statistics are not readily available, it is estimated that 1 in 133 persons in Canada are affected by celiac disease.
A wide range of symptoms may be present. Symptoms may appear together or singularly in children or adults. In general, the symptoms of untreated celiac disease indicate the presence of malabsorption due to the damaged small intestine.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, triticale, barley. In the case of wheat, gliadin has been isolated as the toxic fraction. It is the gluten in the flour that helps bread and other baked goods bind and prevents crumbling. This feature has made gluten widely used in the production of many processed and packaged foods.

Symptoms

Common symptoms are anemia, chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, cramps and bloating, irritability.
Although some or all of these symptoms occur in celiac disease, some can also occur in many other diseases more common than celiac disease.

In other cases, sufferers from gluten-intolerance develop an intense burning and itching rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. The intestinal symptoms of celiac disease may or may not appear in dermatitis herpetiformis.

Diagnosis

1: Screening – Until recently physicians had to rely on clinical signs to suggest the diagnosis and to select which patients should have further investigation to prove the diagnosis. Since these signs may be vague or of varying severity this may be difficult. Now simple blood screening tests are becoming available to help this process.

2: Biopsy – A definitive diagnosis can only be made by a small bowel biopsy. The biopsy is performed by a specialist in the gastrointestinal field. The biopsy must be done before treatment is started.

Treatment

Celiac disease as yet has no known cure, but can usually be effectively treated and controlled. The treatment of celiac disease is strict adherence to a GLUTEN FREE DIET FOR LIFE. This requires knowledgeable dietetic counselling and frequent “up-dates” as commercial food contents change.

Celiacs must be alert to hidden sources of gluten such as HVP/HPP (hydrolyzed vegetable/plant protein); malt; spelt; kamut; and certain drug products.

Today’s processed and packaged foods have many hidden sources of gluten which can be unintentionally ingested. Particular care should be taken in the selection of soups, luncheon meats and sausages.
There is a great variation in sensitivity to gluten among those with celiac disease, and although one may have no obvious symptoms, damage to the intestinal lining may still occur.

There are many more symptoms associated with celiac disease and, because it can mimic a whole host of other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. The great news is that once you have a definite diagnosis and a plan in place, symptoms will lessen, your body will heal, and you can go on to lead a healthy, active life. 

Avoiding gluten is one of two main areas to be concerned with when diagnosed with celiac disease. The other is ensuring your body gets the nutrition it needs while it regenerates itself. This can be challenging when addressing the issue solely from a dietary standpoint. With celiac disease, the ability of the body to absorb fat, calcium, magnesium, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, folate, iron and vitamin B12 can be difficult. Since vitamin K is necessary for blood to clot, you can see why supplements can become a crucial part of your plan to stay healthy when living with celiac disease. See Neighbors Vitamin Shop for a large selection of non GMO supplements free of wheat, soy, dairy, gluten and preservatives.

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