Interesting Facts About Celiac Disease

interesting facts about celiac disease

“Interesting Facts About Celiac Disease” was written by Fara Kwok & edited/reviewed by Sadie Hitsky, RD. Fara is a graduate student studying Nutrition and Dietetics at Bastyr University. 

Interesting facts about Celiac Disease start with its prevalence. Celiac disease affects approximately 1% of the US population, which is roughly 331 million people.

Impact on overall health 

In this article, which covers interesting facts about celiac disease, the significance and impact of the disease on overall health is highlighted. Celiac disease can have profound effects on an individual’s health and quality of life. 

Untreated or poorly managed celiac disease can lead to a range of complications, including malnutrition and an increased risk of certain cancers. 

Even in cases where symptoms are mild or absent, ongoing intestinal inflammation and damage can occur, potentially causing long-term health issues.

Historical Background

The earliest recorded observations resembling Celiac Disease date back to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD by Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a Greek physician. Interesting facts about Celiac Disease’s historical background shed light on its recognition and understanding over centuries.

Aretaeus described a condition called “coeliac affection” characterized by chronic diarrhea and malabsorption, among other symptoms. The term “Celiac Disease” was first coined in the early 20th century by Dr. Willem Dicke, a Dutch pediatrician, in his doctoral thesis published in 1950.

During World War II, Dutch physicians noted an improvement in symptoms among children with Celiac Disease during times of food scarcity when wheat was scarce. This observation led to the recognition of gluten as a trigger for the condition. 

Interesting facts about celiac disease: There’s a genetic component 

Celiac disease has a strong genetic component, meaning it tends to run in families. This highlights the role of specific variations in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, particularly the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes.

Around 95% of individuals with Celiac Disease carry either the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 gene, with the majority having HLA-DQ2. These genes play a crucial role in the body’s immune response by helping to identify harmful substances, including gluten.

Many people with the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 genes never develop the condition.  It is estimated that 30-40% of the general population have these genes, even though only 1% of the population develops Celiac Disease.

Interesting facts about celiac disease: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease

People with Celiac Disease have hypersensitivity to the gliadin protein in gluten.  Gliadin is responsible for the dough’s ability to stretch and rise during the baking process.

In Celiac Disease, the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This reaction triggers inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine by your immune system.  

Interesting facts about celiac disease: It can cause many different symptoms

Exposure to gluten could trigger gastrointestinal symptoms as well as non-intestinal symptoms.  

Classic symptoms include:

  • Diahhrea
  • Oily or greasy stools
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain/cramping
  • Iron deficiency
  • Unintended/unexplained weight loss

Non-intestinal symptoms include:

  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Skin rash

Managing Celiac Disease

Managing Celiac Disease involves lifelong strict adherence to a gluten-free diet to prevent damage to the intestines, alleviate symptoms, and promote long-term health. 

To adhere to a gluten-free diet, stay informed about gluten-free options available. This makes adherence to a gluten-free diet more manageable and supports well-being.

Avoid Gluten Completely:

Eliminate all sources of gluten from your diet, including wheat, barley, rye, and their derivatives.

Be vigilant about reading food labels and identifying hidden sources of gluten in processed foods, sauces, condiments, and medications.

Choose naturally gluten-free whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy products, legumes, nuts, seeds, and gluten-free grains (like rice, quinoa, corn, and oats labeled as gluten-free).

gluten free

Focus on Nutrient-Rich Foods

Ensure that your gluten-free diet is balanced and includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods to meet your nutritional needs.

Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables to provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Include lean proteins such as poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, and legumes to support muscle health and repair. 

Opt for gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and certified gluten-free oats to provide fiber, B vitamins, and essential minerals.

For a variety of gluten-free meal prep ideas, read these articles on High Protein Vegan Meal Prep and Easy Costco Meal Prep.

Beware of Nutrient Deficiencies

Celiac Disease can lead to nutrient malabsorption due to intestinal damage, resulting in deficiencies of in vitamins such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, and folate and minerals like iron, calcium, and zinc.

Work with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to monitor your nutritional status and consider supplementation if deficiencies are identified through regular lab work. 

Manage Cross-Contamination

Prevent cross-contamination by thoroughly cleaning kitchen surfaces, utensils, and cookware after each use. 

Use separate cooking equipment for gluten-free foods to prevent cross-contact with gluten-containing ingredients.  Be cautious when dining out and communicate your dietary needs to restaurant staff to minimize the risk of cross-contamination.

Stay Informed and Educated:

Stay informed about gluten-free foods and ingredients by regularly checking reputable resources, such as Celiac Disease organizations, gluten-free certification programs, and healthcare providers.

Keep up-to-date with any changes in food labeling regulations and gluten-free product availability in your region.

Lifelong Commitment to a Gluten-Free Diet

Celiac Disease is a lifelong condition. It’s necessary to maintain a strict gluten-free diet to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Even small amounts of gluten can trigger immune reactions and damage to the intestine in individuals with Celiac Disease, so adherence to the diet should be continuous and unwavering.

Sources of Gluten and Related Products:

It is helpful to know the sources of gluten for avoidance and substitution: 

  • Wheat: Includes various forms and derivatives such as wheatberries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, farro, bulgur, freekeh, graham, KAMUT® khorasan wheat, and einkorn wheat.
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Triticale
  • Malt in different forms, including malted barley flour, malted milk or milkshakes, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, and malt vinegar.
  • Brewer’s Yeast

Distillation Removes Gluten

Distilled alcoholic beverages and vinegars are considered gluten-free. Through distillation, gluten is removed as the size of gluten is too large to be carried over to the final product. As a result, the resulting liquid is free from gluten.

What About Fermentation?

Fermentation doesn’t make a gluten-containing substance gluten-free. The fermentation by-products will still contain gluten fragments.

Interesting facts about celiac disease: People with gluten sensitivity have similar symptoms

Gluten sensitivity, known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or gluten intolerance, is a condition where people experience symptoms similar to those with Celiac Disease. Gluten sensitivity does not involve the autoimmune response or damage to the small intestine. 

Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can vary widely and may include gastrointestinal issues such as

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Joint pain

Diagnosis of gluten sensitivity is primarily based on the presence of symptoms that improve with a gluten-free diet and worsen upon reintroduction of gluten-containing foods. 

However, there is currently no specific biomarker or diagnostic test for gluten sensitivity, making diagnosis challenging.

In summary, managing Celiac Disease involves adopting a gluten-free diet that is balanced, nutrient-rich, and free from sources of gluten. Working with healthcare professionals and staying informed about gluten-free options are key to successfully navigating dietary requirements and promoting overall health and well-being.

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