By Dr. Joseph Mercola
with Rachael Droege
At least one out of every 250 people in the United States suffers from the inherited digestive disease known as celiac disease (CD), although studies have found that this number could actually be as high as 1 in 33 in at-risk populations. The condition is sometimes referred to as gluten intolerance because people with CD cannot tolerate gluten, a protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye.
When people with CD eat gluten, an immune reaction occurs that causes the villi, hair-like projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients, to become damaged, which interferes with the body's ability to absorb nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, even water in some cases.
Over time this inability to absorb nutrients and damage to the small intestine can result in serious side effects. One of the major problems with CD is that it can go undetected for years because symptoms are not always present. And because celiac disease has been considered rare in this country, it often goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance. Although the cause of the disease is not known, it appears that certain triggers such as severe emotional stress, surgery, viral infection or pregnancy can activate it.
When symptoms do occur they are wide ranging and can include:
- Bloating, gas and abdominal cramps
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation, or steatorrhea (oily stools)
- Osteoporosis or osteopenia
- Central and peripheral nervous system disease
- Unexplained anemia
- Weight loss or gain
- Tooth enamel defects
- Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH), a skin condition that causes intense itching and blistering
- Vitamin K deficiency associated with risk for hemorrhaging
- Organ disorders
- Potential impairments in mental functioning that could cause or aggravate autism, Asperger's syndrome, ADD or schizophrenia
Fortunately, CD is treatable with a life-long adherence to a gluten-free diet, which means avoiding wheat and most all grains including barley, rye, oats, spelt and kamut. This will allow the small intestine to heal and improve your overall health.
However, intestinal intolerance such as celiac disease is only a minority of the problem caused by grains. Grains are one of the main reasons why most people are getting sick in the United States, primarily because they disturb insulin levels.
It is not only people with celiac disease who would benefit from avoiding grains--in my estimation over 85 percent of the population would benefit from avoiding them, and yes, this includes even whole, organic grains. If you would like to know more about the relationship between grains and health, I encourage you to read my book, The No-Grain Diet, which explains the association in great detail.
Please remember though, if you do have celiac disease--a blood test can let you know for sure--it is imperative that you do not eat gluten in order to avoid further damage to your health. Gluten can be hidden in many foods including soups, soy sauce, candies, cold cuts, and various low- and no-fat products so you will need to be sure to check the labels before you eat it. Also watch out for malt, starches, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), texturized vegetable protein (TVP) and natural flavoring. Some pharmaceuticals, vinegars and alcohol can also contain gluten.
If you stick to a diet of pure, whole foods, which will have other side effects besides controlling the celiac disease, such as increased energy, an enhanced mood and a lower risk of chronic illness, then you should have no problem avoiding gluten and living a full, healthy life.