This month is Celiac Awareness month. We are featuring a post Dr. Dan wrote a while back about Celiac Disease (CD) and the difference between Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance. It makes me weary when I read things like; “oh, it’s just a fad to eat gluten free.” You will understand after reading this article that eating gluten free is important to your health and well-being as well as your longevity. It is a choice, but a choice dictated by genetics, unlike choosing to eat a vegetarian diet.

Celiac Disease: Your Questions Answered

Have questions about Celiac disease? is here to help with some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this disorder. Celiac Disease (CD) is a subset of gluten sensitivity. The better the testing becomes, the higher the percentage of people that are diagnosed with CD. In your reading, don’t be surprised at widely varying estimates of how many Americans are affected by gluten. It depends on testing procedures. Because we didn’t understand how to test, just 30 years ago CD was considered rare or affecting no more than 1 in 5000. Today that estimate has changed dramatically to somewhere between 1 in 50 and 1 in 100.  Future testing advances will no doubt show an even higher percentage of the population negatively affected by gluten.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is classified as an autoimmune disorder with a strong genetic predisposition. Most cases are asymptomatic with respect to the digestive system even with intestinal damage. About 100 disorders have been shown to be associated with gluten sensitivity (GS). See the Gluten Quick Facts Sheet for that list.

What Causes Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is caused by a reaction to proteins that are found in wheat products, as well as in barley and rye. When a Celiac Disease patient is exposed to wheat gluten, the small intestine and the immune system cause an inflammatory reaction and an antibody cascade that interferes with the function of small intestine villi. This antibody cascade can affect not only the villi themselves but any other tissue in the body including brain, thyroid, joints, bones, muscles, liver, kidneys….well you get the idea.

Is Celiac Disease the Same as a Wheat Allergy?

No. Both Celiac disease and wheat allergies are caused by reactions to wheat proteins and other components of the wheat seed (like wheat germ lectins for example). The allergic and the gluten sensitivity reactions are mediated by entirely different immune mechanisms. Allergies are IgE mediated reactions and are fairly rapid, that is you usually know within seconds or minutes that you are having a problem. Gluten sensitivity and CD is an IgG and/or IgA mediated reaction and it can take hours or days for the reaction to hit its peak. Therefore it is more difficult to link a gluten sensitivity antibody reaction to the ingested food.

How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?

It is taking a long time for traditional medicine to get up to speed with the research advances of the last decade. This is probably due to the fact that no medication has been developed to treat any part of GS directly. The chance that your family doctor or even a specialist will pick up an obvious case of CD is only 1%. If your doctor runs a blood test he or she will most likely only test for one or two of the 20 or 30 possible offending protein-stimulated antibodies. Biopsies are sometimes used but they will have to find the damaged section of the small intestine and many times light microscope techniques are not adequate to find all the damage. Scanning electron microscope techniques are far superior but are only used in research settings. As of winter 2011, blood test techniques have become available to quickly and economically test for a full array of antibodies associated with gluten reactions.

How is Celiac Disease Treated?

A gluten-free diet has been shown to effectively reverse damage from dietary gluten in most cases. It should be noted that a restricted gluten diet won’t give a gluten sensitive person the desired healing response in most cases. However, some people with gluten sensitivity also supplement their gluten free diet with digestive supplements that can balance intestinal bacteria and enzymes, which can sometimes be affected by CD or other forms of gluten intolerance.
It is often most helpful to use a few of the particular products we carry that aid in intestinal and gut repair once you have been gluten free. Neuroscience has a great GI Repair Kit and a GI Repair Maintenance Kit that helps repair some of the damaged caused by Celiac or gluten intolerance.