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Is Celiac Disease a Food Allergy?

Celiac disease has many names such as gluten sensitivity, gluten allergy, gluten intolerance, gluten enteropathy, and non-tropical sprue. Each of these names describes one condition that happens to be a life long autoimmune disorder. What is an autoimmune disorder you might ask? It is important, first, to discern the difference between a food allergy and an autoimmune disorder. Auto Immune Disorder: Normally, in a healthy body, the immune system's white blood cells protect it from harmful substances called antigens. An example of an antigen could be; blood or tissues from another person or species, a virus, harmful bacteria, cancer cells, and/or toxins. Your body’s immune system, when healthy, works to protect itself by producing antibodies that destroy these harmful antigens. However, patients’ immune systems that struggle with an autoimmune disorder, can't tell the difference between antigens and healthy body tissues. Because of this, their bodies trigger an immune response to destroy normal/healthy body tissues. The reason many people confuse a food allergy with an auto immune disorder is that the hypersensitive result is similar to reactions experienced with allergies. What is an allergy? With allergies, the immune system reacts to an external substance. With an autoimmune disorder, the body reacts internally to normal/healthy body tissues.

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Causes of Autoimmune Disorders:

What causes an immune system to no longer tell the difference between healthy body tissues and antigens is unknown. One popular theory is that some microorganisms, such as bacteria, may trigger changes. It is also widely believed that certain people may have a genetic predisposition making them more likely to contract autoimmune disorders.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s body cannot tolerate a group of proteins found in grains commonly referred to as gluten. Gluten is found in barley, wheat, rye and any derivatives of these grains. Celiac disease is slowly being recognized as one of the most prevalent disorders in the United States, so we thought it would be important to address it on our site.

If you suspect you might have celiac disease, you are not alone. Don’t despair! There are all types of groups cropping up to help provide resources and support for people with celiac disease; the resources grow with awareness. Commonly asked questions are addressed below.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the small intestines, and this disorder can surface at any age. People who experience celiac disease must avoid any foods that contain gluten. Consuming gluten, with celiac disease causes autoimmune reactions that signal the immune system to “self destruct” by destroying villi within the lining of the small intestine. The destruction of villi, in the small intestine, results in the body’s inability to absorb nutrients that are needed for vitality and energy. Some of the nutrients that are unable to be absorbed are fats, vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals. Nutritional deficiencies deprive the bones, nervous system brain, heart, liver, and other organs of the nourishment they need and furthermore, can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that lead to illness. In other words, if you have celiac disease, your body produces antibodies that attack the small intestines, causing damage and illness.

How is Celiac Disease Treated?

Celiac disease is not curable and currently there are no medicines to treat it. The only form of treatment is a 100% gluten free diet. Once the gluten free diet is adopted, the small intestine can begin to heal and symptoms diminish. Rice and rice products are a viable option to replace the offending grains.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a general term used for the storage of proteins or prolamins in barley, rye and wheat. Gluten is essentially the part of dough that gives it structure, holds bread products together, and provides leavening.

What are the symptoms of Celiac disease?

Symptoms of celiac disease can vary widely. Some of the most common symptoms are; abdominal bloating or pain, pale and foul smelling stool, depression, nausea and vomiting, bone or joint pain, diarrhea, muscle cramps, weight loss, constipation, iron deficiency, gas, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, balance problems, migraines, edema or excessive fluid retention, fatigue and weakness, memory loss, irritability, skin rashes, and lactose intolerance.

What is Lactose intolerance and why is it related to celiac disease?

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk and milk products. Lactose intolerance is a condition that stems from a deficiency of lactase, the enzyme that is needed to break down lactose. For people with celiac disease, lactose intolerance is more prevalent, because the damage to the gastrointestinal tract can reduce the level of lactase in the body. Lactose intolerance is usually only a temporary condition until the small intestine heals.

*****Please read our article about lactose intolerance if you feel you may be experiencing this as well.

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