Gluten intolerance has received increasing attention over the past decade, to the point where it’s often difficult for people to distinguish between hard science and media fad. But there’s an actual clinical diagnosis for those who can no longer tolerate gluten; it’s known as Celiac disease and it affects around 1 in 100 people at present worldwide.
Celiac disease has also been called ‘Celiac Sprue’ and ‘gluten-sensitive enteropathy’. People who suffer from this condition can’t tolerate certain proteins found in wheat, such as gliadin, which is known to be a primary offender. Consumption of foods like bread, cereals, cakes, and pasta causes severe pain and discomfort in the stomach. Some of the most common symptoms of Celiac disease are chronic diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, anemia, unexplained weight-gain or weight-loss, the inability to absorb nutrients, missed menstrual periods, bone or joint pains, hair loss, depression, anxiety, canker sores in the mouth, skin rashes, migraines and seizures. People often mistake the symptoms of Celiac for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The is of great concern, since Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be treated and cured with the proper adjustments in diet and behavior, but thus far there is no known documented cure for Celiac disease — even with holistic treatments.
Should you be worried that you may have Celiac disease due to having one, several, or all of the symptoms listed above, you may want to get an opinion from your primary care physician. They’re able to run tests to see your actual level of gluten intolerance and, should you happen to have Celiac disease, how far along you are into the ailment.
Getting a Celiac diagnosis early is ideal, since it allows you to modify your food intake in order to stay healthy before too much damage has been done to the gut lining. If left untreated, Celiac disease can have serious consequences. Long term effects include infertility, miscarriages and neurological disorders for example. It is therefore paramount that people who have Celiac disease maintain a lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects people who are predisposed to it by carrying certain trait genes (either or both of the HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genes). It manifests when people consume the gluten portion of wheat, which causes the villi in the small intestine to become inflamed and damaged over time. To compound the situation, because of the damaged villi in the small intestine, vital nutrients are not able to be absorbed into the body properly. This inability to absorb the necessary nutrients might be the most dangerous aspect when it comes to failing to control Celiac through diet. Some of the most common nutritional deficiencies that those suffering from Celiac disease experience are lack of iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, copper, folate, magnesium, niacin, riboflavin and zinc.
As a Holistic Nutritionist I have been in contact with more clients as of late who have a certified diagnosis of Celiac disease. I have found the most difficult part about creating a Nutritional Healing Plan for them is motivating the client so they don’t lose hope and remain open to a new path of eating for the rest of their lives. When a client has been diagnosed with Celiac, their reliance on processed, junk and acid-forming foods can form a self-inflicted barrier that stops them from finding true and vital health. If you have Celiacs, it’s important to make nutrition a priority by eating fresh, healthy, life-promoting foods that disrupt the imbalance in the body caused by the disease. Foods like fresh raw carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, beans and legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds should be incorporated in the diet on a weekly basis.
While Celiac disease has long been considered an ailment that is solely hereditary, many scientists are beginning to wonder if the autoimmune disease can start to develop from an early age even in those without a family history of it. In one study, a team of scientists kept gluten away from newborns for one year to see if this would impact the probability of being diagnosed with Celiac. To their surprise, it was found that delayed exposure to gluten only postponed the disease, and ultimately did not stop the disease from forming.
So if Celiacs has a strong hereditary component, why is it only in the past few years that we’ve started hearing about the disease and gluten intolerance in general? What is causing the current Celiac bubble? Without doubt, the prevalence of Celiac has increased dramatically over the years; Celiac is 4 times as common today as it was 50 years ago. And although we are consuming the same amount of wheat, the way it is being processed, our modern forms of hyper-cooking and mass production of ingredients may have had a dire impact, regardless of genetic predisposition.
So why is this so important to know? It’s imperative that we appreciate how changes in our diet and the West’s reliance on processed foods can impact one’s health in subtle ways. If you have recently been diagnosed with Celiac disease, it is not enough to treat it with ‘diet’ per se; It also has to be treated with a complete lifestyle change. Celiac does not have to be a debilitating illness if you make a commitment to live healthily and eat as well as possible. Thanks to increases in both research and awareness, there’s an array of gluten-free options at many supermarkets, restaurants and hotels now. Furthermore, grains are not completely off limits for people with Celiac; quinoa is a highly nutritious grain that is naturally gluten free. People are also beginning to use wheat substitutes like coconut flour so they can still cook and enjoy their favorite meals.
With a diagnosis of Celiac, a healthy attitude is just as important as keeping a healthy gut. One of the often ignored aspects of Celiac disease is the role that it plays with regards to mental health. Getting plenty of exercise as well as rest can help combat some of the mental health issues that tend to arise as a result of the disease. This also means that your loved ones and the people whom you regard as playing a significant role in your life should also be educated on Celiac disease so they can support and accommodate you — particularly during food-based social gatherings.
Being educated and prepared, and having the best nutrition possible is the best way to deal with Celiac disease. A diagnosis in the end, is just a statement of present health. Gaining knowledge and understanding, and being open to life change is what will carry you through, and could ultimately lead to life changes that will have positive effects in other areas of your life — as long as you have the will and the courage to act.
David (Daud) K. Scott is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Practitioner and is presently pursing his licensed naturopathic doctorate degree. He began his path to conscious nutrition while studying for a BA in Sociology at Hampton University. Having learned how to heal himself, David wanted to share his knowledge and Natures First Path, a practice devoted to educating people on mindful, holistic nutrition was born. He has practiced in New York City, Hampton, Virginia, San Diego, California and most recently, Los Angeles, California. Find out more about Daud and his work at NaturesFirstPath.com.