Celiac disease (CD) is a genetically linked disease with an environmental trigger. In people with CD, eating certain types of protein fractions, commonly called gluten, sets off an autoimmune response that causes damage to the small intestine. This, in turn, causes the small intestine to lose the ability to absorb the nutrients found in food, leading to malnutrition and a variety of other complications. CD is thought to affect approximately 1 in every 133 people, although only about 3% of these people have been diagnosed.
The offending protein, gluten, is found in wheat, barley, rye, and to a lesser extent oats. Related proteins are found in triticale, spelt, kamut. Refer to the grains and flours Glossary for a more extensive list of both safe and offending grains.
This list is not exclusive. Symptoms vary widely in individuals with CD, and some people do not experience any symptoms but may still be damaging their small intestines.
When working with a physician to diagnose and/or confirm celiac disease (CD), three major steps are taken. First, a thorough physical examination is conducted, including a series of blood tests, sometimes referred to as the Celiac Blood Panel. Second, a duodenal biopsy is performed with multiple samples from multiple locations in the small intestine. And third, the gluten-free diet is implemented. When the patient shows a positive response to the diet – symptoms subside and the small intestine returns to its normal, healthy state – the diagnosis of CD is confirmed.
(NOTE: To ensure the most accurate and timely diagnosis, the gluten-free diet should be implemented only after the first two steps have been completed.)
Once the diagnosis of celiac disease CD has been confirmed, treatment can begin immediately. It does not require surgery. It does not require an unending dependence on medication. It does not even require repeated visits to the doctor’s office. The best and only known treatment for CD is simply this: a lifelong elimination of “gluten”.