What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a medical condition that affects the digestive system due to a person's adverse reaction to gluten. Once a person with celiac disease consumes foods with gluten, he or she experiences symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain, weight loss, fatigue, malnutrition and poor growth in children. These symptoms may either be mild or severe. There may also be indigestion, occasional changes in bowel habit such as episodes of mild diarrhoea or constipation, anemia, loss of appetite, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, vomiting and alopecia. These symptoms are intermittent, meaning that they start and stop every now and then.
The diagnosis of celiac disease may be delayed due to its vague symptoms. In cases of severe celiac disease, there may be diarrhoea which may occur suddenly during the night along with bowel incontinence, weight loss, stomach cramps, muscle spasms, and swelling of the hands and feet due to edema. The stools may contain abnormally high levels of fat (steatorrhoea) so that they may become foul-smelling, frothy and greasy. These stools may become difficult to flush down the toilet. If celiac disease is not treated right away, it may bring about malnourishment, fatigue and lack of energy. Children can become malnourished and may have slow growth both in terms of height and weight; they may also have delayed puberty.
Celiac disease is a medical condition caused by autoimmunity. Autoimmunity means the body's antibodies are attacking its own cells instead of foreign bodies. Celiac disease is not always caused by allergy or intolerance to gluten. The immune system destroys things that contain substances similar to gluten so that the small intestines are damaged. Thus further disrupts the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food.
Gluten is found in foods such as bread, pasta, cereals and biscuits; when a person eats these foods containing gluten, he or she experiences the unpleasant signs and symptoms of celiac disease. These foods make the surface of the intestine become swollen and red. Normally, the surface of the intestine is covered by millions of tiny tube-shaped growths called villi. Villi increase the surface area of the gut and help it digest food more effectively. Celiac disease leads to damage and inflammation of the small intestines which further flatten out the villi, further reducing their ability to digest food.
Not all people are prone to develop celiac disease. Those at risk include those who have a close relative who have the condition, environmental triggers such as a previous infection of the digestive system (such as a rotavirus infection) or diet during early childhood, type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis (a digestive condition that causes inflammation of the colon), and neurological disorders which affect the brain and nervous system such as epilepsy.
Gluten is a protein found in cereals such as wheat, barley and rye. It may be found in foods that contain the said cereals such as pasta, cakes, breakfast cereals, most types of bread, certain types of sauces and some types of ready meals. Most beers are made from barley, thus they can cause symptoms of celiac disease.
Gluten-free Diet May Improve Cognition in Celiac Disease Patients
A recent study has shown that people who have celiac disease who stick to a gluten-free diet may have improvements in cognition that may correlate with intestinal healing. These patients may have improvements in attention, memory, and other mental tasks. The findings of this study were published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. The researchers indicated that having a gluten-free diet can lead not just to physical well-being but also to mental well-being.
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