Celiac Disease: A Brief Overview of a Troubling Condition

by Wellness Editor – MH

Some of the frustrating illnesses seem to feature the same traits: there is no known cause, no known cure and a seemingly endless list of symptoms. One such condition that meets all three criteria is celiac disease, a digestive disorder that impacts approximately 1 in 100 Americans. While there is no way to rid the body of celiac disease, a diet that eliminates certain foods can markedly improve the lives of those struggling with this condition.

History and Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Though celiac disease is still unknown by many people, this condition is hardly a newcomer; the earliest descriptions of the disease date back to the second century A.D. The disease quickly gained a nasty reputation, causing wide variety of symptoms in those unlucky enough to develop it. A list of this condition’s many symptoms is shown below:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Reduced Appetite
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Stools that are bloody or extremely foul-smelling, or that float
  • Noticeable weight loss

These symptoms alone would make celiac disease an imposing foe, but the above list only refers to gastrointestinal problems caused by this disease. After celiac disease has firmly entrenched itself inside the gut, a patient might also begin to suffer from the following maladies:

  • Busing upon minimal contact with external objects
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Delayed growth in children
  • Hair Loss
  • Itchy Skin
  • Missed menstrual periods
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle cramps and joint pain
  • Nosebleeds
  • Seizures
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Unexplained short height

As alluded to earlier, medical science still does not have a definitive answer as to the causes of celiac disease. Researchers believe that there could be several factors that contribute to the appearance of this condition, including the presence of certain genes, a diet heavy in gluten and significant emotional stress. One recent theory holds that two specific chemical signals, known as interleukin 15 and retinoic acid, might cause celiac disease to develop inside the patient. This idea is not without merit – a recent study found that celiac patients contained high amounts of both chemicals in their intestines.

While researches have yet to pinpoint the root causes of celiac disease, it has long been known that one particular substance causes the rapid appearance of this condition’s symptoms. Gluten, a protein composite that gives dough its elastic nature, triggers numerous digestive problems in patients with celiac disease. In these individuals, the immune system overreacts to the presence of gluten by inflicting damage on the small intestine, preventing this organ from properly absorbing key nutrients. This disruption of the small intestine’s routine operations can have a chain-reaction effect on the rest of the body, as the brain, bones, liver and other crucial body parts can easily become significantly undernourished. It is this cause-and-effect relationship that explains celiac disease’s wide range of symptoms.

Healthy Diets for Celiac Disease Patients

Not surprisingly, the consumption of gluten is explicitly verboten for celiac patients. The problem with maintaining a gluten-free diet, however, is the widespread presence of gluten. Gluten is found in all foods containing wheat, barley, rye and triticale. In addition, wheat can also appear on food labels under the names bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt.

This effectively makes gluten a fairly difficult substance to drop cold turkey, as numerous foods include at least one of these ingredients. Doctors usually encourage celiac patients to remove the following foods from their diet due to their gluten content.

  • Beer
  • Breads
  • Cakes and pies
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Croutons
  • French fries
  • Gravies
  • Imitation meat or seafood
  • Matzo
  • Pastas
  • Processed luncheon meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Sauces, including soy sauce
  • Seasoned rice mixes
  • Seasoned snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Soups and soup bases
  • Vegetables in sauce

It bears mentioning that some food producers make “gluten-free” versions of the above products, rendering them safe for celiac patients.

In lieu of gluten-heavy products, individuals with celiac disease are urged to craft a well-balanced diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables, of course, always make for excellent choices. With regards to dairy products, celiac patients might consider taking a break from consuming items like milk, cheese and butter. This is especially true if a patient has experienced lactose intolerance; once the gluten-free diet has been established, patients can slowly reintroduce diary products back into their meals. Any diary items with gluten, such as flavored milks or certain kinds of cheese, should be entirely avoided.

Fresh meats, poultry and fish are also acceptable, provided they have not been marinated, breaded or coated with butter.  Celiac patients can also enjoy nuts, beans and seeds, as long as they are eaten in their natural state without additives. People with celiac disease can also eat numerous types of grains and starches without ill effect. This list of gluten alternatives is shown below:

  • Amaranth
  • Arrowroot
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn and cornmeal
  • Flax
  • Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
  • Hominy (corn)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Soy
  • Tapioca
  • Teff

Though modern medicine has not yet found a cure for celiac disease, people afflicted by this lifelong digestive condition can greatly alleviate their symptoms through sound dieting decisions. By eliminating their intake of gluten, celiac patients can lead healthy lives with relatively few medical problems.

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