March 9, 2011

060 Celiac Disease [26 April 2010]

Imagine an allergy so common and significant that it has its own disease name. Celiac Disease (CD) is an allergy to gluten - a protein in wheat and similar grains (technically it is an autoimmune condition, not a true allergy). In people with CD the gluten destroys the tiny projections in the small intestine called villi which are essential for absorbing nutrients - proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

An estimated 1 in 133 Canadians have Celiac Disease. CD used to be thought of as a children's disease but is now frequently being diagnosed in adults. There is a genetic component to the disease - as my older brother is fond of saying, "diarrhea runs in our family".

There are two groups of signs and symptoms of CD. The first group is caused by mal-absorption of proteins, carbohydrates and especially fats. Poor protein absorption leads to fluid retention (edema) when blood protein levels fall too low. Poor absorption of fats results in abdominal cramps & bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, and fatty stools. Lactose intolerance frequently accompanies CD. The enzyme lactase that breaks down the milk sugar so it can be absorbed is located on the surface of the villi in the small intestine and is destroyed with CD. Lactose that is not broken down contributes to diarrhea.

The second group results from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The damaged villi are unable to fully absorb these vital nutrients from the food and many varied deficiency symptoms can result. Common ones include anemia (iron and B12), osteoporosis (calcium and magnesium), easy bruising (vitamin K), muscle weakness (potassium & magnesium), joint & muscle aches, peripheral nerve damage (B1 & B12), extremely itchy skin rash, headaches/migraines, depression (B6 & other nutrients), and infertility in women.

A blood test is now available to screen for Celiac Disease, with a biopsy of the small intestine providing a definitive diagnosis.

There is no cure for CD but it can be successfully controlled with a gluten free diet. There are many books and websites to help you find out which foods are safe and which are to be avoided (there are many hidden sources of gluten in processed foods). Websites I used for this article include:,, and

One of the challenges facing people with CD is finding substitutes for bread and other baked goods (craving for wheat products is one of the symptoms). Gluten free grains and baking products are available in most health food stores. We keep a few basics in stock including rice pasta, quinoa, millet, and various baking ingredients, and can special order many other products. Come in and talk to me about your gluten-free needs.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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