Wendy Lord, RD & Medical Content Author Health Reporter
What exactly is celiac disease and how can one know if she is suffering?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system. When someone with celiac disease eats gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) their immune system attacks the small intestine, damaging the villi. Villi are tiny finger-like projections that line the small intestine and help absorb nutrients from food. When villi are damaged, it can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms and health problems.
The symptoms of celiac disease can be quite varied because some people may have no symptoms at all, while others may experience a range of symptoms such as:
- Digestive problems: such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain
- Nutritional deficiencies: such as anemia, osteoporosis, and weight loss
- Skin rash(dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Depression and anxiety
- Infertility and miscarriage
Deficiencies reported in individuals with celiac disease
Individuals with celiac disease can develop a wide range of nutrient deficiencies due to damage to the small intestine and the body’s inability to absorb nutrients from food properly.
Some of the most common deficiencies reported in people with celiac disease include:
-Iron-deficiency anemia: The small intestine is responsible for absorbing iron from food, so when the villi are damaged, it can lead to iron deficiency anemia.
-Vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D is important for bone health and it helps the body absorb calcium. People with celiac disease may not absorb enough vitamin D from food or supplements because of the damage to the small intestine.
-Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 is important for producing red blood cells and the proper functioning of the nervous system. People with celiac disease may not absorb enough vitamin B12 from food because of the damage to the small intestine.
-Folate deficiency: Folate is important for cell growth and the formation of red blood cells. People with celiac disease may not absorb enough folate from food because of the damage to the small intestine.
-Calcium and vitamin K: Calcium and Vitamin K are essential for strong bones and teeth. People with celiac disease may not absorb enough of these nutrients because of the damage to the small intestine
-Lactose Intolerance: Individuals with celiac disease may also develop lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products. Some people with celiac disease may experience digestive symptoms when they consume dairy products, this is due to the fact that lactase, an enzyme that helps digest lactose, is produced by the villi in the small intestine. If the villi are damaged, the body will not produce enough lactase to digest lactose.
How to meet the nutritional needs of the person with diet and lifestyle modifications?
Managing celiac disease through diet and lifestyle modifications involves following a strict gluten-free diet. This is the only treatment for celiac disease currently, and it can be challenging because gluten is found in many foods, including bread, pasta, cereal, and baked goods.
Here are some general guidelines to follow in order to meet the nutritional needs of a person with celiac disease:
Learn to read food labels carefully: Many processed foods contain gluten, so it’s important to read the ingredient list and look for gluten-containing ingredients such as wheat, barley, and rye. Some products are labeled “gluten-free”, which can make it easier to identify safe foods.
Include a variety of gluten-free grains: Gluten-free grains include rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, and buckwheat. These grains can be used in place of wheat, barley, and rye in most recipes.
Include plenty of fruits and vegetables: These provide important vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they can be a great source of nutrition when following a gluten-free diet.
Include sources of protein: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and beans are good sources of protein, and they can be included in a gluten-free diet. Some people may want to consider alternative options like soy products or pea protein powder.
Consume enough calcium and Vitamin D: People with celiac disease are at risk of developing osteoporosis, which is a bone-thinning disease. Include calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, fortified soy milk, and leafy greens, as well as Vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
Use alternative flour: Gluten-free flour like almond flour, coconut flour, or chickpea flour, can be used to make baked goods.
Consume probiotics: They can help to restore the balance of good bacteria in the gut, which can be beneficial for people with celiac disease.
Also, it’s worth noting that people with celiac disease should avoid cross-contamination, this means avoiding sharing utensils, toasters, or cutting boards with gluten-containing foods.