So, you might have heard of celiac disease, but you’re not entirely sure what it is or what that means for your child’s health and diet.
Celiac disease (also spelled coeliac or known as coeliac sprue and sometimes gluten intolerance) is an autoimmune condition strongly associated with malnutrition and most frequently triggered by eating foods containing the protein gluten. Therefore, it is important to understand what coeliac disease is, how it manifests, and its general causes and solutions.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Coeliac disease is a digestive disease that causes damage to the small intestine. It’s triggered when a person eats foods containing gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.
When a person with coeliac disease eats foods containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the villi, tiny finger-like projections in the small intestine that help move nutrients into the body.
It can be passed down from a parent, but it’s more common for children to develop the condition after being exposed to gluten.
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What Are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
The symptoms of coeliac disease can be different for everyone. Some people get diarrhoea and stomach pain, while others don’t experience any symptoms!
There are a lot of symptoms that can be associated with coeliac disease. Some of the most common include:
Celiac Disease Symptoms in Children
Symptoms for those under 2 include diarrhoea, weight loss, failure to gain weight, bloating, and vomiting. Children older than 2 may have constipation instead of diarrhoea and may experience anaemia due to malabsorption.
It’s important to note that these symptoms are not unique to coeliac disease; they are also present in other intestinal disorders such as lactose intolerance or Crohn’s disease. If your child has these symptoms but no family history of coeliac disease or other autoimmune disorders, then it’s unlikely they have coeliac disease—but you should still consult your doctor!
You must see a paediatrician if your child has coeliac disease. The doctor will perform a blood test to determine whether or not your child has coeliac disease. If the results come back positive, the doctor may recommend an endoscopy (a procedure where a tube is placed down your oesophagus) or an upper endoscopy (a procedure where a scope is passed through your mouth). These tests can help confirm if you do indeed have coeliac disease.
What Causes Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac disease is caused by an abnormal immune system reaction to the protein gluten (found in wheat, barley, and rye). It can be triggered by eating foods containing gluten or by being exposed to gluten in other ways.
The immune system mistakenly identifies a protein found in wheat and related grains as harmful, so it launches an attack on the small intestine. This causes damage that prevents the body from absorbing nutrients, leading to malnutrition and other health problems.
While no one knows what triggers this autoimmune response. According to Mayo Clinic, certain risk factors can increase your chances of having celiac disease:
- A family member with coeliac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Down syndrome or Turner syndrome
- Autoimmune thyroid disease
- Microscopic colitis (lymphocytic or collagenous colitis)
- Addison’s disease
Wheat bread | Image from Pexels
What Are the Complications of Coeliac Disease
When you have coeliac disease, your digestive system cannot process gluten properly. That’s because when you eat foods with gluten, your body cannot break down the proteins in wheat and other gluten-containing grains.
This can cause a range of problems. The most common complications include the following:
If your body can’t absorb nutrients from food because it’s been damaged by gluten, you may become malnourished and lose weight.
If you don’t get enough iron or vitamin B12, essential for healthy blood cells, you may develop anaemia, which causes fatigue and weakness.
If your body isn’t getting enough calcium and vitamin D – both crucial for strong bones – it can lead to osteoporosis (weak bones). This is especially true if you’re also losing weight due to malnutrition.
Diarrhoea or constipation
Eating foods containing gluten that damages your intestines can cause symptoms like diarrhoea or constipation.
What Is Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten intolerance is a condition that causes the body to have an adverse reaction to gluten. Gluten is a protein in many grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. When you have gluten intolerance, your body cannot properly digest gluten.
Eating foods containing gluten causes inflammation in your small intestine—the organ that absorbs nutrients from food. This inflammation can lead to symptoms like gas, bloating and diarrhoea.
The severity of these symptoms depends on how much gluten you consume.
What Is Gluten Allergy?
Gluten allergy is when the body mistakes gluten for a dangerous substance, like a virus or bacteria. It triggers an immune response and releases antibodies to attack the gluten when that happens.
The problem with these antibodies is that they can also attack your tissues, causing inflammation. This is why some people with a gluten allergy experience symptoms like abdominal cramping, bloating, gas and diarrhoea.
While anyone can develop an allergy to gluten, it’s more common in those with coeliac disease because their bodies cannot digest gluten properly.
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What Are Celiac Disease Treatments?
Coeliac disease is a condition that causes the body to react negatively to gluten. This can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms, but there are treatments available that can help you manage your condition.
Treatment options include:
- A strict gluten-free diet (which is essential for managing your condition)
- Supplements containing vitamins and minerals, such as iron and calcium
- Medications designed to relieve symptoms
What Food to Avoid When You Have Coeliac Disease?
If you have coeliac disease, you must avoid certain gluten-related foods. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some other grains. Some people are sensitive to gluten, and others have an allergy or intolerance. People with coeliac disease must be careful about what foods they eat because their immune systems react negatively to gluten.
Many different food products contain gluten which might not be obvious. Some of these include:
- pasta and noodles
- cookies and cakes
- cereals (the ones made from wheat)
- energy bars (the ones made from wheat)
What to Eat When You Have Coeliac Disease?
Avoiding eating anything that contains gluten can be difficult because gluten is found in many foods. However, there are many healthy alternatives to gluten-containing foods.
You can eat various healthy foods when you have coeliac disease if you choose the right recipes and snacks. Here are some suggestions:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; they are low in calories and fibre.
- Choose whole grains over processed ones, such as white bread or pasta made from white flour. Whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, millet and buckwheat noodles instead of regular white rice or pasta noodles made from wheat flour which contain gluten. Also, try using whole grain flour such as oats or cornmeal for baking recipes instead of white flour, which contains gluten.
- Eat lean meats like chicken breast or turkey breast instead of red meat like beef because they have less fat content per serving size than red meat; also, choose lean cuts of red meat like top round roast instead of ribeye steak.
- Eggs are a good source of protein, but they may not be safe to eat if you have a severe reaction to gluten. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products instead of whole milk because they contain less lactose, which can cause digestive problems for people who are sensitive to gluten.
Be careful about buying foods labelled “gluten-free” because these foods may contain ingredients containing traces of gluten (less than 20 parts per million). It is best to avoid these foods completely until your doctor has told you it’s okay for them in your diet. If you suspect your child has celiac disease, consult their paediatrician without delay.
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