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Celiac Disease Autoimmune, Digestive Disorder

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        Celiac disease is an autoimmune, digestive disorder that damages the villi of the small intestine. The villi in the small intestine increase surface area of the intestinal wall and their function is to increase absorption of nutrients from food. This disease is prompted by people eating foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a family of protein that can be found in grains like wheat, rye and barley. It can also be found in common foods like pasta, cookies, cakes, pre-packaged food and bread. According to Tammy Stephenson, author of Human Nutrition: Science for Healthy Living, gluten contains the peptide called gliadin. This peptide activates an immune response inside the small intestine when gluten is ingested. The immune response will inflame and/or destroy the villi. Celiac disease can be serious, causing digestive problems that can last for long periods of time. When the intestinal villi are unable to absorb the necessary nutrients due to being damaged, a person that is eating a healthy balanced diet can still be unable to gain the nutrition needed. Celiac disease often gets confused with wheat intolerance or gluten sensitivity. The difference is that celiac does long lasting damage to the small intestine and the other two do not.

        Celiac disease is fairly common. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 1 out of 141 Americans has celiac’s. Celiac disease often goes undiagnosed because of the tendency to equate the symptoms to wheat intolerance, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergies. This disease is most common in Caucasian females.  Environmental factors, such as emotional stress or an extreme viral infection can often take a role in causing the condition. Some scientists believe that these environmental factors activate the disease rather than cause it, meaning that these people are more susceptible to Celiac disease because of their genes (Brown et al). It is also thought that formula fed babies or babies who are fed gluten filled foods too young can be at a higher risk of the condition than breastfed babies and babies who follow the AMA time guidelines on food introduction.

        Celiac disease does not present the same in adults and children. Children often acquire digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas. Whereas in adults, Celiac disease can cause anemia, bone/joint pain, depression/anxiety, headaches, rash and infertility along with many other symptoms (Ruiz, Ark). Although Celiac disease can cause long term damage to the digestive tract in, both, children and adults, it is more common in children. The long-term effect of not being able to properly absorb nutrients will lead to lifelong problems if not taken care of. It is very important to follow a gluten free diet when diagnosed with Celiac disease. Some scientists believe that because a gluten free diet is so difficult to follow, it may be beneficial to also supplement probiotics to improve the intestinal microbiota and the inflammatory conditions of the small intestine (Coqueiro, A et al.).  

        After the patient starts the gluten free diet, symptoms greatly improve. Let’s take a look a what a gluten free meal plan should look like. Following a gluten free diet requires paying attention to the ingredients and the nutritional content of all food consumed. It is important to note that wheat flours can have different names that are based off of how the wheat or flour is processed (Ruiz). A person suffering from this autoimmune disorder should consider replacing the typical breakfast with a mixture of fruit, a couple of eggs, hash browns and tapioca. Certain cereals can be baked gluten free but it is important to know that when consuming any dairy products, the label should be checked thoroughly. Some flavored dairy products may have added ingredients containing gluten. It is also thought that when the villi have become damaged, dairy intolerance can be the result. This is because the villi contain the enzyme lactase which is necessary to process lactose which is found in dairy products (Nelason). Most patients with Celiac disease should steer clear of dairy all together.

        A healthy lunch should include a form of protein. All meats and fish are safe to consume except battered or coated ones. When consuming processed meats, the person should check the label thoroughly. The patient should steer clear of all wheat-based bread, substituting it with gluten free bread. The meal should also include fruits and/or vegetables. It is safe to use most herbs and spices for flavoring. As well as all vegetable oils and butter. Any Asian inspired sauces, most marinades and salad dressings should be avoided. If wanting a salad for lunch the dressing should be replaced with oil and vinegar. As always checking the label is the most important job of a person with Celiac.

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