Celiac disease is a condition where the immune system in certain people reacts negatively to a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. This reaction is not a normal response and can cause damage to the body if left untreated. The immune system sends out special cells and antibodies that trigger inflammation, leading to harm in the intestines.
If celiac disease is not properly managed, it can cause various problems. It can damage the lining of the intestines, which affects the absorption of important nutrients like calcium. This can result in low levels of calcium and weak bones. Celiac disease can also lead to anemia (low iron levels), osteoporosis (fragile bones), vitamin and mineral deficiencies, problems with blood clotting, and even certain types of intestinal cancers. Additionally, it can make people lactose intolerant, meaning they have difficulty digesting dairy products.
Celiac disease can affect people at different stages of life, from infancy to young adulthood. Unfortunately, it often takes a long time for the condition to be diagnosed because there is not enough awareness about it and not enough access to diagnostic tests.
The main treatment for celiac disease is to completely remove gluten from the diet. This means avoiding most grains, pasta, cereals, and processed foods that contain gluten. It’s also important to prevent cross-contamination, such as using separate cooking oil, utensils, and surfaces for gluten-free foods. There are alternative grains and foods available that are gluten-free and can be safely consumed by people with celiac disease.
Not long ago, gluten-free foods on the grocery shelves could be hard to find. Not so much, now. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has foods labeled as “gluten-free” and with similar terms such as “without gluten,” “free of gluten,” and “no gluten” to meet specific criteria set by the FDA in August 2013 and August 2020.