Here are the top 5 things you need to know about celiac disease


Conversations about the gluten-free trend seem to be inescapable these days. Op-Eds are published everyday about the pros and cons of gluten. Supermarkets are expanding their gluten-free products and speciality stores and restaurants are popping up everywhere. Americans spend $4.2. billion on gluten-free foods, but many still don't know what gluten is or what the link is to celiac disease.

Here are the top five things you need to know.

What is gluten?

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, gluten is general name for proteins found in wheat, grains, barley and rye that are responsible for the elastic texture of dough. Gluten is found in breads, pasta, cereals, baked goods, sauces, soups, salad dressings, malt and even beer.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where proteins in gluten cause damage to the lining of the small intestine, which can prevent nutrients from being absorbed in the body.

A mixture of the proteins cause an immune reaction that can cause bloating, gas, abdominal pain, anemia and bone loss, but symptoms vary in patients. If gone untreated, celiac disease can cause multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, intestinal cancers and infertility.

Who is at risk?

While an allergy or intolerance to gluten can develop at any point of a person's life, celiac disease is more common in women and Caucasians. Celiac disease is hereditary, so those with a first-degree relative such as a parent with the disease have a 1 in 10 chance of developing it themselves.

New development

Gluten has been named the main culprit when it comes to celiac, that is until now.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Proteome Research, gluten may not be the only trigger of celiac disease. Gluten makes up 75 percent of proteins in wheat, but what about the other 25 percent?

Led by Armin Alaedini, assistant professor at Columbia University, researchers found that patients with celiac also had reaction to non-gluten wheat proteins.

"In addition to the well-recognized immune reaction to gluten, celiac disease is associated with a robust humoral response directed at a specific subset of the non-gluten proteins of wheat," the authors said.

This new development can help health professional better understand and treat the disease.

Why go gluten-free?

So why does it seem like everyone is going gluten-free?

Like most health trends, people jump on the bandwagon thinking they will loose weight when they cut out carbs that are linked to proteins in gluten. But while it is trendy to adapt a gluten-free lifestyle, only about one percent of Americans have celiac disease and actually need to go gluten-free. However, the Celiac Disease Foundation estimates that 2.5 million Americans are unaware that they have the disease.

For those with the disease, even a small crumb of wheat could cause damage to the intestines. Since those with celiac are missing out on nutrients found in wheat, they are encouraged to eat a diet based on fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and other naturally gluten-free grains such as quinoa, beans, millet, flax and soy.

More and more gluten-free items are being sold, which makes life easier for those with celiac disease. However, those with celiac should focus on foods that are fresh and not packaged and processed. This can sometimes be hard as many gluten-free foods are overly-processed to make up for the lack of gluten. Those who give up gluten and do not have celiac disease sometimes gain weight because they substitute gluten with other unhealthy foods because gluten-free items can still be high in fat and calories. So if you're going gluten-free simply to lose weight, you may want to rethink your strategy. 

According to a report from Markets and Markets, the gluten-free product market is expected to grow in 2014 to 2019, with the U.S. being the fastest-growing market.

Photo Credit: Memphis CVB

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