Celiac Disease: What it means to be gluten intolerant

Celiac Disease or also known as Sprue, gluten intolerance and sensitivity, actually has many different types of symptoms. Some include gas, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, hair loss, anemia, depression, joint pain, weight loss, and even skin rashes and osteoporosis. 


What the disease actually does is damage the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing food properly. The body reacts to gluten which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Celiac Disease tends to be genetic but can occur in those without a family history. This disease can be quite difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic many other conditions. The main way to treat this disease is to avoid gluten which should halt all symptoms and heal any damage to the small intestine. Those with any of the above symptoms should see their doctor, especially if they don't improve with a gluten-free diet. 

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  1. How soon will my symptoms improve if I don't eat gluten? 
  2. What foods can I eat? 
  3. Should I tell my family members to get examined for celiac disease? 
  4. Should I return if my symptoms don't improve? 
  5. Could this be anything more serious than celiac disease?


People who have been diagnosed with celiac disease should avoid gluten. But for people who do not have celiac disease, or claim to be gluten-sensitive, there is no strong evidence suggesting that a gluten-free diet will improve your symptoms or your overall health. In fact, a gluten-free diet may even be less healthy or just cost you more money.

Many people believe that gluten-free foods are healthier because they have more minerals and vitamins than foods with gluten. However, this is usually not true. Gluten-free foods often have less iron, folic acid, iron and other nutrients compared to foods with gluten. They also often have more sugar and more fat. There have even been studies that suggest gluten-free foods may cause weight gain and obesity. Additionally, many gluten-free products contain rice flour, which may contain higher levels of arsenic.


A previous study indicates that, with the exception of people with celiac disease, the issue is not gluten at all. This would mean that there is no such thing as gluten-sensitivity or intolerance. Researchers believe that the culprit for the associated gastrointestinal issues may be caused by FODMAPs, which are short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine.

The study showed that the presence of absence of gluten was not a reliable trigger for gastrointestinal distress. FODMAPs, specifically fructan (which is also found in wheat) may be the real trigger. FODMAPs are rapidly fermented by bacteria in the bowel as they are not absorbed. This causes fluid retention and the buildup of gas, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms. When the researchers removed FODMAPs from the participants’ diet, the symptoms improved.

It is important for people to know that “gluten-free” does not mean more natural, healthy or lower in calories. Many times whole grains, vitamins, and minerals that gluten is combined with are essential to health. If gluten is cut out from your diet, you must find ways to properly supplement those vitamins and minerals. Gluten is the component of dough that gives it its elasticity which helps it rise, gives it shape and texture. When gluten is removed from foods, additional fat and sugar is added in order to bind materials together and maintain gluten’s usual function.

In people with celiac disease, gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, the immune system responds by attacking the small intestine. The small intestine has villi in the lining which are needed to absorb nutrients. When the immune system attacks the small intestine after consuming gluten the villi get damaged which does not allow for nutrients to be absorbed properly in the body.

People with celiac disease must be on a gluten-free diet to prevent symptoms and disease-related complications. Symptoms of celiac disease include fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, depression or anxiety, tingling numbness in the hands and feet, seizures or migraines, missed menstrual periods, infertility or recurrent miscarriage, canker sores inside the mouth.

If left untreated, celiac disease can potentially cause serious health problems including type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, dermatitis herpetiformis, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, and intestinal cancers.