By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder

How To Live a Healthy Life With Celiac Disease

Actress Zooey Deschanel finally got to the bottom of her health issues when she was diagnosed with celiac disease. According to one report, she said she felt “unwell most of her life” and was first misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stress.

(Some symptoms of celiac disease, such as diarrhea, bloating and gas, may be the same symptoms that someone with IBS and/or chronic stress would experience. So, it’s not uncommon for a person to be misdiagnosed).

TV journalist Heidi Collins can relate.

According to the report referenced earlier, “Doctors said it was stress... but the news anchor for CNN, was finally diagnosed with Celiac disease over six years ago. Collins says she has had digestive issues for over 20 years. She can recall several events that she had to either cancel entirely or leave due to feeling so ill. For years she was told her symptoms were related to stress, but since adopting a gluten-free diet she feels better than ever.”

So what exactly is celiac disease?

The first word that likely comes to your mind when someone mentions celiac disease is “gluten.” 

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley (most oats are gluten-free). It can also be found in processed meat products, pasta and some medications. Wheat gluten is probably the most widely studied. It has a mixture of what is called gliadin and glutenin proteins. 

Gliadin is composed of 300 amino acids responsible for its immunogenic properties or what gives it a high potential for allergies and sensitivity. Glutenin makes gluten strong and elastic and also has some immunogenic properties. 

Many people jump on the gluten-free diet bandwagon in order to lose weight. Eliminating gluten from your diet may eliminate a lot of breads, crackers, baked goods and other sugar, carbohydrate-rich foods.

But for people with celiac disease, the need to remove gluten from the diet is much more serious.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. It is triggered by the ingestion of gluten in those who are genetically predisposed. They are not able to digest some components of gluten. Symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and systemic symptoms like weight loss and iron-deficiency anemia. Some have even reported neurological symptoms. 

Vitamin deficiency, electrolyte disorders and malabsorption can also occur. Diagnosis is done with blood tests for antibodies to the gluten proteins and a small bowel biopsy to guide treatment. Intestinal damage can be seen in the biopsy. Instead of a blood test, your doctor may conduct a gastrointestinal endoscopy in order to see if you have celiac disease. The celiac disease gene runs in first-degree relatives. Celiac disease is present in about one percent of the American population. Treatment is first and foremost eliminating gluten, specifically wheat gluten.

So don't always attribute your discomfort to stress.

As seen from the stories mentioned earlier, a person can have celiac disease and go years without knowing it. This is why it is imperative to address any stomach discomfort that you may have. Do not just attribute your discomfort to stress. Sometimes it pays off to question the diagnosis you recieve. 

And now, a recent study conducted in Sweden proves even further how important it is to properly diagnose and manage celiac disease.

The study examined almost 50,000 patients with celiac disease and their risk of death.

Compared with controls, overall mortality was increased by 21 percent in those with celiac disease. The relative increase in mortality risk was present in all age groups and greatest in those diagnosed in the age range of 18 to 39 years old,” according to one report discussing the study. 

The researchers found evidence which suggested that people with celiac disease were at an increased risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease

"Celiac disease is characterized by inflammation, which is generally bad for your health," said one of the authors involved in the study.

“I am therefore not surprised that we found an increased mortality for a number of causes of death in individuals with celiac disease."

I don’t think this means that people with celiac disease need to be fearful or panic. I do, however, believe it is important to manage this condition as best as possible in order to combat the inflammation it may cause.

In addition to eliminating gluten from the diet, it is important to eat plenty of nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits and vegetables. There is no cure for celiac disease, but with the proper diet it can be managed well. 

Some gluten-free foods lack fiber and are rich in fat and can cause vitamin deficiencies, especially in vitamins C, B12 and D and folic acid. Many gluten-free diets are low in minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron.

This is why it is important to speak with a competent healthcare professional about constructing a diet plan that is best for you. It is also important to undergo routine nutrient testing in order to  determine if you have any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies. If the test reveals that you do, you can know how to intelligently address this.

For a list of healthy, gluten-free foods (including gluten-free grains), click here. There are also gluten-free breads, pastas, pizza doughs and baked goods in pretty much every grocery store. As always, sweets and processed foods should be consumed in moderation.

Finally, remember that many people test negative for antibodies against wheat, yet feel significantly better when they don’t consume it. Other people can’t figure out why they can eat pasta in Rome but not in New York City. The answer may be Roundup and you can read about that here.

 

Enjoy your healthy life!

 

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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