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Introduction to Celiac Disease

For those of you who don’t know, “Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food” (www.celiaccentral.org). Basically this means that when a person with Celiac Disease ingests a protein called gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the hair-like appendages in the small intestine that are responsible for absorbing nutrients. This can lead to all sorts of problems, including malnourishment, osteoporosis, birth defects, miscarriage, stunted growth, seizures, and cancer. The symptoms of Celiac disease are many and varied and can range from bloating, diarrhea, and weight loss to migraines, depression, and fatigue. Some people have no symptoms at all.

The only treatment for Celiac disease is to completely eliminate gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) from the diet. Because there is no cure for Celiac, eliminating gluten is a lifelong requirement.

Once thought to be rare, Celiac disease is now known to affect roughly 1 in 133 Americans; however, only about 1 in 5000 Americans are diagnosed. That means that 97% of Americans with Celiac disease remain undiagnosed. This is largely due to the fact that the symptoms of the disease mimic so many other more common problems that doctors don’t test for it. For example, many cases of Celiac disease (CD) are misdiagnosed as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). From the time that I began having symptoms to the date that I got diagnosed with the disease was about 7 years (and several doctors).

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