Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder (often referred to as celiac sprue) of the small intestine that can occur in individuals from middle infancy onward. This digestive illness occurs as a result of the ingestion of gliadin, a prolamin (gluten protein) found in wheat and similar proteins found in rye and barley.
As a result when an individual with celiac disease eats common foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, etc., their immune system cross reacts with the small bowl tissue causing inflammation to the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, anemia, diarrhea, bloating, and weight loss, as well as an inability to absorb nutrients, minerals, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Grains were first cultivated by humans in the Neolithic period (starting around 9500 BCE) in Western Asia. While the exact history of celiac disease is uncertain, it is likely it did not occur with any frequency before this time. The primary diet of humans prior to this time period consisted of fish, assorted whole grains, fruits, meat and vegetables. This change in diet may be responsible for the development of Celiac disease which can be inherited.
The incidence of celiac disease is found to be more common among people of Northern and Western European descent, as well as those with ancestry from parts of Africa and India.
The Effect of Gluten on the Body
Gluten prompts an abnormal response of the immune system in individuals with Celiac disease. As a result the immune system classifies gliadin as a threat, or foreign molecule. This reaction forms the basis of an assault on the on the lining of the small intestine resulting in inflammation and scaring of the intestinal lining, The fallout from this can be the inability of the intestine to properly absorb nutrients.
For the long term this consistent pattern of minimal absorption of nutrients can manifest itself in other problems or conditions. For many people there are no symptoms but damage to the intestine continues to occur. This can lead to severe medical problems at a later point in time.
Celiac Disease Statistics
According to the website celiaccentral.org, an estimated 1% of the American population has celiac disease. Celiac disease affects both men and women of all ages, and from all ethnic backgrounds. Approximately 83% of Americans who actually have celiac disease go undiagnosed, or are misdiagnosed with other conditions. The average person waits 6-10 years to be correctly diagnosed with celiac disease according to Daniel Leffler, MD, MS, The Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Treatment for Celiac Disease
Currently there are no pharmaceutical cures for celiac disease. For now the treatment is to maintain a strict gluten free diet. Fortunately this has now become much easier task for the individual with celiac disease, as increased awareness and diagnosis have prompted a multitude of gluten free foods to become available in supermarkets, restaurants, and even some fast food establishments. According to Packaged Facts, 2011, gluten-free sales are expected to exceed $5 billion by 2015.