Take a stroll down any grocery aisle, and you’ll see countless seemingly harmless products. But if you have a condition known as celiac disease, there could be danger lurking behind every label. Today we’re going to dive into exactly what celiac disease is, how to know if you have it, and most importantly – what you can do to manage it.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease, sometimes also referred to as gluten-sensitive enteropathy or celiac sprue, is a condition that triggers an overzealous immune response to gluten.
Gluten is a protein naturally found in certain grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is also often used in a variety of other products like processed foods, supplements, and lip balm just to name a few.
Celiac disease can have serious short-term and long-term consequences. If you have celiac disease and ingest something that contains gluten, it goes something like this:1
- When the gluten reaches your small intestine and your body begins breaking it down, your immune system flags the gluten as an imminent threat.
- Once alerted, your body mounts an immune response – directing all of its efforts at attacking and eliminating the gluten located in your small intestines.
- Amidst the battle and chaos, the lining of your small intestine becomes damaged as your immune cells mistakenly attack your own tissues in an attempt to eradicate the gluten.
- This attack leads to damage to the lining of your intestines and the millions of villi – or tiny finger-like projections that contain a network of blood vessels designed to absorb the nutrients from digested food.
- Once these villi are damaged, your body is unable to properly absorb nutrients from the food you consume.
This hyperactive immune response and subsequent hindrance of nutrient absorption can create a host of unpleasant and dangerous side effects. Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms associated with celiac disease
What Are the Symptoms of Celiac Disease?
The symptoms of celiac disease can vary greatly from person to person. Some of the more obvious symptoms include digestive issues such as:2,3
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Gas and bloating
- Abdominal discomfort and pain
But many times, celiac disease can also have symptoms that seem completely unrelated to your digestive system like:2,3
- Skin issues – like itchy blistery skin
- Joint pain
- Nervous system disturbances – like numbness or tingling in hands and feet, impaired cognition, problems with balance
- Mouth ulcers or dry mouth
- Loss of bone density
- Reduced function of your spleen
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Hormonal irregularities – missed menstrual cycles or infertility
While both children and adults can have celiac disease, there are a few additional symptoms that can indicate celiac disease in children. Irritability or failure to grow as well as a “potbelly” and foul-smelling, bulky stools can all be indicative of celiac disease in children.3
Considering that celiac disease can affect both adults and children, you might be wondering whether this disorder is something you’re born with or something you develop. Let’s investigate.
So, Are You Born With Celiac Disease or Do You Develop It?
The answer to this question is – it’s complicated.
You see, you may be genetically predisposed to celiac disease – meaning your genes are specifically coded in a way that makes your body more likely to have an over-reactive immune reaction to gluten. But just because you have this gene doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have celiac disease.4
Think of it like this: Your genes load the gun, but life events or lifestyle choices are what can ultimately pull the trigger.
So yes, you can be born with the genes that predispose you to celiac disease – but your genes don’t necessarily have the final say. Certain lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on whether or not you actually develop celiac disease.
Is There a Genetic Test for Celiac Disease?
Predisposition to celiac disease is not caused by a singular gene. Rather it’s caused by variations in multiple genes. With that being said, there are some specific genetic variations that are more strongly linked to contributing to celiac disease than others.
A genetic complex known as the Human Leukocyte Antigen system is the major genetic predisposing factor. Specifically, a genetic test that’s positive for genetic markers HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 indicates a genetic susceptibility to developing celiac disease.5
Genetic predisposition simply indicates an increased risk for developing celiac disease and doesn’t necessarily identify the development of the disease. Reaching an accurate diagnosis of celiac disease typically requires combining genetic testing with other diagnostic tests such as antibody testing and biopsying tissue from your small intestine.6
If you’re concerned that you or someone you love may have celiac disease, I strongly encourage you to seek out the guidance of an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Doctor.
Can You Get Rid of Celiac Disease?
The answer again is – it’s complicated. While you can’t change your genes or change the fact that your body responds negatively to gluten, you can control to what extent those genes are activated. Remember when I said your genetics “load the gun” and your lifestyle “pulls the trigger”?
Your lifestyle choices are your most powerful tool in managing celiac. While you can’t exactly “get rid of” celiac disease, you can certainly resolve any symptoms you may be experiencing and heal some if not all of the damage done. Here’s what you can do:
Eliminate All Gluten:
The number one most important aspect of managing celiac disease is to completely eliminate exposure to gluten. That requires avoiding more obvious gluten-containing food like:
- Graham flour
But avoiding exposure to gluten also requires you to become a detective – carefully scouring the ingredients of anything and everything you eat or use to determine whether or not it contains gluten.
Because gluten can be hidden in countless products, it’s important to be diligent in understanding the exact ingredients of anything you eat. While it might be inconvenient, it’s hands-down the most important factor in managing this condition. And fortunately, there are more and more resources (like gluten-free menu choices and apps to help you navigate grocery aisles) that can make your transition to gluten-free living a little easier.
Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet:
The inflammation that results from your immune system’s response against gluten is what causes widespread damage throughout your body. So it’s important to give your body the resources it needs to reverse any damage and begin healing. Eating a healthy, well-rounded diet that’s chock-full of anti-inflammatory foods will give your body the building blocks it needs.
Try building most of your meals around a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats.
Support a Healthy Gut:
Your gut takes the brunt of the damage when it comes to celiac disease. So it’s vital to take steps to begin repairing any damage done and supporting an overall healthy gut. So on top of eating a healthy, well-rounded diet, I recommend:
- Taking a collagen supplement to help bolster and strengthen the integrity of your gut lining. You can learn why collagen is so important here.
- Taking a daily probiotic to ensure your gut is populated with plenty of beneficial bacteria.
- Taking digestive enzymes to help your digestive tract break down and absorb nutrients.
These supplements will also help keep your bowels running smoothly and keep you going to the bathroom regularly – which is crucial when it comes to eliminating toxins and boosting your digestion.
Take Inflammation-Busting Supplements:
Giving your body a boost in ramping down inflammation can help speed up healing. Some of the most potent inflammation-busting supplements include:
- Glutathione and Vitamin C – two powerhouse antioxidants
- Gut Immune – a concentrated dose of immune-boosting immunoglobulins
- Cortisol Essentials – to promote balanced cortisol levels and a healthy response to stress
While supplements can be a useful tool in minimizing inflammation, they can’t reverse the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. So make sure you’ve got a healthy foundation by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of high-quality sleep, and taking care of your mental and emotional health first in order to truly reap the benefits of supplements.
Address Any Other Underlying Issues
If you eliminate gluten and follow the steps listed above, but are still having symptoms, you could have additional underlying issues. Some underlying conditions might include:
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Food allergies and sensitivities (in addition to gluten)
- Leaky Gut syndrome
It’s not uncommon for these conditions to go hand-in-hand with celiac disease. So it’s crucial to identify and address any other underlying factors that may be contributing to your symptoms.
Struggling With Celiac Disease?
While celiac disease can certainly be a serious and life-altering condition, the good news is, you’re not at the mercy of your genes. Just because you may be genetically predisposed to having a negative reaction to gluten, doesn’t mean you’re not in the driver’s seat when it comes to your health.
While entirely avoiding gluten is key to managing celiac disease, it’s also crucial to prioritize your overall health. The day-to-day choices you make about how you eat, move, sleep, and think are the true foundation of good health – and to restoring and repairing any damage done by this condition.
That’s why I’m dedicated to bringing you the most up-to-date, researched-backed information – so you can make informed choices about how to best prioritize the health and well-being of yourself and your loved ones.
If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to head over and check out my blog – it’s chock-full of helpful resources just like this. And if you’re ready to take your health to the next level, you can sign up for my newsletter to get all my best tips, tricks, and resources delivered straight to your inbox. All you have to do is enter your name and email address below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn that celiac disease is linked to specific genes? If you have celiac disease, what steps are you taking to manage your symptoms and stay healthy? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- What is Celiac Disease? | Celiac Disease Foundation
- Symptoms & Causes of Celiac Disease | NIDDK (nih.gov)
- Celiac Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Risk Factors (webmd.com)
- Can You Develop Celiac Disease? – Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic
- HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 in Celiac disease predisposition: practical implications of the HLA molecular typing (nih.gov)
- Celiac disease – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.
Your article is excellent, but doesn’t go quite far enough. Both my daughter and I have celiac disease; I was diagnosed at 53 and she at 22. (We are now 70 and 38). In our collective experience, we found that the initial removal of gluten gave a huge improvement in symptoms, but that over the course of several years our gut health and overall health declined. It was not until we removed all grains completely that we both felt much better. We are now on paleo diets, and doing quite well on it. I have to be very strict, because it’s harder to heal when you’re older. I still struggle, and developed severe food allergies due to incomplete healing (leaky gut). My daughter can get away with some legumes and potatoes, and is doing fine. We both get dermatitis herpetiformis if exposed to gluten, which you might want to mention, since having this rash is definitive for diagnosis and eliminates the need for a biopsy, according to the doctor who diagnosed me at the Columbia University Celiac Center. Back in the 1920’s, there were American doctors who studied childhood celiac disease and actually healed children completely. This required total abstinence from all grains and starches, and bananas were used liberally as a substitute. Unfortunately, in the 1930’s, a group of British physicians decided that this diet was “too difficult” for parents to adhere to, and then recommended the “gluten free” diet, which avoided wheat, barley, rye, and oats, but included all other grains and starches. After that, celiac was no longer “cured”, but became a chronic condition with frequent relapses. The best advice I would give is: strict paleo diet, no dairy, no legumes, no citrus, no nightshades, no starch of any kind, and only monosaccharide sugars (glucose, dextrose, a little honey.) This is tough, but it is what will put a person on a path to real healing.
Despite my criticism on this one topic, your articles are awesome and have been hugely helpful to me over time. I would never have known that I have Ehler’s-Danlos had I not read your article about lipidema, POTS, and Ehlers-Danlos. Another mystery solved. I am grateful.
Mr Almond, could you give more information on your paleo diet? What websites and, or books helped you the most? Good information. Thank you.
I was diagnosed in 2006 at age 50. I am certain I was celiac 10 years before my diagnosis. There does seem to be a family predisposition. One of my sons (a patient of your) has the genetic markers. Two of my maternal cousins have young adult daughters who have gluten related issues. One has a celiac diagnosis, the other has not but has terrible gluten reactions that last several days. I am curious if having a twins pregnancy may have activated celiac disease in me. Though it took several years before symptoms appeared.