Celiac Disease


Celiac disease, which affects multiple organs and systems in the body, can also be known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy or celiac sprue. The immune system over responds to the protein in gluten causing damage to the small intestine. Gluten grains include wheat, rye, and barley.

In a healthy person the immune system will be able to tell the difference between harmful and non-harmful compounds and will only respond when anything foreign invades the body, but with Celiac disease the body sees otherwise innocuous foods as harmful. When they consume gluten containing products, even in micro quantities, their immune systems launch an attack on the lining of their intestines which damages the hair-like structures called villi. The villi increase the surface area for the absorption of nutrient so if they are destroyed the individual will not be able to absorb nutrients regardless of the quantity of food they ingest and so they become malnourished.

Symptoms of Celiac disease include:

  • Digestive symptoms such as severe diarrhea, flatulence, bloating, pain, and pale stools when exposed to gluten grains
  • Malnourishment, stunted growth, or weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Inflammation of the liver
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dental issues (weak teeth or lots of cavities)
  • Neuropathy or tingling in the extremities
  • Mood disorders
  • Brain fog

People with Celiac disease can also be more prone to osteoporosis, infertility, and intestinal cancers.

As discussed last week, some people may have several autoimmune conditions so someone with Celiac disease may also have a thyroid disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, or liver disease to name a few.

Celiac disease can come in a variety of forms with some individuals having no symptoms at all and others only having something like unexplained anemia. Others can have a negative diagnosis for celiac disease but have what is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These people experience the same symptoms as those with Celiac disease, but they do not experience the same intestinal injury. When they eliminate gluten however, they have a drastic improvement in their symptoms.

If Celiac disease is suspected a blood test can be done to measure gluten antibody levels. Genetic tests and a small intestine biopsy to check for villi damage can also be done. It is also important to check iron levels with blood tests to manage anemia if that is present.

Treatment of Celiac disease

Permanent and strict elimination of gluten, even hidden forms, is essential to manage Celiac disease. Even a little bit of gluten can cause a set-back because it will damage the villi immediately. The villi can recover, but it can take a year or two to re-establish them completely.

It is important to read labels to ensure no gluten consumption. The obvious gluten containing products are bread, pasta, pizza, biscuits, cakes, and rusks. The less obvious sources include ice cream, medicines, thickening agents, lipstick and make-up products, store-bought soups, and salad dressings. Cross contamination can also occur if gluten-free products are manufactured in the same place as gluten containing products. Sometimes the body can also have cross reactions with foods that have a similar inflammatory response in the gut, such as dairy products so my advice would be to eliminate both for the best results.

It is possible to eat a well-balanced diet without gluten. Food sources such as meat, fish, chicken, nuts & seeds, eggs, healthy fats, starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, butternut & pumpkin, rice, maize, quinoa, and lots of fresh vegetables and fruits offer an array of nutrients to meet all your nutritional needs.

Celiac disease can unfortunately not be prevented, but it can be well managed with the right diet.


Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 18 November 2021 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am