Gluten and Celiac Disease
From NIH MedlinePlus Magazine
Gluten: It’s all over the news, but what is it? And where can it be found?
Gluten is a protein.
It is found naturally in some grains, such as wheat, barley and rye.
Nope not you, rice.
Common food products that have gluten include pastas, cereal and bread.
Sometimes gluten can also sneak its way into products like vitamins and supplements, lip balms, and some hair and skin products.
Most people do not have a problem with gluten. But some people cannot eat it because of an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. The gluten makes them feel sick.
Celiac disease sometimes is hereditary, meaning it runs in families. It is also very common: as many as 1 out of every 141 people in the United States has celiac disease.
But most people who have celiac disease don’t even know they have it.
In celiac disease, gluten can trigger the immune system to attack the small intestine.
Immune cells damage small, fingerlike growths in the small intestine called villi, and the brushy intestinal lining becomes flattened.
When the villi are damaged, the body cannot get the nutrients it needs.
The immune system’s reaction can lead to other health problems as well.
Symptoms of celiac disease in adults may include:
- depression or anxiety
- bone or joint pain
- a very itchy skin rash with blisters called dermatitis herpetiformis
and in children:
- stomach pain
- nausea & vomiting
- slowed growth
- delayed puberty
If untreated, celiac disease can lead to serious complications like anemia, infertility, and weak and brittle bones.
Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because it looks like many other diseases.
If your doctor thinks you might have celiac disease, you may need a blood test, looking for antibody markers like tTGA and EMA.
The diagnosis can also be confirmed with a biopsy. A tiny tissue sample is obtained under anesthesia using a thin tube called an endoscope.
The good news is that there is a treatment: following a gluten-free diet.
Patients need to learn what to eat and what to avoid, and to read nutrition labels carefully.
For most people, following this diet will fix the symptoms and heal damage to the small intestine!
But for some people, diet alone doesn’t work. Finding hidden sources of gluten you may still be eating or using can help.
Through the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the NIH supports research to learn more about celiac disease.
Find out more about celiac disease and other topics at NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine. medlineplus.gov/magazine/
You can also search online for “NIDDK Celiac Disease” or visit www.niddk.nih.gov.
Published September 19, 2017
View this video on the MedlinePlus playlist at the U.S. National Library of Medicine YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/A9pbzFAqaho
ANIMATION: Jeff Day
NARRATION: Charles Lipper