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Updated: Nov 24, 2021

Absolutely no one wishes to be in a scenario where a favourite meal or grocery is blacklisted among foods not to eat. An autoimmune disorder known as Celiac disease puts one in a condition of having restricted meals or groceries to be consumed.

Celiac disease is triggered when gluten is consumed. It occurs in genetically predisposed people, where the body’s immune system (the body's defence against infection) overreacts to the ingestion of gluten, causing inflammation, which leads to damage in the small intestine.

Celiac (or Coeliac) disease, also known as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is a rare condition that is estimated to affect 1% of the world’s population.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins, called prolamins and glutelins. It is primarily found in wheat, barley and rye.

It serves as a glue that binds or keeps food together (preserving its shape) and is also that which makes dough elastic and gives bread its spongy or chewy texture.


What Causes Celiac Disease?

There is no definite cause of celiac disease but research suggests that it tends to run in families and might be linked to certain genes.

When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. It's not entirely clear what causes the immune system to act this way.

Over time, the immune reaction to eating gluten creates inflammation that damages the small intestine's lining, leading to medical complications. This reaction to gluten particularly affects the tiny, hair-like projections (villi) that line the small intestine. The villi control the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food consumed. When the villi get damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed (malabsorption) properly into the body.

Celiac disease can develop at any age after people start consuming foods or medicines that contain gluten.

Risk factors

Celiac disease runs in families, which makes it hereditary. People with a first-degree relative (such as parent, child, sibling) with celiac disease, have a 1 in 10 risk of developing celiac disease.

Celiac disease tends to be more common also in people who have:

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Down syndrome or Turner syndrome

  • Autoimmune thyroid disease

  • Microscopic colitis (inflammation of the colon or large intestine)

  • Addison's disease

  • Sjogren’s syndrome (immune disorder)

Likelihood of developing celiac disease can also be triggered by pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, viral infection, bacterial gastroenteritis, severe mental or emotional stress.


Signs and Symptoms of Celiac Disease

The classic symptom of celiac disease is diarrhoea. Other symptoms include:

  • Fat in stool

  • Bloating

  • Belching

  • Constipation

  • Flatulence

  • Indigestion

  • Heartburn

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bone or joint pain

  • Vomiting

  • Depression or anxiety

  • Heartburn or acid reflux

  • Headache or migraine

  • Fatigues

  • Mouth sores

  • Nausea

  • Missed or irregular menstrual periods

  • Itchy skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)

Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is an intensely itchy skin rash made up of bumps and blisters. It may develop on the elbows, knees, torso, scalp and buttocks. DH affects approximately 15 to 25 percent of people with celiac disease. Those who do experience DH usually don’t have digestive symptoms.

Other common symptoms found especially in infants and children are;

  • Developmental problems (delayed puberty or slow growth/short height)

  • Chronic diarrhoea, which can be bloody

  • Weight loss

  • Irritability

  • Behavioural issues

It’s important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person. For some people, there could be no symptom, which is referred to as silent or asymptomatic celiac disease. People with celiac disease who have no symptoms can still develop complications from the disease over time if they do not get treatment.


If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to additional serious health problems, such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

  • Infertility and miscarriage

  • Lactose intolerance

  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth

  • Malnutrition

  • Defects in dental enamel

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Nervous system problems like seizures or pain and numbness in your hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy)

  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia (bone loss)

  • Osteomalacia (softening of the bone)

  • Hyposplenism (excessive loss of lymphocytes)

  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)

  • Anaemia, usually from iron deficiency

  • Pancreatic disease or dysfunction of the pancreas

  • Cancer; which includes intestinal lymphoma and small bowel cancer


Diagnosing Celiac Disease

Many people with celiac disease don't know they have it. Two blood tests can help find out if one has celiac disease:

  • Serology testing that looks for certain antibodies, and

  • Genetic testing to look for human leukocyte antigens to rule out celiac disease

It's important not to try a gluten-free diet before being tested for celiac disease. Eliminating gluten from your diet might make the results of blood tests appear normal.

If the results of these tests show celiac disease, the doctor will likely request an endoscopy done. This is a procedure in which the doctor can look at one’s small intestine and take a bit of tissue to see whether it’s damaged.


Treatment of Celiac Disease

After a proper diagnosis has been made, the mainstay of treatment is a lifelong strict gluten-free diet that can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing, as there's no cure for celiac disease. However, it may take years for utter healing of the digestive system. Children tend to heal faster than adults.

Besides wheat, barley and rye, other foods that contain gluten include:

  • Bulgur

  • Durum

  • Farina

  • Graham flour

  • Malt

  • Semolina

  • Spelt (a form of wheat)

  • Triticale

Avoid packaged foods unless they're labelled as gluten-free or have no gluten-containing ingredients, including emulsifiers and stabilizers that can contain gluten. In addition to cereals and pastas other packaged foods that can contain gluten include:

  • Beers, lagers, ales and malt vinegars

  • Bread

  • Cakes and pies

  • Cookies

  • Biscuits and crackers

  • Croutons

  • Candies and ice-creams

  • Gravies

  • Pasta

  • Imitation meats or seafood

  • Processed luncheon meats, sausages and hot dogs

  • Rice mixes

  • Salad dressings and sauces, including soy sauce

  • Seasoned snack foods, such as tortilla and potato chips

  • Seitan

  • Self-basting poultry

  • Soups

Pure oats aren't entirely harmful for most people with celiac disease because oats do not contain gluten, but oats can be contaminated by wheat during growing and processing. Ask your doctor if you can try eating small amounts of pure oat products.

Cross-contamination can occur if gluten-free foods and foods that contain gluten are prepared together or served with the same utensils. One can experience nonresponsive celiac disease, which is often due to contamination of the diet with gluten.

Gluten can be hidden in foods, medications and nonfood products, including:

  • Modified food starch, preservatives and, food stabilizers

  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements

  • Herbal and nutritional supplements

  • Cosmetic products such as lipstick, lip gloss and chapstick

  • Toothpaste and mouthwash

  • Playdough

  • Communion wafers

  • Envelope and stamp glue

Always remember that it is necessary to look out for products labelling, ensure it is gluten-free labelled.

People with celiac disease often have a lactose intolerance, so avoiding lactose may help.

Allowed foods

Many basic foods are allowed in a gluten-free diet, which include:

  • Eggs

  • Fresh meats, fish and poultry that aren't breaded, batter-coated or marinated

  • Fruits

  • Lentils

  • Beans

  • Most dairy products, unless they make one’s symptoms worse

  • Nuts

  • Potatoes

  • Vegetables

  • Wine, distilled liquors, ciders and spirits

Grains and starches allowed in a gluten-free diet include:

  • Amaranth

  • Buckwheat

  • Corn

  • Millet

  • Sorghum

  • Arrowroot

  • Flour made from rice, soy, corn, potatoes, or beans

  • Teff

  • Cornmeal

  • Pure corn tortillas

  • Quinoa

  • Rice and rice noodles

  • Tapioca

  • Wild rice

A nutritionist or dietitian who manages people with celiac disease can help with planning a healthy gluten-free diet. A slight trace of gluten in your diet can be damaging, even in the absence of any sign or symptoms.

If one has a serious lack of nutrients, the doctor may have the patient take gluten-free vitamins and mineral supplements, and medication will be administered if a skin rash is found, especially in the case of having dermatitis herpetiformis.

After you’ve been on a gluten-free diet for a few weeks, your small intestine should begin to heal, and you’ll start to feel better.

If one’s celiac disease isn’t better after at least a year without gluten, it’s called refractory or nonresponsive celiac disease.

Refractory celiac disease is when the intestinal injury caused by the disease doesn’t respond to a strict gluten-free diet, thereby causing the small intestine not to heal. This happens in rare cases.



Since, there are no established cause why the body’s immune system overreacts when gluten is ingested and research is still ongoing to find a vaccine for the prevention of this autoimmune disorder, should we all go for a gluten-free diet?

Those who do not have celiac disease or a diagnosed gluten intolerance should speak to their doctor if they are thinking of going gluten free.

A gluten-free diet can lead to other deficiencies, if not followed with care.

In a nutshell:

For those with celiac disease, it is important to ensure that your gluten-free diet is healthy and balanced.

An increase in the range of available gluten-free foods in recent years has made it possible to eat both a healthy and varied gluten-free diet.

....making effort to "STAY WELL"


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