We all know a healthy gut is critical to feeling well balanced, happy and healthy. When an autoimmune or gastrointestinal disorder exists, the symptoms can truly hamper our quality of life. Ignoring persistent problems can cause significant damage to the endothelial lining of the stomach and small bowel, encumbering the proper absorption of nutrients. Although previously thought of as a rare childhood disorder, Celiac Disease (CD) has increased significantly over the past 20 years from 1 in 1,000 people to 1 in 100. If there is a family history, the likelihood is increased to 1 in 10 people.
CD is an autoimmune disorder characterized by damage to the finger-like projections called villi that line the small intestine and usher nutrients into the bloodstream. Ingestion of gluten causes immune cells to attack these structures and interferes with the metabolism. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, varieties or derivatives of wheat, is also hidden in many processed foods, beauty and household products as a binding agent. It is now understood that the presence of one autoimmune disorder can lead to another, and CD will often predispose a person to other diseases like Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, infertility, intestinal cancers and more. The range of symptoms is varied and includes GI distress, chronic fatigue, malnutrition, developmental problems, musculoskeletal pain and central nervous system disruptions, to name a few.
1. Approximately 2.5 million people in the population are undiagnosed for Celiac Disease
It may be counterintuitive, but despite the enormous availability of gluten-free options on the market, a significant amount of the population has never been tested for CD, even though they are loyal consumers. Of the 1% of the population that has CD or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), sources say 10-15% remain undiagnosed. The most important reasons to be tested are to be vigilant in avoiding the risks, as well as monitoring for the development of associated autoimmune disorders. It is also critically important to ensure that the symptoms aren’t part of a bigger, more life-threatening health problem. Unfortunately, many people rely on self-diagnosis, removing gluten from the diet without proof, which is perpetuating the trend. However, the assurance of a diagnosis will prevent toxic exposures to gluten, even at the smallest amounts, as well as long-term complications from ignoring symptoms.
2. A gluten-free diet is not healthy for all people
The belief that avoiding gluten is a healthy alternative across the board has lured many into mass consumption of gluten-free products, which has not been shown to benefit the population at large. In fact, there are studies showing that a gluten-free diet can be detrimental to immune function, specifically as it relates to the function of Natural Killer T-Cells. Junk food is still junk food, even if it has a gluten-free label, which is why so many people who adopt the diet, despite having symptoms, experience weight gain. Avoiding processed foods in favor of a whole-foods diet is effective in curing most health problems, but eliminating gluten may not be.
3. Women are more prone to Celiac Disease than men
Some estimates report that women are two to three times more likely to have CD, comprising approximately 60-70% of those currently diagnosed. Although infertility rates may have declined slightly since the 1980s, the number of women experiencing problems carrying to term has increased over the same period. There may be multifaceted reasons for this, such as advanced maternal age, a vast array of fertility interventions or other environmental causes, but early screening and detection in young women could prevent the emotionally difficult path of having trouble conceiving. Since a simple change in diet could prevent this, it seems worthwhile to consider it long before the time comes to start a family.