Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the proteins in wheat, rye and barley react negatively with the body. When individuals who are sensitive to gluten eat foods that contain it, the villi in the small intestine are damaged, rendering them unable to absorb vital nutrients from food. If celiac disease is untreated (meaning the patient continues to eat gluten-filled foods) the resulting damage to the small intestine can be chronic, posing complications from a variety of life threatening illnesses. Although it is commonly thought of as a food allergy, celiac disease is actually a hereditary condition that makes it one of the most common chronic diseases in the western world. As a result of the prevalence, there is an increased risk of other associated disorders, which can be related to the immune system or nutritional deficiencies. Additionally, people with Down syndrome and Turner syndrome are more likely to have celiac disease when compared to the general population.
Refractory sprue is the condition in which patients with celiac disease continue to experience inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract despite having removed gluten from their diet. In this case, the villi do not heal and the patient continues to have malabsorption issues, which can lead to malnourishment and even cancer.
One possible result of gluten intolerance is food allergies, specifically to dairy products. Casein is a protein that is commonly found in milk, cheese and yogurt. When the villi in the small intestine are damaged, they are unable to break down these milk proteins because the enzyme that does this job is located on the tips of the villi.
Since celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, it’s possible that people with gluten sensitivities may also experience other autoimmune disorders, such as:
- Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Thyroid disease
- Addison’s Disease
- Turner Syndrome
- Addison’s Disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) is a sub-type of celiac disease that manifests as a skin rash. It is characterized by watery blisters that are intensely itchy. The rash commonly occurs on the elbows, knees, buttocks and face and resembles herpes simplex, although it is often misdiagnosed as psoriasis or dermatitis. Patients with DS may have the typical intestinal damage, but not experience any of the symptoms commonly associated with celiac disease.
Anemia is one of the most common disorders associated with celiac disease. As many as half of gluten sensitive patients are anemic due to the fact that iron cannot be properly absorbed by the small intestine because of damage to the villi.
Osteoporosis is yet another common disorder associated with gluten sensitivity. As with anemia, the damage to the villi prevents the absorption of calcium and vitamin D through the small intestine. In this case, calcium and vitamin D supplements can aid in re-mineralizing bones.
Other Conditions that can Result from Celiac Disease
If left untreated, a variety of long-term conditions can result from the presence of gluten in a person who has celiac disease. They include:
- Vitamin K deficiency
- Other vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- Nervous system disorders
- Gall bladder malfunctions
- Neurological manifestations