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What is Celiac Disease and What Does 'Gluten Free' Mean?

Updated on September 19, 2010

Gluten free food signs may seem to be popping up everywhere

You may have seen a gluten free section at your local grocery store or heard someone you know talking about it, and there's a good reason for that. Diagnoses of celiac disease are popping up everywhere it seems. In fact, I recently overheard a statistic that stated only about 1 in 4 people with celiac disease even know they have it -- that means you could have it and not know. But what is celiac disease? What are the symptoms? What does it mean for you? How can you find out if you have it? Let's find out.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease (spelled coeliac outside North America) is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. The disease effects anywhere from 1 in 1,750 to 1 in 105 people in the United States and the recent rise in diagnoses can be credited to the increase in screenings for the disease.

Because of some highly technical and medical processes in the body, those with celiac disease are unable to extract nutrients from any of the foods they eat which contain a certain gluten protein which is found in many of the popular foods found in the American culture. The inability to absorb these nutrients causes many uncomfortable and potentially life threatening symptoms.

What are the symptoms of celiac disease?

While it is possible to have celiac disease without showing any symptoms, many with celiac disease experience symptoms ranging from fatigue or anemia to weight loss, the inability to gain weight, abdominal pain, ulcers, lactose intolerance, diarrhea, and symptoms similar to that of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) as well as a whole slew of uncomfortable symptoms.

Celiac disease carries the risk of developing lymphoma and other types of intestinal problems including cancer of the small intestine. Click here for more on celiac disease's symptoms.

How is celiac disease treated?

At this time, no medication exists that can curb the damage that celiac disease inflicts on the body. The only effective treatment is a life-long adherence to a gluten-free diet. A strict adherence to the diet can lead to the resolution of symptoms and reduce the risk for long term ailments like cancer and other problematic illnesses.

A gluten-free diet means sticking to food which do not contain wheat-gluten and other potentially harmful proteins. Those with celiac disease must drastically limit the foods they eat and as such, input from dietitians is the most common prescription.

What foods are gluten-free?

It's quite easy to find a list of gluten free foods on the Internet. In fact, here are some of the dos and don'ts of eating gluten free to get you started. Put basically, gluten is found mainly in wheat, rye, and barley. Unfortunately for those living with celiac disease, some derivative of those three are found in many common foods. Imagine having to check bread off your list at the grocery store or never being able to eat at a restaurant without worrying about the contents of your meal. These are some of the hindrances people with celiac disease have to endure.

For more tips, education, and good reads about what it means to live gluten free, check out the website, or ask around your friends and family, chances are you know someone with celiac disease.


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    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      Very informative which really drove my knowledge to another form of illness being suffered by individuals.Thanks a lot for lecturing me on this interesting topic and letting me know what this sickness is all about,the symptoms and how to treat it.thanks again bravo.

    • Beth100 profile image

      Beth100 7 years ago from Canada

      Wonderful and informative hub! I find that it's difficult to find good gluten free products, so I make a lot of my own, especially baked goods. :) Thanks for a great hub!

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

      It's wonderful to know that gluten free is now becoming more and more preferred. According to there is a marked shift toward gluten free foods by those who do not have an intolerance to it. Clearly gluten free feels lighter in the digestive system and for that reason alone is becoming popular.

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 7 years ago

      A good intro to Celiac desease and gluten free diet ! Thumbs up !

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Very informative hub. Thanks.