Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. This medical condition occurs in genetically predisposed people. The disease develops in reaction with gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat. Upon the exposure to gliadin, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase modifies the protein, and triggers the reaction of the immune system, which results in inflammation. Celiac disease is often confused with wheat allergy, but these are different conditions. In celiac disease, reaction is restricted to protein in wheat, while the ordinary wheat allergy can result from many other plant tissues. Celiac disease may affect an individual at any time, if there is a genetic component. There is no cure for this disease, but it is manageable to a large extent, by changing the diet.
Causes of celiac disease
As already mentioned, people with celiac disease experience the immune reaction upon exposure to wheat products containing gluten. Scientists are not completely sure what causes celiac disease. Most of them agree there is a strong genetic background involved. It is estimated that the celiac disease first time appeared in the Neolithic period, when humans first started to cultivate grains. Before Neolith, humans ate fruits, nuts, possibly tubers and sometimes meat. The great majority of humans adapted to the new foods, but among those who were not able to adapt, appeared first food intolerances.
Human intestines are covered with small, hair-like projections called villi. Villi are like the protective carpet that works to absorb nutrients from the food. Celiac disease damages the villi, and the inner surface of the intestines suddenly appears like a plush carpet with large bold patches. This significantly lowers one’s capacity to absorb nutrients from food. Instead, nutrients are eliminated with stool.
Symptoms of celiac disease
In many cases, celiac disease has no symptoms at all. If this is the case, the patient may only feel constant fatigue or can develop anemia, due to malnutrition. In cases of mild celiac disease patients will have general complains such as abdominal pain, diarrhea or bloating. Very severe celiac disease manifests in pale, loose and greasy stool and weight loss or failure to gain weight. Sometimes, the symptoms are present but in less obvious ways, and they result from malnutrition. These symptoms include joint pain, muscle cramps skin rash, mouth sores, dental and bone disorders and tingling in the legs and feet. Children with celiac disease may have stunted growth and in many patients, osteoporosis may develop due to the lack of vitamins and minerals essential for the bone structure.