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Diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome? It could be Celiac Disease

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Do you have gas, abdominal bloating, chronic diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, unexplained anemia (low red blood cell count), numbness in the legs, muscle cramps or an itchy skin rash that will not go away? Although these symptoms are very general and there may be thousands of diseases that can cause them, they can be indicative of a diagnosis of Celiac Disease.

Celiac is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. It is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by a protein called gluten, found in wheat, rye and barley. When people with Celiac Disease eat foods that contain gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the tiny, finger-like protrusions lining the small intestine called villi. These tiny hair- like substances are responsible for the absorption of nutrients into your bloodstream. If they are damaged, a person becomes malnourished regardless of the quantity of food eaten.

Celiac is a genetic disease and runs in families. It may be triggered after first time surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, a severe infection or severe emotional stress. The Canadian Celiac Association estimates that one in every 133 people in Canada suffers from this disease but most of them go undiagnosed because of the variety of symptoms. In fact many people do not have any of the prominent symptoms such as bloating, gas, cramps and diarrhea or muscle pain but just live their daily lives in a state of fatigue and malnourishment until it finally catches up with them.

Celiac is very rarely diagnosed by physicians for two reasons. In the first place the symptoms are so varied; your doctor tends to use an assortment of drugs for each symptom without finding the root cause. A Celiac patient will invariably be misdiagnosed with anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis or even chronic fatigue syndrome. Secondly, physicians rarely consider how a person’s diet can affect their health and thus diet is almost the last consideration.

Celiac disease can be diagnosed with a specific blood test that measures autoantibodies in the blood. If positive, a biopsy of the small intestine will indicate the presence of damaged villi or you can simply eat a gluten-free diet for a week and see if the symptoms go away.

The only treatment is a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. Improvement is usually felt within a few days and the intestine is totally healed in 3 to 6 months in children and in 2 years in adults.

A gluten-free diet means not eating any foods that contain wheat (including spelt, triticale, and kamut) rye and barley. This means that a celiac patient should not eat most grain (bread and anything made from wheat flour), pasta, cereal and most processed foods. Beer contains wheat and barley but spirits made from grain alcohols are gluten free because they are distilled. This means that most wines and liquors can be safely ingested but it is always wise to check the labels.

Despite these restrictions, people with Celiac Disease can eat a well balanced diet with a variety of foods. All fresh chicken, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables do not contain any gluten. Gluten-free breads and pastas are readily available and people with celiac disease can eat potatoes, rice, soy or bean flour instead of wheat flour. The dangers are in prepared foods such as soups, deli meats and frozen foods where gluten is used as a preservative and stabilizer. It is also used as a thickening agent and texture enhancer in many prepared foods and will be found in snacks such as chocolate bars and potato chips. A celiac patient must read every label because a simple little box of crackers could give them a severe attack. A celiac patient can never eat any type of fast food since all of these contain gluten. The fact is that if you adhere to a gluten-free diet whether you have celiac disease or not, it is actually a very healthy way to eat.

Because Celiac is a disease of malabsorption it can very often lead to a diagnosis of osteoporosis because your bones do not receive adequate nutrients. It can also be a cause of depression since deficiency of essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids can lead to a host of mental and physical ailments. In fact there are so many diseases that can be caused by malabsorption of nutrients such as kidney or heart disease almost anybody with serious symptoms should try the gluten-free diet for a week.

Although high blood pressure has the label of “silent killer” because it can cause a heart attack or stroke in symptom-free people, Celiac Disease is the true silent killer that depletes your body of most of its nutrients while going undiagnosed and untreated.

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