About six million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease that can cut their lives short. It’s an illness that attacks the lining of the digestive tract. In addition to painful gas, bloating and digestive problems, this illness can also steal away memory and damage the heart.
While you may think you’re in the clear, that’s not necessarily true, especially as you get older. An estimated 80 percent of sufferers, about five million people, don’t even know they have this disease!
I’m talking about celiac. Here’s what you need to know…
Celiac is especially destructive for the digestive tract. By flattening little structures called villi, small projections that absorb nutrients from food in the small intestine, it cripples the body’s ability to take in vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.1
What’s more, this disease triggers the immune system just as other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis do. But for most other autoimmune conditions, researchers have not been able to pinpoint the basic origin of the diseases. For celiac, however, we know exactly what causes it: Consuming gluten.
The dangers of gluten
Gluten is a particular group of proteins that are present in wheat, barley, and rye. Any foods made with these grains almost always contain gluten. Added to that, many foods in supermarkets that are naturally gluten-free have been cross-contaminated with gluten because of the way they are shipped, handled, or processed.
Today, celiac has become a hugely underappreciated health danger. According to Peter Green, M.D., Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, the incidence of celiac disease has quintupled during the past five decades.
“We don’t know why it increased,” Dr. Green says. Although he adds that “there is evidence that it’s leveling off.”2
Symptoms of celiac disease
Suffering from celiac disease can make your life miserable by causing daily stomach aches, diarrhea or constipation, nerve pain, fatigue, brain fog, skin rashes, and a whole host of other maladies that can’t be effectively treated without taking gluten out of your diet.
Even though some people ridicule a gluten-free diet as a silly fad, for a person with celiac it can be a matter of life and death.
One of the most serious issues linked to celiac is the way it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Heart damage is possible
In a review study of celiac’s heart risks, researchers at Columbia University warn that if you leave celiac untreated it boosts your chances of cardiomyopathy, myocarditis, arrhythmias, and atherosclerosis.
But, they add, in most cases if you take gluten out of your diet, these heart problems can be reversed.3
According to a study in Asia, having celiac is also linked to problems with your aorta – the main artery that connects your heart to the circulatory system. That difficulty significantly increases your risk of heart attack.4
And that’s not all…
When brain function suffers
Research also confirms that celiac can affect your brain in ways that can muddle your memory and make it harder to deal with your daily life. Some of these problems may be linked to compromises in blood flow to the brain which can be caused by celiac – what’s known as cerebrovascular disease.5
But, a study in Australia demonstrates that, if you have celiac, going on a gluten-free diet can help you recover your mental acuity. In this research, when people with celiac in their 20s and 30s went on a gluten-free diet that allowed the digestive tract to recover, their “cognitive performance improved with adherence to the gluten-free diet in parallel to mucosal (lining of the intestines) healing.”6
Diagnosing celiac disease
There are a variety of blood tests that can tell if you might have celiac. If a blood test indicates that you may have this disease, the definitive test is an endoscopy that examines the walls of your small intestine for damage.
But if you are suffering from unexplained digestive problems or other health complaints like rashes that resist diagnosis, you can also try out a gluten-free diet to see if it helps you feel better.
You may be sensitive to gluten in a way that makes you feel ill, even if you don’t have celiac disease. Researchers estimate that 18 million Americans are gluten intolerant but don’t have celiac.7 You might be one of them. Gluten intolerance can increase with age. Either way, going gluten-free could make a huge difference in your health.
Right now, going on a gluten-free diet is the only way to control celiac disease.
That means going without things like bread, cakes, cookies, beer, and soups thickened with wheat flour.
Fortunately, there are more gluten-free alternatives available now than ever before.
The Green Valley Team