Celiac sprue is a digestive illness that damages the small intestine, where the most crucial part of digestion takes place. Most of the nutrients in our diet are absorbed for use by our bodies in this portion of the intestine. When the system is sensitive or allergic to gluten, then exposed to gluten, the portion of the intestinal wall that absorbs nutrients becomes damaged. This can cause severe health problems over time.
Celiac Disease is considered an autoimmune disorder, which simply means that the body’s own immune system is turning on itself. People who suffer from it cannot tolerate gluten. Gluten is found in products that contain wheat, barley, rye, and some oat products. The good news/bad news is that with the prevalence of Celiac diagnoses there are many more gluten-free items available on the store shelves.
Because this diet restricts some essential nutrients, it is important to only embark on a gluten-free diet under a doctor's supervision. Supplements will be needed to fill in the nutritional gaps.
Gastrointestinal specialists are still doing a lot of research on celiac sprue, but they have found that it does seem to be a genetic problem. The problem is usually diagnosed in childhood, but the problem can remain inactive for a long time, becoming active only when there are extreme health problems or severe emotional stress. While many people in America have never even heard of it, it is the most common genetic disease in Europe. Nearly 1 in every 250 people in Italy have it, yet it almost never occurs in Africa, China or Japan. It is unknown how many Americans have celiac sprue because it is often under-diagnosed.
While it is a genetic disorder, those who are of European descent and people with immune system disorders are at higher risk for developing celiac sprue. Such diseases include type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, among others.
Untreated, celiac can have severe consequences. If you suspect Celiac disease, please contact GI Associates for a complete work-up.