Even if you’ve never been diagnosed with celiac disease, you might still have it. Experts in the field estimate that three million Americans live with celiac disease. Very few of them know about their condition.
In fact, while 1 in 133 people have celiac disease only 1 in every 4700 sufferers ever finds out about their condition. 1
This is not good.
Celiac disease can devastate your health in many ways. It interferes with your body’s ability to extract basic nutrition from food. This can lead to a number of issues from chronic fatigue to vitamin deficiencies to neurological disorders. Many doctors don’t even consider celiac disease as a potential cause behind many of the vague conditions they see patients struggling with. That’s why this article is very important.
If you or someone you love is living with chronic stomach discomfort, ongoing fatigue, weakness, forgetfulness, or other conditions that your doctor just can’t seem to properly diagnose, it’s time to consider celiac disease as a possibility.
Let’s take a closer look at how celiac disease affects the body.
There’s a War in Your Stomach
Celiac disease is the result of gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For many people, gluten is toxic. If you are gluten intolerant, then gluten destroys the villi cells in your intestines. These cells are imperative for good digestion. When they are damaged, many people will experience chronic stomach upset and discomfort. Some people will experience what is known as silent celiac disease. They do not present obvious symptoms, but often develop nutrient deficiencies and other complications.
Some of those complications are very serious.
Neurological Disorders from the Foods You Eat
There is growing evidence that celiac disease affects more than your digestive system. Through nutritional deficiencies it can impact your entire body. Even more serious, though, is the toxic effect that gluten can have on your brain.
In one study, researchers found that many epileptic patients had strange calcifications in the brain. Upon further investigation, the researchers found that celiac disease was present in many of these strange cases. They also found that sometimes celiac disease was actually mistaken for epilepsy. Often these patients showed the classic symptoms of epilepsy, but did not respond to normal treatment. If their celiac disease was diagnosed and treated soon enough after the diagnosis of epilepsy, the epileptic symptoms were eliminated. 2
Celiac disease can create many different neurological complications, usually by damaging nerves. It can damage the optic nerve, it can damage the casing of the spinal cord, it can cause weakness and numbness in the extremities and it can cause dementia.
In fact, researchers have found that more than half of people with undetermined neurological conditions have celiac disease. 3
What You Can Do to Renew Your Health
If you or a loved one has a condition that causes you to feel tired or confused or if you are diagnosed with a neurological condition, it is of the highest importance that you be tested for celiac disease. Talk with your doctor and insist on an antigliadin antibody (AGA) test. This is the first step. If it comes back positive, your doctor will most likely want to do an intestinal biopsy to determine how much damage is there.
The next step is to cut gluten out of your diet completely. Even a small amount can cause a bad reaction in your body. Gluten is present in wheat, rye and barley. Derivatives of these foods sneak into your diet in all sorts of ways, so it is a good idea to work with a dietician or nutritionist to make sure your diet is truly free of gluten.
The good news is that by taking these steps, you will often experience a full recovery. Conditions that doctors think of as incurable—like multiple sclerosis and dementia—are often mimicked by celiac disease. If that is the case, the condition can usually be completely reversed with a gluten-free diet… if you catch it soon enough.
I highly recommend that anyone with a neurological condition take an AGA test just to be certain you know exactly what you are dealing with. It can make a world of difference in your outcome and long-term quality of life.
Mark Rosenberg, MD
1 Alessio Fasano, MD, et. al., Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:286-292.
2 Adams, Scott. “Celiac Disease and Epilepsy,” Celiac.com.
3 Tietge, et al, American Journal of Gastroenterology, 92:40, 1997.
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