Health & Wellness: Gluten-free a must for those with celiac disease

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The availability of gluten-free offerings has increased considerably at grocery stores and restaurants in recent years. While gluten-free diets may have become a trendy way for people to deal with everything from mild indigestion to gastrointestinal problems, those with celiac disease have no choice but to avoid gluten.

People with celiac disease must avoid gluten at all costs to protect their health.

According to the most recent data published by U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, the number of Americans who now adhere to gluten-free diets tripled between 2009 and 2014. Even though 2.7 million people surveyed reported being on a gluten-free diet, only 1.76 million people tested for celiac disease.

The Celiac Disease Foundation says that celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when gluten is ingested. Essentially, the body mounts an immune system response when gluten -- a protein found in wheat, rye and barley -- is consumed. These attacks affect the small intestine and can damage the villi, which are small, finger-like objects that line the small intestine. Over time, the villi can diminish, impacting how well nutrients can be absorbed. Malnutrition may occur over time. Estimates suggest that celiac disease affects one in 100 people worldwide.

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Left untreated, celiac disease can contribute to other health complications, such as osteoporosis, thyroid disease, autoimmune complications, and even certain cancers, offers the group Beyond Celiac. In addition, celiac disease may be linked to other conditions, including infertility and type 1 diabetes.

Classic symptoms of celiac disease include bloating, gas, fatigue, diarrhea, anemia, and osteoporosis. Some people may have no symptoms, and the Mayo Clinic says that more than half of adults with celiac disease have signs and symptoms that are not related to the digestive system. Such symptoms may include mouth ulcers, itchy skin, damage to dental enamel, and joint pain. Reactions may occur even after consuming small amounts of gluten.

The cause of celiac disease is unknown, but gastrointestinal infections, gut bacteria and environmental factors may contribute. Unfortunately, there is no cure for celiac disease, but adherence to a strict gluten-free diet is one way to keep symptoms at bay and promote intestinal healing.

Before changing their diets, individuals who suspect they have celiac disease are urged to take the CEF symptoms quiz at and also to visit their doctors for blood tests.  TF17A413