Celiac disease remains mysterious, even to physicians. In this condition the body is unable to tolerate proteins found in gluten, a constituent of wheat, barley and rye grains.
Although there is a genetic susceptibility, we do not know exactly why so many people react adversely when exposed to gluten. The cells lining the small intestine become damaged and cannot absorb nutrients properly. This can lead to a range of nutritional deficiencies and unusual symptoms. Here is one reader’s story:

“Several decades ago I had a persistent problem with cracks at the corners of my mouth. My dentist prescribed a very expensive topical ointment that temporarily relieved the condition.
“When the angular cheilitis was brought to my primary doctor’s attention, he said it was caused by a vitamin B deficiency and prescribed prenatal vitamins for me. This resolved the problem. I was still puzzled, however. When I asked my doctor how I could have a vitamin deficiency even though I ate a well-rounded diet and loved fruits and vegetables, he said that some of us do not absorb nutrients as well as others.
“It turns out that he was right but did not go nearly far enough in trying to uncover the root cause. (I also had slight anemia and some other bothersome chronic problems that were related to nutritional deficits.)
“Twenty years later, I was living in France and being treated for a kidney stone. My French doctors, just by chance, found that I had celiac sprue. Changing my diet by eliminating gluten almost immediately cleared up the myriad problems I had been wrestling with for so many years. My American doctors had been treating me for celiac symptoms for about three decades without ever looking for the cause.
“When I returned to the U.S. in 2000, I asked my American doctor to verify the French diagnosis. His response was puzzlement at the name ‘celiac sprue’ as if I had mentioned some rare exotic disease. He also said he did not know how to test for it!
“One of many lessons here: If you have persistent vitamin or mineral deficiencies, check for malabsorption to try to establish why.”

The symptoms of celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue, are many and varied. They include: digestive distress, bloating, abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea
, fatty floating stools that are tan or light gray in color, gas, anemia
, fatigue
, arthritis or joint pain
, muscle cramps
, itchy skin rash
, osteoporosis
, neuropathy (tingling or burning feeling in feet or legs), depression or brain fog
, irritability
, mouth sores
, muscle weakness
, infertility
 and easy bruising.
Doctors can now diagnose celiac disease with blood tests that were not available 30 years ago. You can learn more about the diagnosis and dietary treatment of celiac disease by listening to the one-hour interview we did with Peter Green, MD, one of the world’s experts on this condition and author of Celiac Disease: The Hidden Epidemic.

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  1. Jessica
    Sylvatus, Virginia

    I’ve recently developed a super hypersensitivity to metal, which is weird because all my life I could wear any metal jewelry except silver. Now even gold earrings swell up my ears and I start oozing pus right away. My gold earrings were hardly worn before so it’s not that the good metal has worn off. Could this be a new symptom of my celiac (I’ve been gluten free almost 10 years now), or could it be a new symptom of hoshimotos hypothyroiditis? From what I’ve read online it seems irreversible, but just wanted to know if it could be caused by something else I’m doing wrong to keep it from getting worse. Thank you for your comments and input :).

    • Amy
      Columbus, OH

      Hi Jessica,

      I have Celiac Disease and have noticed that I have also become quite sensitive to metals, especially if I am working hard and sweating. My ears are extremely sensitive and I can only wear a few specific items. I have learned a ton about metals and make all of my own earrings now since I know what metals are in them. I suppose it may not be related to the Celiac, but mine seemed to occur within the same timeframe of symptoms.

  2. MKH

    You might consider talking to your dermatologist about Dermatitis Herpeteformis (DH) which presents in a rash similar to your description. Expect six weeks or more to clear up the rash and then avoiding glutens to prevent reoccurrence.

  3. Lynn C.

    This article and all comments have been very helpful for me… I have been having eye infections, angular cheilytis and more issues and now think that I either have Celiac’s or a gluten allergy. Thank you for all of these posts….I look forward to getting healthy again!

  4. Mary

    My brother has Celiac’s and called to warn me last year. He said was I having lots of health issues? I replied, “yes, headaches that won’t go away plus diarrhea, eye infections, rosea and stomach problems. I spent lots of time and dollars in the doctors’ offices and on medications trying to find the cause and not one suggested it could be gluten!!!
    I understand the new CEO of Walmart’s family has problems with gluten and she intends to make more items available to consumers. Hopefully more stores will follow suit to make the products less expensive.

  5. Claire

    I have been diagnosed with eczema and was told to use Topicort by my dermatologist. However, I continue to break out with an itchy rash across my back, both upper and lower, upper arms, legs, butt and patches in various other places that itch. I began to eliminate wheat products from my diet yesterday. How long does it usually take to clear up rashes, if I am gluten intolerant? Also, do coffees have any glutens in?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Plain coffee has no gluten. What you put in it (powdered whitener) might, so read the label carefully. We don’t recommend going gluten free before being tested for celiac disease, as a gluten free diet before testing can mess up the results.

  6. EAC

    Dear Terry and Joe,
    I have been eating gluten free (and lactose free) for about 2 years. If I do not continue this diet I have diarrhea and I suppose lack of proper nutritional absorption plus neuropathy in my hands. However when I ask my doc. about testing, she says no. I have also read how using the proper test that really reveals the disease can be tricky.
    Not eating gluten and lactose does not seem to have a positive effect on my neuropathy.

  7. Penny H.

    My aunt was diagnosed with Celiac disease many years ago. In my research to try to find what she could and could not eat, I learned that Celiac is so common in Ireland that there are many Irish websites that sell gluten free products. I can’t imagine an American doctor who was so out of the loop that he wasn’t even aware of it.
    Yesterday I went to my doctor and talked about several symptoms that I’ve been having, then mentioned that my aunt had Celiac. He jumped right on it and had the blood test done that will reveal whether I have it or not.
    I really don’t want Celiac disease. But if eating gluten free will eliminate some of the problems I’ve been having I’ll just have to bite the bullet and do it.

  8. DFW

    Regarding celiac disease: I have been reading an interesting book about the connections between allergies,autoimmune diseases (including celiac disease), genetics and parasites, An Epidemic of Absemce. by Moises Velasquez-Manoff. It casts a whole new light on these ‘modern’ diseases.

  9. wedy

    Two things, here:
    I just read an article that reported that the gluten content of wheat has been manipulated (by breeding, not GMO) from a natural 5% to 50%, for ease of mass-production of breads. That may have a great deal to do with so many people’s sensitivity to it.
    And Alice, before you go on Prilosec or the like, you might want to try using a good, full-spectrum digestive enzyme with your meals. Cleared up all my problems for 20 years, now. Not expensive, no side effects, worth a try.

  10. Alice

    Dear Joe and Terry, I have listened to you regularly for several years and appreciate your advice and general approach to medicine. I have you heard you discuss PPI’s several times but was not on one so didn’t pay attention as I should have.
    Now my dr. has suggested Prilosec for acid indigestion — I hesitate to use it. Please remind me, what are the specific negatives to PPI use? He, of course insists there’s no problem when they’re only taken for 2 weeks. I’d like to hear the reasons against them. Thank you. And thanks for being willing to say the same thing over and over for all of us who don’t take notes the first time!
    Dear Alice,
    We have no problem with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec (omeprazole) for a few days or even a week or two. The trouble it that after a week or two it becomes harder to stop taking the medicine.
    The reason is that the body tries very hard to make acid. Suppressing it with a PPI means that the body goes into overdrive to try to make acid and when the drug is stopped there can be vicious hyperacidity rebound. You can find a thorough description of this phenomenon in our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. We also include other ways to deal with heartburn.

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