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
, arthritis or joint pain
, muscle cramps
, itchy skin rash
, neuropathy (tingling or burning feeling in feet or legs), depression or brain fog
, mouth sores
, muscle weakness
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.