Is Maintaining a Gluten-Free Diet Difficult?
Despite having many troubles in their daily lives, one of the hardest parts about suffering from celiac disease is the strict diet they must adhere to in order to prevent symptoms from surfacing or to reduce their intensity. However, despite how simple it may sound, avoiding consuming gluten can actually be a real challenge, considering that the protein is present in most meals we consume on a daily basis, even in those that may be labeled as “healthy” or even “gluten-free.” Those who suffer from this disease have to learn the art of label reading if they wish to prevent symptoms due to a poorly labeled product.
At first, celiac disease was considered purely a digestive disorder, due to the symptoms mostly affecting said system. However, celiac disease is considered today as a systemic condition, as the antibodies created by the immune system when exposed to gluten may affect any and all structures of the body. For this reason, celiac disease is considered a chronic, systemic, and multi-organic autoimmune disease.
Despite creating in the patient a permanent intolerance to gluten, the immune reaction of celiac disease is not food intolerance, and much less of an allergy. It is more than a simple rejection of the protein, since failure to address the intolerance may lead to very serious health complications. The autoimmune attack on the body’s structures can cause serious discomfort or pain and lead to other fatal conditions such as cancer (both of the digestive tract with a 60% increased probability, as well as of other organs), cardiovascular disease, neurological or psychiatric disorders, other autoimmune diseases, or even osteoporosis.
As time passed, and additional information on celiac disease was discovered, it was established that the common symptoms of the condition such as malnutrition, malabsorption, and stunted growth are extremely exceptional, to the point where both adults and children of two years of age or above rarely manifest them. The most common symptoms in celiac patients of all ages revolve around mild digestive complications or even non-digestive symptoms. Additionally, some patients are asymptomatic in the digestive aspect, which may be partially due to gluten’s opioid effect on the organism that helps to mask the damage to the intestines. Nevertheless, this condition usually brings about digestive symptoms like diarrhea or constipation, alongside weight loss or obesity and the aforementioned growth issues. Furthermore, being a systemic disease, the symptomatic patterns of the celiac condition can vary greatly from person to person, which makes a multidisciplinary and unique approach to every patient the best way of treating it.
Diagnosing celiac disease is particularly tricky, especially in adults and children above 2 years of age. Regardless, the condition is more common in the former. Due to its wide variety of symptoms, and frequent manifestation alongside other autoimmune diseases, it is not uncommon that the period between the symptoms’ appearances and a formal diagnosis is very long, sometimes up to 10 years. Consequently, a patient may already be affected by the disease without even knowing it, and attributing the symptoms to lifestyle conditions, or stress, among others.