If My Digestive System Is Unhealthy Do I Gain Weight Celiac Disease- Autoimmune Disorder of Gluten Intolerance

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Celiac Disease- Autoimmune Disorder of Gluten Intolerance

Against the Grain

What if you ate and ate – but keep losing weight. Imagine suffering from abdominal bloating, muscle cramps, diarrhea, night blindness, brittle bones, fatigue and dehydration. Then picture doctors telling you it was all in your head. This is what my friend Nancy went through for years before she finally learned she had celiac disease.

Celiac is an inherited autoimmune disorder marked by severe gluten intolerance that damages the small intestine. Once thought to be rare, a landmark study in the Archives of Internal Medicine has found that celiac is actually very common. In fact, one in 133 Americans suffers from this disorder – and many of them, like Nancy, are women.

Solving the mystery

Almost half of celiac patients suffer from gastrointestinal distress, including chronic or intermittent diarrhea, constipation, bloating and cramping. Strangely, however, the other half of those with celiac disease do not have gastrointestinal problems. Instead, they experience a wide range of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including fatigue, weight loss, asthma, migraines, depression and anemia. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these people to spend years going from doctor to doctor, trying to figure out what is behind their “mystery” condition.

The problem with this scenario is that unrecognized celiac symptoms can lead to compromised immunity and misdiagnoses. The most common misdiagnosis is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – up to 20 percent of those diagnosed with IBS actually have celiac disease.

Years of nutrient malabsorption can cause nutritional failures and numerous immune-related side effects at any age. Fortunately, healing begins by simply cutting out gluten-free foods—an easier prospect than ever, thanks to a variety of new gluten-free products appearing in stores.

Get Tested

Since most doctors rarely think of celiac disease when faced with symptoms, it’s up to you to bring it up. Tell your doctor that you want a blood test to check for antigliadin antibodies (IgG and IgA), tissue transglutaminase (tTG IgA), and total serum IgA.

Because celiac disease is hereditary, if you test positive it is important that other family members are also tested because undiagnosed celiac disease triggers an autoimmune reaction that causes the body to attack itself and destroy normal tissue, especially the villi in the small intestine. Normally, these tiny, hairy fingers absorb nutrients from food. But when the villi malfunction, the digestive system goes hard. Long term, damaged villi can lead to unhealthy weight loss and serious malnutrition.

Go gluten free

If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, the first – and most important – step is to rid your kitchen of any and all foods that contain gluten. This means obvious foods like bread, cookies, cake mixes, pasta, cereal and crackers, and not so obvious foods like soups, soy sauce, decorated foods and even beer.

The initial celiac diet should be based on healthy, simple foods, such as meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, fruit, vegetables and rice. It’s a good idea to get a few gluten-free cookbooks to expand your diet. You may even want to meet with a dietitian who specializes in the disorder for dietary guidance.

The challenge of gluten-free living is magnified by the ubiquity of gluten. It is the second most common ingredient in all the food you eat. New food labeling laws make gluten identification easier, but some products, including medicines, may still contain grain derivatives. Red-flag words include starch, stabilizer, flavor, hydrolyzed plant protein (unless it’s made from corn or soy), and emulsifier.

Becoming a label sleuth can help you avoid gluten. But even if the front of the package claims that a product is gluten-free, check the ingredient label to be sure. While it’s not a piece of cake to cut gluten out of your life, once you do, you’ll never want to go back.

One Last Thing…

Even if your tests come back negative for celiac disease, it is possible that you have an allergy to wheat or other foods. So the next logical step is to rule out food allergies with a simple blood test that can identify problematic foods.

If you​​​​are​​truly​​suffering​​from​​celiac​​​​​​​​​​​​​​, eliminating gluten from your diet can be the basis for healing. But, because damaged villi can lead to bacterial overgrowth, it’s critical that you take probiotics to recolonize your gut with good bacteria. Look for a probiotic supplement that contains different strains of live bacteria from different Lactobacillus, Acidophilus and especially Bifidobacteria species. Essential for intestinal health, these beneficial bugs are especially helpful for those with gluten issues.

This just in…

When it comes to the myriad of risk factors for heart disease, most doctors focus primarily on LDL (bad) cholesterol. Meanwhile, triglycerides are often just ignored.

Triglycerides are the body’s preferred form of energy storage and usually come from the food we eat. The calories that are not immediately used by the tissues are converted into triglycerides and transported to fat cells to be stored. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from adipose tissue so that they meet the body’s need for energy between meals. But high levels of plasma triglycerides damage the arteries and increase your risk of atherosclerosis. If left unchecked, they can sometimes result in acute pancreatitis, a life-threatening inflammatory condition.

Guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program state that triglyceride levels should remain below 150 milligrams per deciliter. Levels between 200 and 500 are considered high, and any number above 500 is a cause of immediate concern. In those cases, most doctors choose either statins or fibrates to try to lower the numbers.

But you don’t have to wait until your triglycerides skyrocket. If your triglyceride levels are trending upward, adopt some smart lifestyle changes to keep them in check. Exercise and weight loss will give you the most satisfactory decrease in triglycerides.

Diet, of course, is also crucial. Avoid refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and hydrogenated oil. Swap these unhealthy foods for fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts. It is also wise to consume omega-3 fatty acids by taking fish oil supplements and adding fish to your diet frequently.

Taking supplemental niacin may also help. If your triglyceride levels just won’t change, ask your doctor about a prescription form of niacin called Niaspan that also gives your HDL levels a boost.

It is also important to keep a member on stress levels. According to a study of 35 women by researchers at Ohio State University, stress slows down the body’s ability to remove triglycerides from the blood. And the longer these unhealthy fats circulate in your body, the more negative impact they have on your heart.

Here’s another bonus to taming your stress levels: A Duke University study of 94 men with heart disease found that those who learned relaxation techniques had fewer heart attacks, fewer heart surgeries, and lower medical costs than those who didn’t learn how to manage their stress. So do yourself and your heart a favor and try meditation or yoga to relieve tension. No time? Find a quiet corner where you will not be disturbed. Take a few deep breaths and let your body flop for a minute or two. Slowly come up into an upright position. Practicing this exercise every day has a cumulative effect on your stress levels and can prevent them from escalating.

References:

Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, et al. “Prevalence of Celiac Disease in At-Risk and Not-At-Risk Groups in the United States.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003;163: 286-292.

Lindfors K, Blomqvist T, Juuti-Uusitalo K, et al. “Live probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis bacteria inhibit the toxic effects induced by wheat gliadin in epithelial cell culture.” Clinical and experimental immunology. 2008;152:552-558.

Stoney CM, West SG, Hughes JW, et al. “Acute psychological stress reduces plasma triglyceride clearance.” Psychophysiology. 2002;39:80-85.

Warnholtz A, Wild P, Ostad MA, et al. “Effects of oral niacin on endothelial dysfunction in patients with coronary artery disease: Results from the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled INEF study.” Atherosclerosis. 12 Aug 2008. [Epub ahead of print]

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