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Celiac: When your bread turns poison

More and more people these days are becoming sensitive to different foods.

Written by Ishi Khosla | Published: December 18, 2010 12:27:47 am

More and more people these days are becoming sensitive to different foods – the common such foods include wheat,milk,nuts,soy,egg,seafood,yeast,mushrooms.

While most of these are intolerances are manifest with mild symptoms,some may have life-threatening consequences.

Centuries ago,Roman philosopher Luceritius said,“What is food to one is bitter poison to another.”

Celiac disease cannot be described any better. With millions of metric tons of it being grown and eaten every year,wheat is the world’s most consumed grain. But it is also the grain which puts millions of people at risk of illness.

Celiac disease is a condition which leaves a person intolerant to gluten for life. Gluten is a protein found in cereals like wheat,oats,barley,rye and some others. In India,the disease is not easy to manage – mostly due to limited awareness,limited food options restrictive and inadequate food labeling.

The disease occurs globally,has no socio-economic boundary and can occur at any age. Around 25 per cent cases are diagnosed in patients over 60 years of age.

Eating foods with gluten causes an immune reaction in the small intestines that can damage the lining of the intestines and lower absorption of essential nutrients leading to mal-absorption and nutritional deficiencies.

Typical symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhoea,gastrointestinal disturbances like abdominal distension,flatulence,pain,constipation; nausea and vomiting; growth problems; stunting and anaemia.

The symptoms vary from person to person. Only 50 per cent patients experience diarrhoea.

Other symptoms include weight loss,lethargy,tiredness,bone problems like osteoporosis and cramps; skin problems,infertility,mouth ulcers,numbness and behaviour problems like depression,anxiety,irritability and poor school performance.

Absence of typical symptoms makes the diagnosis difficult and often leads to ill health and life threatening maladies.

People with hidden celiac disease are more in danger as they are at a higher risk of developing a severe form of malnutrition,non-specific ill health and if undiagnosed,the disease can prove fatal.

Celiac disease can increase the risk to disorders like Type-1 diabetes mellitus,autoimmune diseases,liver diseases,thyroid disorders,pulmonary diseases such as asthma; ulcerative colitis,Crohn’s disease as well as cancer.

Diagnosis can often be overlooked and many patients have been considered for growth hormone therapy for short stature,or been through rounds of hospital admissions due to debility and ill health,and even put on anti-tubercular treatment for unexplained diarrhoea and weight loss,only to worsen their condition.

Diagnosis is done using serological markers (blood tests) and endoscopy. Correct diagnosis is imperative.

Celiac disease is certainly more common than previously appreciated – 1 in 100 people suffer from it in Europe and 1 in 133 people in the US. Data from India is still not available,but according to projections it is estimated that there may be at least 4 million cases in India.

Celiac disease is a permanent condition and requires lifelong strict restriction for foods containing gluten. Nutritional supplements are a must to correct deficiencies.

Gluten-free diet usually helps restore normal health.

Living with celiac disease in developed countries is easier as food labelling is better,conveniently packed food is available and restaurants & fast foods provide gluten-free choices.

The same however is not true for India,so far.

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