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Celiac disease can be very serious if left untreated, especially in infants. Infants affected by celiac disease usually exhibit symptoms around 6 months old, as they begin to eat solid foods with gluten. Infants and small children go through huge growth in the first few years of life, and failure to absorb necessary nutrients can result in a failure to thrive (the abnormal slowing of the growth and development of an infant resulting from conditions that interfere with normal metabolism, appetite, and activity). Other serious effects on children include weak teeth and bones, stunted or slow growth, and nerve damage.
Adults with celiac disease whose disease is unmanaged may end up suffering malnourishment or cancer. In women particularly, celiac disease may have a devastating affect on their ability to conceive and may cause repeated miscarriages.
Individuals with celiac disease can’t tolerate specific proteins, collectively called “gluten” that are found in the grains, wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). When these individuals consume gluten, it triggers an inflammatory response in their bodies that damages the lining of the small intestine and interferes with the digestion and absorption of the nutrients in food. This leads to numerous vitamin, minerals, and other nutrient deficiencies, as well as their corresponding short-term health problems, such as depression, anemia, abdominal pain, irritability, nausea, weight loss, diarrhea, and fatigue – to name a few. Over the long-term, complications such as osteoporosis, infertility, liver diseases, and intestinal cancers can occur.
Since there isn’t any cure for celiac disease, the only treatment is a lifetime of adhering to a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, even traces of gluten in the diet can cause problems. Gluten can also be added to foods, such as soup, cold cuts, seasoned frozen vegetables, and even products such as vitamins and lipstick. Consequently, reading ingredients labels when shopping and asking your food server when dining out are mandatory when trying to avoid gluten.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.