Celiac disease is the best known condition associated with an intolerance to gluten. It is an autoimmune disease where gluten causes a destruction of the lining of the small intestine. This is serious for two reasons:
The small intestine is the part of the body that turns food into fuel and delivers that fuel to all the cells of the body. With no fuel, the cells don’t “eat” and therefore cannot perform their job. The result is malfunction and disease.
The small intestine houses 70-80% of the human immune system. The presence of gluten in the diet for those with celiac disease acts to weaken the immune system, which causes malfunction (potentially leading to other autoimmune diseases), a tendency towards cancer, and a host of other conditions.
The history of celiac disease is not new. It was discussed initially in the second century, but Dr. Samuel Gee, a pediatrician, is considered to have offered the first present-day description of the disease in 1887. It’s been more than 125 years and sadly, 85 – 97% of celiac sufferers remain undiagnosed.
Many people notice that they feel poorly after a heavy meal containing gluten (which typically means wheat in this country, since rye and barley are not as abundant in our diet). Thirty percent of the population carries the genes for celiac disease, despite the 1-2% incidence of the disease.