A Disease of the Digestive System
~ June 2005 No 194 ~
The digestive system is a complex organ that has the task of extracting all the nutrients we need for living and growing, from the foods that we eat. The digestive process is a combination of chemical, enzymatic and physical actions on our food as it passes from the stomach to the small intestine and then the large intestine. The whole purpose of the digestive system is to break down our food into small units that can be absorbed across the intestinal wall.
To make this process as efficient as possible, the intestinal wall is made up of millions of cells called villi. Villi are finger-like projections that together provide a very large surface area that comes into contact with our food as it passes down the digestive tract. Normally, the villi are able to do their job in a very hash environment. However, for some people such as those who have celiac disease, the food they eat damage the villi, which in turn interferes with the normal absorption of nutrients.
Celiac disease has a genetic component, but is often hard to diagnose because sufferers often do not have common symptoms, and the symptoms can be symptomatic of other diseases. It has been shown that the one particular food component - gluten - is responsible agent. Gluten is not one specific compound, but a term given to several proteins found in grains, particularly wheat, that cause an immunological reaction in the villi. Gluten is composed of two types of proteins called gliadins and glutenins. Although wheat is the first food component to be singled out, for some celiac patients the consumption of rye, barley and oats can also bring on attacks. All types of wheat (durum, semolina spelt, etc) appear to be equally bad for celiac patients. Foods made from corn and rice are tolerated by celiac sufferers.
Celiac disease is most often diagnosed in children. Because symptoms can be similar to other digestive or allergic problems, foods are usually systematically removed from the diet until the symptoms subside. In many cases, children appear to "grow out" of the disease. However, long term studies indicate that damage done in children can persist and cause problems into adulthood.
- Common Symptoms of Celiac Disease
- Intestinal discomfort - cramps, excess gas, bloating
- Persistent diarrhea
- Persistent constipation
- Oily stools
- Various forms of anemia
- Increased appetite but with loss in weight
- Weight gain
- Read more about celiac disease and gluten