Celiac disease happens when the immune system reacts abnormally to the gluten protein. It is, as such, an autoimmune condition, which means the immune system believes healthy cells are foreign invaders, attacking them by producing antibodies. Specifically with celiac disease, the body believes gliadin, produced by gluten, to be this threat. As a result, the intestine's surface gets inflamed. This then flattens the villi, which are responsible for helping in the digestion of food, making it more difficult to properly digest the nutrients from your food.
The Causes of Celiac Disease:
An intolerance to gluten is the main reason for celiac disease, although some people can also be intolerant to oats. This is mainly due to cross contamination, however. While the causes of celiac disease are not exactly known, the process involved in the condition is understood. What isn't understood is why some people develop it with mild symptoms while others have severe ones.
While the causes of celiac disease are still poorly understood, there are certain risk factors that are known. These are:
1. Family history, where those who have a sibling or parent with the condition are at increased risk of developing it themselves. In this case, the chance of developing it is 10%. If an identical twin has celiac disease, the chance of the other one developing it is 75%.
2. Genetic mutations, particularly in the HLA-DQ genes. These genes have to do with the development of the immune system and it is believed that these are passed down to children. However, it is very common for a person to have a mutated HLA-DQ gene, with around 30% of the population having it. These people do not all have celiac, however, which means other factors must also be present.
3. The environment, particularly an early childhood digestive system infection such as an infection with the rota virus. Some evidence also suggests that if children under three months old were given gluten, they have an increased chance of developing the condition. This is one of the reasons why parents are encouraged not to wean their babies until they are at least six months old. It is also suggested that breastfed babies, and particularly those who are still breastfed when gluten is introduced, have a lower chance of developing celiac disease.
4. Underlying health conditions can increase the chance of someone developing celiac disease. A number of conditions are commonly associated with the disease, including:
– Neurological disorders that affect the nervous system and the brain. Epilepsy is one example.
– Ulcerative colitis, which affects the digestive system by causing inflammation of the large bowel (the colon).
– Type 1 diabetes.
It isn't entirely clear whether there is a single, underlying issue that causes both the health conditions described above as well as celiac disease, or whether the above conditions are risk factors for the development of the disease in and of itself.
There is currently no cure for celiac disease, and people have to permanently adapt their diet. For some, this means receiving products such as bread on prescription from their physician.