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Celiac: An Allergy or Autoimmune Disease?

When one hears the word “allergy,” usually the same words come to mind: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and shellfish. But what about the ones that are not always talked about – or ones that might not even have the “allergy” title?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which an individual’s intestine cannot break down gluten and becomes damaged when gluten is eaten. The body is therefore unable to absorb essential nutrients that we all need to survive. This leads to many symptoms – over 200 to be exact – that can include stunted growth, headaches, insomnia, anemia (low iron), and more. While there is hope for a cure in the future, the only current solution for celiac is to follow a gluten-free diet. This means staying away from all wheat, barley, rye, and malt.

So is celiac considered an allergy to gluten? While it may technically be a disease, people with celiac must treat the diagnosis like an allergy just as much as someone with an allergy to nuts or dairy. For those with celiac, being exposed to gluten can cause many reactions, and some people can even become severely sick just by accidentally eating a small crumb of bread left on a plate or through cross-contamination in a restaurant’s kitchen. Celiac disease can also lead to many risks down the road if one does not adhere to a gluten-free diet post-diagnosis.

Unlike most allergies, people with celiac are born with genes that code for celiac but are not necessarily born with the actual disease. In fact, celiac disease can be triggered at any point in life. Many times it is brought about by stress, illness, pregnancy, puberty, and more.

Thus, suddenly going on a gluten-free diet is a significant lifestyle change that can be very challenging in the beginning. Learning to live with a new restriction towards a certain food – and a very common ingredient in many foods – can be tricky, especially when many people do not always understand celiac or the implications of ingesting gluten. It is therefore extremely important to be educated about allergies like this one that are less common, are often not considered “allergies,” and instead are labeled as diseases.

Learning about these dietary restrictions makes it easier to help and understand each other. Being allergic to gluten can be scary, but feeling alone is even scarier. Knowing that many other people struggle with the same disease goes a long way and knowing that even those with other allergies understand the challenges of living with one helps, too!

There is no right answer as to whether or not celiac is identified as an allergy. However, knowledge and awareness of the disease are what are most important. While there is no denying that food allergies like this one are major lifestyle changes, it does not mean that they control you or your life. Changes may be made to your eating habits, but it is extremely important to remember that food can still be enjoyable, while also being healthy and safe.


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