Celiac Disease resources

Dr. Steve Samuels
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Dr. Steve Samuels joined Eyewitness News at Noon on Tuesday to talk about the challenge of gluten-free diets and Celiac Disease.

The symptoms of Celiac Disease, or gluten enteropathy, can range from mild to severe. For patients with severe conditions, they may have to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

Celiac Disease is a allergic reaction to gluten, a component of wheat, barley, rye and oats, Dr. Samuels explained. "It is a protein that is contained in those products and basically your body has an allergic reaction. When the small bowel gets exposed to it, it becomes inflamed, swollen and you get a malabsorption phenomenon that occurs."

Symptoms of celiac disease can range from the classic features, such as diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition, to latent symptoms such as isolated nutrient deficiencies but no gastrointestinal symptoms.

Blood tests can determine if you have the condition. But Dr. Samuels says it's worth nothing that "a lot of people may have the positive antibodies but they don't have symptoms. Only about ten percent of people that are positive for the antibodies have severe symptomatology and so having the antibodies doesn't mean you have the disease itself. It means that you are a carrier for the disease and you could develop the disease."

If your test results indicate you may have that sensitivity, you'll want to avoid any products with gluten. Dr. Samuels says there is some trial and error involved in the process.

"It is important to go ahead and get the test results first. If you go on a gluten-free diet and then you get relief and then you go and get the test done, frequently they can be falsely negative in that patient. So if you want to get the test done, get it done first. Then go on the diet," he said.

Dr. Samuels says it's a real disease that is "very under-diagnosed."

"I think a lot of doctors don't understand about it. I think doctors who trained 20 or 30 years ago knew very little about it. The antibody tests were not available at that time," he said.

Gluten sensitivity is sometimes thought to be a factor in children with autism. If your child is experiencing ongoing behaviorial or digestive problems, it may be worth raising the issue with your pediatrician.

The proliferation of gluten-free diets has led to more products than ever on the market. You can even find gluten-free pizza and pasta. However, avoiding processed foods in general may help keep your approach simple.

Dr. Samuels says people of northern European ethnic backgrounds are more prone to the condition. "English, German, the Scandinavian countries, Ireland. If your genetic background is from those countries then you are at a much higher risk. It is very rare to see this in Hispanics and African-Americans."

Learn more about Celiac Disease here and here.

Blood tests for Celiac Disease:

IgA endomysial Ab and IgA tTG