Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that affects about 1% of people. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, a protein found in rye, barley, and wheat, their body responds by damaging the lining of the small intestine.
This prevents the lining from absorbing some nutrients and can cause different symptoms, including fatigue, anemia, diarrhea, weight loss, and more. So far, about 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with this genetic disease.
Board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, and the team at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, offer diagnostic services and ongoing care for patients with celiac disease.
While celiac disease is a hereditary condition, meaning it runs in families, recent research reveals there may be a strong link between certain vitamins and the development of the disease. Keep reading to learn more about how vitamins might play a role.
The genetics of celiac disease
People with celiac disease carry a gene for the condition (either HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8). You can have genetic testing to see if you have the gene, even if you don’t have any symptoms of the disease.
However, even if you have the gene, that doesn’t mean you’ll develop active celiac disease. Having the gene for celiac simply means you could develop the disease once you’ve eaten gluten.
Researchers believe in addition to having the gene and eating gluten, a person must experience some other risk factor to trigger the disease. The factors linked to celiac disease are still being studied, but can include:
- Having an unrelated illness
- Going through a stressful event or period
- Getting pregnant
- Giving birth
- Having major surgery
Celiac disease also tends to be more common in people who have another genetic or autoimmune condition, like type 1 diabetes.
The symptoms of celiac disease
It’s important to understand that celiac disease presents differently for everyone. This means that the symptoms you might have—and their severity—might be different from someone else with the same disease. Some of the most common celiac symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain/cramping
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
Having active celiac disease also prevents your body from absorbing nutrients and vitamins, which can cause ulcers and other skin issues. The good news is that by adopting a gluten-free diet, you can control and reverse most of the symptoms and the other side effects the disease causes.
How vitamins might play a role in celiac disease
It’s clear that for celiac disease to develop, environmental factors, whether internal (like an illness) or external (like a stressful event) play a role. Although it’s still being researched, studies have found a link between the levels of a certain vitamin and the development of celiac disease.
Scientists have found that many people, both adults and children, diagnosed with celiac disease also have low levels of vitamin D. While celiac disease prevents the absorption of vitamins and minerals, researchers wondered if low vitamin D, which plays a role in modulating inflammation and your immune system, could trigger celiac disease.
This causation has yet to be proven, and studies are still underway. However, the role of vitamin D and its role in immune modulation means it should be considered a possible key factor in the onset of celiac disease.
If you’re concerned about celiac disease, Dr. Rivas offers diagnostic services and ongoing care. Schedule an appointment online or over the phone at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, to get started.