Gluten allergy (celiac disease) - symptoms, causes and therapy

Gluten intolerance

The Gluten allergy, the correct medical name is Celiac disease or in adults Sprue, is not really a classic food allergy. It belongs to the so-called autoimmune diseases, since antibodies against gluten (grain protein) as well as against the own tissue are formed. The typical structure of the small intestinal mucosa is destroyed by the antibodies. But what are the causes of gluten allergy? Is it a typical disease of civilization or has part of humanity always struggled with gluten intolerance?

What is gluten intolerance?

Doctors speak of celiac disease when the body cannot tolerate the cereal protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. The gluten now ensures that the typical structure of the small intestinal mucosa is destroyed. As a result, people with gluten intolerance suffer from an undersupply of nutrients.

Functions of the human small intestine

With a length of five to six meters, the small intestine is one of the longest digestive organs. Essentially, in the small intestine, the nutrients from the already digested food are transferred to the blood via the small intestinal mucosa. The medical term for this process is called absorption. In order to be able to perform this task, the wall of the intestine in people without acute celiac disease is wrinkled, the small intestinal mucosa is provided with finger-shaped protuberances (villi). Enzymes that are important for the digestion of food settle on the intestinal villi. Due to the folds and protuberances, the surface of the small intestine increases, so the small intestine is able to transfer the large amount of nutrients from the food into the blood.

Small intestine in people with a gluten allergy

In people with a gluten allergy, the adhesive proteins that are found in the cereals wheat, rye, barley and oats cause chemical processes to destroy the typical structure of the small intestine. These chemical processes are increasingly found in people who have been shown to have a genetic predisposition to celiac disease. The HLA type HLA-DQ 2 and the HLA type DQ 8 can be determined in these people. But not all people with this genetic disposition also experience gluten intolerance. Environmental factors such as an infection with the fungus, stress with enormous mental stress or high alcohol consumption can promote the development of celiac disease. The complex relationship between the genetic disposition for celiac disease and the ultimately triggering factors has not yet been sufficiently clarified. What is certain, however, is that once a celiac disease has broken out, it cannot be cured.

In people with celiac disease, gluten leads to the formation of antibodies against the absorbed gluten. In the further course, inflammation and the formation of antibodies, which are responsible for the breakdown of the body's own tissue, occur. These autoantibodies break down the villi in the small intestine. As a result, the absorption of nutrients through the small intestine is prevented. Therefore, gluten allergy is one of the so-called autoimmune diseases; not only antibodies against the allergenic substance are formed, but also against your own body.

Celiac disease / sprue is not a modern lifestyle disease, it is not triggered by an incorrect and / or one-sided diet. A long period of breastfeeding or a gluten-free diet for the child in the first year of life does not prevent celiac disease / sprue. However, it is recommended to ensure the child's gluten-free diet in the first half of the year, as the symptoms can become very violent during this period and it can sometimes be life-threatening for the baby.

Gluten intolerance: symptoms

Overall, the symptoms can be very different and they also differ between children and adults.

Celiac disease symptoms in children

The symptoms of celiac disease mostly occur when switching from milk to cereals. The first signs are often manifested by violent diarrhea. Several of the following symptoms may appear at the same time, or only a few:

  • Your child loses weight or the weight gain stagnates, although enough is eaten.
  • Your child complains of abdominal pain from time to time or your baby cries a lot and often complains of bloating (bloated stomach) even as a toddler.
  • Your child is remarkably pale and tired.
  • The belly looks bloated compared to the thin arms and legs.
  • Your child's bowel movements are very common and the consistency is massive, greasy or fermented (light bowel movements).
  • Your child's muscles are conspicuously underdeveloped.
  • Your child's mood is always grumpy for no reason.
  • An increased susceptibility to infection occurs.

The symptoms mentioned can indicate gluten intolerance, but they do not have to. In any case, if there is an initial suspicion, the pediatrician should be consulted and the causes of the complaints clarified.

Celiac symptoms in adults

The symptoms in adults are often not as evident as in a child in infancy. The first signs may be bone pain or your doctor may have a calcium deficiency. The symptoms in the abdomen only gradually manifest themselves, diarrhea can alternate with constipation. The signs of a lack of nutrients and vitamins can only appear very late, so that it sometimes takes a very long time to be diagnosed with celiac disease / sprue. Especially because of the non-specific symptoms.

The following symptoms can indicate gluten intolerance:

  • Stomach pain,
  • Alternating diarrhea and constipation,
  • Diarrhea with light stools and fatty stools,
  • Feeling of fullness,
  • Flatulence,
  • Nausea,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Weight loss despite adequate calorie intake,
  • Exhaustion,
  • chronic fatigue,
  • Listlessness despite enough sleep,
  • dark circles under the eyes,
  • long-lasting infections,
  • A headache,
  • Nervousness,
  • depressive moods,
  • Anemia,
  • Iron and zinc deficiency,
  • Cycle disorders,
  • Fertility disorders,
  • Blisters and canker sores on the oral mucosa,
  • Bone and joint pain.

Since the absorption of nutrients is prevented by the typical structure of the small intestinal mucosa in celiac disease / sprue, secondary diseases can occur, for example

  • Osteoporosis,
  • Type 1 diabetes,
  • Migraine,
  • Joint inflammation,
  • Epilepsy,

The causes of the symptoms mentioned should be clarified by a doctor.

Diagnosis of gluten intolerance

If you find yourself in the symptoms mentioned with your symptoms and have an initial suspicion of a gluten allergy, you should discuss the symptoms with the doctor treating you. For a reliable diagnosis, the blood is tested for antibodies against the cereal protein. It is important that if there is an initial suspicion, the blood is specifically checked for these antibodies. However, the blood test is not 100% certain, since not everyone produces the appropriate antibodies, even though they suffer from gluten intolerance. In addition, humans can also form antibodies against cereal protein, although they have been shown not to have celiac disease / sprue.

Examination of the small intestinal mucosa via a biopsy then gives the final certainty as to whether it is a gluten intolerance. This test is not very pleasant, but should be carried out if the antibody test is positive. A reliable diagnosis can only be made through the biopsy. In addition, the degree of damage to the mucous membrane can also be determined by the biopsy. It is recommended that you change your diet only after a confirmed diagnosis.

Treatment of celiac disease

A key point of the therapy is the change in diet. The diet must be consistently and consistently switched to gluten-free products. Products from wheat, barley, rye, spelled and green kernel are particularly affected. This also includes foods made from it (e.g. flour, cake, pasta, bread, muesli, beer). Not all manufacturers state on the packaging whether the food contains gluten. Therefore, an exact examination of the food is necessary. By consistently avoiding gluten, the villi in the small intestine recede and the transfer of nutrients and vitamins from the small intestine to the blood works again.

Lactose intolerance may have developed as a result of celiac disease / sprue because the corresponding enzyme for digestion of lactose is missing in the damaged intestinal mucosa. In this case, lactose-containing foods should also be avoided first.

There is currently no way to treat celiac disease / sprue with medication. However, research is being carried out into the manufacture of appropriate medication.

The gluten leads to the typical change of the small intestinal mucosa and thus to a disturbed absorption of nutrients. However, the causes of the outbreak of celiac disease / sprue are ultimately not clear. In addition to a genetic disposition, it is also suspected that stress and psychological stress can also be a trigger for gluten intolerance. In order to be able to take these stresses into account in therapy, the naturopathic treatment should be individually determined by the naturopath after a thorough medical history.

Since celiac disease / sprue makes it difficult for the small intestine to absorb nutrients in the blood, it is important to strengthen the immune system. To support the self-healing powers, some people trust Bach flower therapy according to Dr. Edward Bach.

Celiac disease: nutrition

These foods always contain gluten, unless they are special gluten-free variants:

  • Wheat,
  • Spelt,
  • Rye,
  • Barley,
  • Green core,
  • Primal grain,
  • Emmer,
  • Kohrasan wheat (Kamut).

In addition, of course, gluten is also found in the products that are made from cereals containing gluten, for example:

  • Flour,
  • Strength,
  • Semolina,
  • Pearl barley,
  • Flakes,
  • Breadcrumbs,
  • Pasta,
  • Bun,
  • Loaf,
  • Cake,
  • Pastries,
  • Cereal bars,
  • Waffles,
  • Pretzel sticks and other nibbles,
  • Breading around meat and fish,
  • Pizza,
  • Noodles,
  • Dumplings,
  • Gnocci,
  • Beer,
  • Malt beer.

Hidden gluten

It is not always obvious where gluten is contained. Some processed foods contain gluten, although at first glance they have nothing to do with cereals, for example

  • processed potato products such as french fries,
  • processed milk products such as yogurt, curd cheese and fresh cheese,
  • Sweets like liquorice, gummy bears, dragees, candy and chewing gum,
  • Chips and flips,
  • Drinks such as fruit juices, lemonades, showers, liqueurs, cocoa, malt coffee and barley coffee,
  • Spices,
  • Herbal vinegar,
  • Sauces,
  • Ketchup and mustard,
  • Sausage.

Caution: Some care products can also contain gluten, for example

  • Toothpastes,
  • Mouthwashes,
  • Lip balms,
  • Lipsticks,
  • Lip gloss.

Gluten free foods

There is no gluten in these foods insofar as they have not been processed industrially.

  • Fruit,
  • Vegetables,
  • Salads,
  • Potatoes,
  • Nuts,
  • Legumes such as peas, beans, lentils, soybeans and chickpeas,
  • Corn,
  • Rice,
  • Quinoa,
  • Amaranth,
  • Millet,
  • Buckwheat,
  • Hemp seeds,
  • Cooking bananas,
  • Milk, curd cheese and natural yoghurt,
  • Butter,
  • Natural cheese,
  • vegetable oils,
  • Eggs,
  • Flesh,
  • Fish,
  • Seafood,
  • Sugar,
  • Honey,
  • Jam,
  • pure spices,
  • pure herbs.

Flour is suitable as an alternative to flour containing gluten

  • Rice,
  • Millet,
  • Corn,
  • Buckwheat,
  • Soy,
  • Coconut,
  • Chestnuts,
  • Bananas,
  • Lupins,
  • Grape seeds,
  • pure oats,
  • Chickpeas,
  • Potatoes,
  • Teff.

Is there a chance of a cure?

What is certain, however, is that once a celiac disease / sprue has broken out, it cannot be cured. Neither the whole foods according to Dr. Bruker or so-called bioresonance therapy has so far been able to cure gluten intolerance, since the basis of the intolerance lies in a genetic disposition. Only that transient celiac disease, which is very rare and usually occurs in children under two years of age, is a temporary form of celiac disease. After the symptoms have subsided through an appropriate diet, no corresponding antibodies and no change in the small intestinal mucosa can be detected when gluten is supplied again. However, it is recommended to have the antibodies in the blood checked regularly. (nd)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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ICD codes for this disease: K90ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity (January 2022).