Gluten intolerance or celiac disease

People who suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance know that this is a very difficult disease. You must avoid everything in the diet that contains gluten. And it takes a lot of time to prepare food.

What exactly is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is a disorder of the intestinal wall resulting in malabsorption. Malabsorption means that your intestines digest less food. Celiac disease manifests itself when a predisposed person comes into contact with gluten. The person cannot tolerate gluten. So he is intolerant to it. In adults it is called gluten-sensitive thrush.

What are the causes of celiac disease?

Gluten is actually proteins found in wheat and related grains such as rye, oats and barley. Gluten is a mixture of dozens of different proteins. These can be divided into two different groups: the glutenins and the gliadins. It is believed that the gliadins cause celiac disease.

What exactly goes wrong with celiac disease?

This is not yet completely known. It is already certain that a hereditary factor plays a major role. The immune system is also said to play a role.

The difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy?

They are both forms of food hypersensitivity.

Food allergy

A response of the immune system to food components. Innocent substances are seen as harmful substances. The body will produce antibodies against these ‘harmful’ substances. These antibodies cause inflammation of the mucous membranes.

  • The allergic reaction occurs very quickly.
  • Only small amounts of substances may be sufficient. For example, in very sensitive people, a poorly washed bowl or pan can even cause a reaction.
  • Food allergy usually persists for years and often lifelong. Even if the substance in question is avoided.


Food intolerance

This is a direct response of the body to certain food components, without the immune system playing a role.
The symptoms are varied and can occur anywhere in the body. such as headache, migraine, depression, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, edema (fluid retention), joint pain, constipation.
The symptoms of food intolerance are the opposite of those of food allergy.

  • Intolerance usually occurs more slowly than allergy.
  • Usually large amounts are needed to cause symptoms. At first the effects are mild, but they become more intense with time.
  • A food intolerance can go away if you avoid the food you are intolerant to for a certain period of time.

The distinction between these two types of food hypersensitivity is therefore not always easy to indicate.

Consequences of celiac disease?

Differs in children and adults:

In the infant

The symptoms become apparent several months after introducing wheat into the diet. The most characteristic external symptoms are:

  • Poor appetite and emaciation.
  • Diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Bad mood.
  • Bad growth.
  • Pallor.


In the school child and the adolescent

Diarrhea problem is less important. Notable features include growth retardation, late onset of puberty and anemia.

In adults

Symptoms are less pronounced. This means that the diagnosis can sometimes be made at an age of 30 to 40 years. They may have suffered from intestinal complaints for several years and must have felt constant.

How can one tell if you really have celiac disease?

Microscopic examination of the small intestine reveals atrophy (death) of the intestinal villi. The severity of the disease increases with duration. The more extensive the intestinal disease, the worse the malabsorption will be.

Prevention of celiac disease?

So far, all that can be said is that one should avoid the presence of gluten in the diet. This means anything that contains wheat, rye, barley or oats.

What are the psychosocial consequences?

For infants, accepting and correctly following a gluten-free diet is not a problem. But from infancy onwards it becomes more difficult:

  • Whenever there is a party, there is the temptation for cookies and cakes. Especially among adolescents, there is great pressure from peers to deviate from the gluten-free diet.
  • Celiac patients who follow the diet properly look and are healthy. This may result in people from the environment daring to accuse the parents of overprotecting the child and of exaggerating with the diet.
  • The gluten-free diet often has to be maintained for life. Not only on normal days, but also on Sundays and public holidays. There is a chance that the celiac patient will feel isolated.


Self-help groups and celiac disease associations have been established so that celiac patients can talk to each other about their diseases.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do we see growth retardation in celiac patients? Inflammation of the intestinal villi causes malabsorption of nutrients.
  • Why is celiac disease, food intolerance and not a food allergy? In celiac disease, the body reacts to certain food components instead of the immune system.
  • How can you determine that you have celiac disease during an intestinal examination? One sees atrophy of the intestinal villi or damaged intestinal villi.
  • Why is a gluten-free diet time-consuming? Packages must be checked for the presence of gluten and cooking must be done separately.
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