The only treatment for Celiac Disease at this time is a strict gluten free diet. It can be an overwhelming lifestyle adjustment, but it is a medical requirement to contain the disease. Just a bit of gluten is enough to trigger the disease and internal damage. Our researchers are working to find a cure--we collaborate with others across the nation and around the world--surely with all of these great minds working together we will see progress soon. In the meantime, the gluten free diet is the only option. We offer a free gluten free care package to newly biopsy-diagnosed Celiacs to help jumpstart the treatment. A Registered Dietitian familiar with the disease and the gluten free diet can be a great resource as well. Please call our office for more information.
How is Celiac Disease Treated?
Once an individual has been confirmed, through a biopsy, to have celiac disease they are instructed to begin following the gluten-free diet. This can often be difficult, at first, because so many foods contain gluten in them. However, through support and guidance from experienced celiacs and a skilled dietitian, many newly diagnosed patients learn that the gluten-free diet requires some creativity and planning, but that great tasting food isn’t out of reach.
The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet--that is, to avoid all foods that contain gluten.
For most people, following this diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage. Improvements begin within weeks of starting the diet, and the small intestine is usually completely healed--meaning the villi are intact and working--in 6 to 18 months. (It may take up to 2 years for older adults.)
The gluten-free diet is a lifetime requirement. Eating any gluten, no matter how small an amount, can damage the intestine. This is true for anyone with the disease, including people who do not have noticeable symptoms. It can take weeks for antibody levels (indicating intestinal damage) to normalize after a person with celiac disease has consumed gluten. Depending on a person's age at diagnosis, some problems, such as delayed growth and tooth discoloration, may not improve.
A gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods that contain wheat (including spelt, triticale, and kamut), rye, and barley. Despite these restrictions, people with celiac disease can eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods, including gluten-free bread and pasta. For example, instead of wheat flour, people can use potato, rice, soy, corn or bean flour. Plain meat, fish, rice, fruits, and vegetables do not contain gluten, so people with celiac disease can eat as much of these foods as they like.
The gluten-free diet requires a completely new approach to eating that affects a person's entire life. People with celiac disease have to be extremely careful about what they buy for lunch at school or work, eat at cocktail parties, or grab from the refrigerator for a midnight snack. Eating out can be a challenge as the person with celiac disease learns to scrutinize the menu for foods with gluten and question the waiter or chef about possible hidden sources of gluten. However, with practice, identifying potential sources of gluten becomes second nature and people learn to recognize which foods are safe and which are off limits.
A dietitian, a health care professional who specializes in food and nutrition, can help people learn about their new diet. Also, support groups are particularly helpful for newly diagnosed people and their families as they learn to adjust to a new way of life. Over time, the diet becomes easier—even second nature. If you find that the diet is still difficult after several months, or you are still sick, talk to your doctor, your dietitian and your support organizations. You may be eating gluten accidentally and need an outside perspective to identify foods that are keeping you from regaining your health.