By Brandon Caraballosa
Living with celiac disease has become a bit more manageable thanks to the popularity of the gluten-free diet. In fact, even people without a diagnosis of celiac disease are self-prescribing a gluten-free diet because they feel so much better avoiding this protein. The good news is that they feel better, the bad news is that they might be doing themselves a disservice by not being formally tested.
Assume you’ve actually been living for years with untreated celiac disease? Untreated celiac disease can result in a variety of nutrient deficiencies and people can develop complications that require immediate attention.
A 2013 Dutch study in the journal Nutrients investigated the prevalence of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in patients with newly diagnosed untreated celiac disease.
The researchers assessed the nutritional status of 80 newly diagnosed untreated celiac cases (aka they were eating gluten) and found deficiencies in everything they tested, including folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc and iron. The blood work of twenty-four healthy controls were analyzed for vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin A and folic acid and no deficiencies were found except for vitamin B12.
Weight status was also analyzed. Despite what you might expect, some of the newly diagnosed untreated celiac patients were overweight. We often associate being pleasantly plumped with not having deficiencies but in reality this is not so. A high association of obesity at diagnosis of celiac disease exist and this population is just as vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.
This study, albeit a small one, emphasizes the importance of an accurate and speedy diagnosis of untreated celiac disease. Once a diagnosis is made, we must investigate and correct nutritional deficiencies.
I highly recommend that all patients follow up with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in providing therapy to people with celiac disease. He/she can help you correct nutrient deficiencies, minimize long-term health complications, navigate the nuances of the gluten-free diet and make supplement recommendations as needed.
Additional tests might also be required. For example, years of untreated celiac disease can weaken your bones so your doctor or RDN might recommend a bone density scan to assess your bone health. Early detection can help reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
If you suspect that you feel better without gluten then please talk to your doctor about being tested for celiac disease. If you have celiac disease then please talk to your doctor or RDN about appropriate blood work for nutrient deficiencies.
Let’s work together to ensure an early diagnosis of celiac so that we can prevent harmful nutrient deficiencies.