4 Myths About Celiac Disease

While awareness about celiac disease has undeniably grown, so have misconceptions and myths. Be it the diagnosis of the condition or adherence to dietary restrictions, here are four myths about celiac disease you may have heard about. 

1. You are permanently in the clear if you test negative for celiac disease

You may be surprised to hear some people can develop gluten intolerance later in their life, even if they were able to tolerate gluten for several decades since birth.

"You can develop celiac disease at any time," said Dr. Alessio Fasano of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.

He noted the possibility of someone over the age of 70 to start exhibiting signs or symptoms of celiac disease, even if they were tested negative for it in the past. In his study featuring 3,500 participants, the rates of celiac disease appeared to increase with age. 

2. Gluten can only do damage when consumed in large amounts

Could a mere crumb of bread really do much? Due to cross-contamination in the kitchen or even at the grocery store, a person can be exposed to small amounts of gluten. For people with celiac disease, even such traces of the ingredient are capable of triggering harmful reactions in the body.

According to Harvard Health, even small amounts could damage the lining of the small intestine which, in turn, can reduce the nutrients one absorbs from their food. This may increase the risk of other problems such as osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage, and seizures.

3. "Celiac disease" and "gluten sensitivity" describe the same condition

While research has suggested gluten sensitivity may be a real condition, but it was not the same thing as celiac disease. Though it was not clearly understood yet, experts noted many differences between the two, with the former even being referred to "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" for emphasis.

"With gluten sensitivity, a person may be able to tolerate small amounts of gluten without experiencing symptoms and [the problem] may not be for life," Fasano added. "Celiac disease is for life — you cannot grow out of this — so you need to stay 100 percent gluten-free. With celiac disease, the immune system will respond the same way to a crumb and a loaf of bread."

4. People with undiagnosed celiac disease are always thin or underweight

This misconception may have emerged due to the associated symptoms of diarrhea, weight loss, and poor nutritional absorption. But body weight was not a reliable indicator of whether a person was free of celiac disease.

One review of medical literature found the prevalence of overweight and obese individuals in children with celiac disease was higher than expected. So regardless of whether you are overweight, underweight, or in the normal range of weight, it is important to speak to a doctor if you experiencing symptoms of celiac disease.