Celiac disease is caused by a variety of factors. The most important and variable factor being what “turns on” the celiac gene. Learn more about the causes of celiac disease below.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that triggers damage to the body when you eat gluten. More specifically, it’s when the small intestine is damaged after eating gluten.
The damage occurs because the immune system no longer identifies the gluten protein found in foods as friendly. Because the immune system does not identify gluten as safe, it launches an attack that causes damage to your body.
This damage can cause a wide array of symptoms. It can cause malnutrition, nutrient deficiencies, bone density issues, pain, discomfort, brain fog, and more.
The only way to prevent this attack and damage is by eating gluten-free. This is why if you have celiac, you must follow a celiac diet.
There are quite a few things that must line up in order for you to get celiac disease. First, you must be genetically at risk. Which means you must carry one of the celiac genes.
However, just because you have the gene does not mean you will get celiac. In fact, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30% of people have celiac genes but only 3% of them will develop celiac.
Meaning, not only do you need the celiac genes but you need to be eating gluten and have something turn on the celiac genes.
Yes, you can just develop celiac disease. Something that confuses many people is how they could suddenly have celiac disease. How can they suddenly start reacting to gluten?
The thing about autoimmune diseases like celiac is that they can happen at any point in your life. For celiac, if you have the genes and are eating gluten, then your genes can be turned on at any point.
I know that sounds scary but the good news is we have some insights on the general causes of celiac disease genes turning on.
While we don’t have a lot of research specific to the causes of celiac, we do have research on the general triggers of autoimmune disease. Things like stress, trauma, and serious viral illness have been reported to activate autoimmune diseases, like celiac.
Stress can cause celiac disease genes to turn on. In fact, psychological stress has been researched as a cause of autoimmune disease. Psychological stressors like the death of a loved one, divorce, and more.
Infections can trigger celiac disease genes. Perhaps one of the most studied causes of autoimmune disease, serious illness can be a cause of autoimmune disease development. Think serious bouts of food-borne illness, the flu, pneumonia, and more.
Surgery, broken bones, and serious injuries can trigger celiac disease genes. This kind of physical trauma has been researched to cause the immune system to overreact.
Celiac disease can be triggered in people of all ages. The development of celiac disease in adults is not different from any other age group.
Again, for celiac to develop, you must have the celiac gene, be eating gluten, have the celiac gene activated. Perhaps the only triggers that might be more unique to adults would be pregnancy and giving birth.
In order to know if you have celiac disease, you must get tested for it. Celiac disease testing involves a combination of things. Typically it starts with an antibody screen and ends with an endoscopy and biopsy of the small intestine. Sometimes a genetic test is done to validate inconclusive results.
The most important thing to know is that you can not self-diagnose celiac. Many of the symptoms of celiac overlap with other conditions like gluten intolerance. The only way of knowing if you have celiac is if you are tested for it.