Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by an allergic reaction to a particular protein, gluten. For those who suffer from this condition, the consumption of gluten eventually causes damage to the small intestine, the main organ responsible for the absorption of nutrients. This often results in nutritional deficiencies, in addition to many inconveniences and complications. Small intestine is somewhere around 20-23 feet in length. The entire small intestinal tube is covered in villi. Intestinal villi are tiny, finger-like projections made up of cells. Villi are really tiny—each one is no more than about 1.6 millimeters long and may be as short as 0.5 millimeters long. The movement of the intestines turns the broken food into chyme and then the villi really get to work! The villi’s job is to help your already broken down food absorb into your blood stream; to provide you with energy and the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to properly operate and stay healthy. The villi aid in absorption by increasing the surface area of the intestine and contain specialized cells which transport different types of nutrients into the blood. The main job of your villi, is to produce enzymes that make your food absorbable and guide it to your blood stream where it can really do your body good.
In celiac disease, consumption of the protein gluten triggers your immune system to attack your intestinal villi and wear them down (a process called villous atrophy). Many people with celiac disease have vitamin and mineral deficiencies when they’re first diagnosed because their intestinal villi are damaged. D had severe villious atrophy and the calcium and vitamin D was very low. If you don’t have functioning intestinal villi, you can become malnourished or even starve, regardless of how much food you eat, because your body simply isn’t able to absorb and make use of that food. Damaged villi results in poor absorption, not being able to properly break down chyme to usable vitamins and nutrients, inflammation, and malnutrition. Besides all of this, you are more likely to have a wide range of symptoms as well as a host of other health issues caused by malnutrition.
Good news is that the villi are not permanently damaged in celiac disease. In fact, the cells in the intestinal wall regenerate every 72 hours as long as they are not being exposed to gluten. The amount of time it takes for the villi to heal, however, depends on the person, how long they have had celiac disease, and the amount of damage to the villi. For most people, the intestine is expected to recover over a period of weeks to months on a strict gluten-free diet. For others, it may take years for the villi to fully recover. The only known treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet and carefully following the gluten-free diet is the best and only way to take care of our bodies and our long-term health.
Save your villi, go gluten free!
This is my alphabet V for “Villi: The Victim”, in #BlogchatterA2Z #AprilA2Z in Parenting Tales with A Celiac Child. Do share your experiences as it’s always incredibly beneficial to connect with others who share similar experiences.