Celiac Disease and Diabetes: Wheat Ails You?

You've been to your family doctor so often you both have your litany of symptoms memorized. You've made the round of specialists. Still, you can't find what ails you.

Maybe the cause of all your problems is lurking in your kitchen - in your breadbox, in your pasta cabinet, and on your cookie shelf.

Foods made from wheat and certain other grains contain a protein called gluten. If you have a condition called celiac disease, every time you eat something with gluten, a reaction damages the lining of your small intestine. Nutrients aren't absorbed properly, and this leads to a host of problems.

Many people with celiac disease (also called celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy) go a long time without being diagnosed.

There are many possible symptoms. They may start in childhood or adulthood. They may come and go.

A classic symptom is diarrhea, but not everyone has this. Stools may be foul-smelling and bulky, and they may float.

Other signs and symptoms

  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • in children, failure to grow
  • irritability (sometimes the only symptom in children)
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • anemia
  • skin rash
  • and for people with diabetes, unexplained low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

There seems to be a link between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. About 1 in 20 people with type 1 diabetes has celiac disease. Even in the general population, including people with type 2 diabetes, the rate could be as high as 1 in 250.

If you think you might have celiac disease, discuss the possibility with your doctor. Blood tests and a biopsy of your small intestine - the gold standard for diagnosing celiac disease - can reveal whether you have the disease.

Celiac disease is not the only cause of chronic diarrhea. Other possibilities:

  • Lactose intolerance
  • Gastroparesis, a complication of diabetes
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn's disease
  • Stress
  • Viral infection
  • Parasitic infection