Living With Coeliac Disease and Being Gluten Free

What Causes Coeliac Disease – The Risk Factors of Coeliac Disease

What Causes Coeliac Disease

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition brought on by an unusual immune reaction to the protein gluten present in foods, such as pasta, cereals, bread, and biscuits. Some people, who have the disease, find that eating oats can also trigger symptoms.

Autoimmune disorders cause the immune system to identify healthy cells and substances as harmful ones. Once the immune system encounters these cells, the body will produce antibodies to fight off these mistaken healthy cells. Autoimmunity is naturally found in the body. Whenever your body is attacked by bacteria or virus, your immune system defends you. It perceives and kills any organisms that be harmful to the body.

However, if the system does not function properly, the process can cause harm to your body. Immune cells can mistake other body cells as foreign substances or invaders and eventually attack them. This condition is referred to as an autoimmune disorder, a category of ailments to which coeliac disease belongs to.

In the case of coeliac, your immune system identifies one of the substances that produce gluten, known as gliadin, as a threat to the body. The antibodies cause the outer lining of the small intestine to become inflamed (swollen and red).

The surface of the intestine has millions of tiny tube-shaped growths known as villi. These increase the surface area of the stomach and can help digest foods more effectively. But in coeliac disease, the deterioration and inflammation to the surface of the stomach intestine flatten the villi, which reduces its ability to help with digestion.

Therefore, the small intestine can no longer digest nutrients from the foods, resulting in symptoms of coeliac disease, such as weight loss and diarrhoea. Now, the question is, what causes coeliac disease?

What Causes Coeliac Disease – The Risk Factors

It is very important to know what causes coeliac disease. The symptoms of it can vary from mild to severe. Below is the list of the risk factors to the disease. These factors are known to increase the chance of developing coeliac.

Family History/Genetics

Coeliac disease runs in families. If you have a family member with the disease, such as sibling or parent, your chance of developing it is higher. The increased risk is approximately 10% for those with a family history, as opposed to 1% risk for someone without a close relative with the disease. If you have an identical twin with the condition, there is an 85% risk that you will also develop the disease.

A study shows that coeliac disease is greatly associated with genetic mutations – abnormal changes towards the instructions that control cell activity – which affect a group of genes known as the HLA-DQ genes. These genes are responsible for the development of the immune system and can be passed down through a family.

Nevertheless, HLA-DQ genes are prevalent and only occur in about one-third of the population. In this case, there is something else that causes coeliac disease. What causes coeliac disease other than genetics?

Environmental Factors

A previous infection of the digestive system, such as rotavirus infection, can lead to the development of coeliac disease. Rotavirus infection is a prevalent disease of severe diarrhoea among young children and even infants. Frequent experience of rotavirus infection is predicted to have a higher risk of developing coeliac disease.

There is a proven study that introducing gluten into the baby’s diet before he or she becomes three months old could increase the risk of developing coeliac disease. Many experts suggest introducing foods containing gluten to infants of at least 6 months old. There is also an increased risk of coeliac disease if babies are not being breastfed and only gluten is introduced to their diet.

Other Risk Factors to Coeliac Disease

Many other health conditions can increase the risk of developing coeliac disease. Health problems that are associated with coeliac include the following:

  • Neurological disorders that affect the nervous system and brain negatively, such as epilepsy. Other examples are:
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Autism
    • Alcoholism
    • Asperger’s syndrome
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Brain damage, injury, or tumour
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Dyslexia
    • Fahr’s syndrome
    • Immune-mediated encephalomyelitis
    • Narcolepsy
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • etc.
  • Ulcerative colitis can also develop coeliac disease. It is a digestive health condition that causes inflammation of the colon. Symptoms of this include:
    • Weight loss
    • Abdominal pain
    • Bloody diarrhoea
    • A constant need to go to the toilet
  • Type 1 diabetes is associated with coeliac disease.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that causes the entire body to fight off beta cells of the pancreas, reducing its ability to produce insulin that is essential to control blood sugar levels. On the other hand, coeliac disease is also an autoimmune disorder that attacks the small intestine and is triggered by the intake of gluten. The anatomy and the development of the pancreas and the small intestine are closely related, and the immune system of the gut shares connections with the pancreas lymph nodes — which have been linked to the destruction of beta cells and inflammation of the pancreas. Hence, if Type 1 Diabetes is not controlled, health complications, such as coeliac, may occur.