What is celiac disease and how does it affect your iron levels?
Written by Justyna Wiraszka
Reading Time: 4 Minutes
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is a life-long, autoimmune, genetic disease which causes the immune system to react abnormally to the consumption of gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley.
The abnormal immune response is directed against the body's own tissues, especially in the small intestine. This leads to inflammation and damage to the soft tissue of the small intestine, followed by the disappearance of the intestinal villi, which are responsible for the absorption of nutrients.
Why does diagnosis matter?
If celiac disease remains untreated or undiagnosed, your ability to absorb food will be impaired, which can lead to various clinical symptoms. The autoimmune response may not be confined to the small intestine, but can affect other organs in- and outside of the digestive tract.
The main treatment for celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. In some severe cases, taking steroids or immunosuppressants may be necessary as well.
An abnormal reaction to gluten cannot only be caused by celiac disease, but also by wheat allergy and non-coeliac gluten or wheat sensitivity. Celiac disease, however, is the most serious of these conditions, so it is important to get the right diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of celiac disease?
Symptoms of celiac disease can vary from person to person and may come and go over time. Many of the main symptoms, however, are digestive problems such as:
- Lactose intolerance
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loose, greasy, stools
Some people also experience other symptoms that cannot so easily be linked to the digestion, such as:
- Joint pain
- Nervous system problems, e.g., headaches
What is the connection between iron deficiency and celiac disease?
As mentioned before, celiac disease affects the small intestine, the main role of which is to absorb nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) as well as ions, vitamins and water through the intestinal villi. Intestinal villi are hair-like projections and little helpers of your digestive system.
Untreated celiac disease will damage the intestinal villi, and, with time, cause them to disappear. Damaged villi are not able to fulfill their function properly: the more damaged they are, the less they are able to absorb.
Iron is also absorbed through the small intestine, so the impairment of the villi will affect iron absorption. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that iron deficiency affects nearly half of all people with celiac disease. A recent study published in Nutrients states that up to 46% of celiac patients have diminished iron storage, and 32% have an iron deficiency.
How do you check for iron deficiency?
The biomarker checked for your iron levels is usually serum ferritin, which is widely established in clinical practice, with low ferritin levels being indicative of iron deficiency, and elevated ferritin levels may be pointing to an iron overload.
The Bloom Ferritin Test can be used to reflect your body’s iron stores and check if your ferritin is at a low or high level, or within normal range. All it needs is a few drops of capillary blood.
The results of your test will be available on the Bloom App within minutes after completing it – including a personalized interpretation and recommendations on how to combat your iron deficiency, if necessary.
If you would like to know more about the Bloom Ferritin Test, you can read more about it here.
NHS England. Coeliac disease Overview. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coeliac-disease/#:~:text=Coeliac%20disease%20is%20a%20condition,diarrhoea%2C%20abdominal%20pain%20and%20bloating. Accessed August 31, 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Celiac Disease. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352225#:~:text=Steroids%20can%20ease%20severe%20signs,Uceris)%2C%20might%20be%20used. Accessed August 31, 2022.
WebMD. What are the treatments for celiac disease? https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/celiac-disease-treatment. Accessed August 31, 2022.