Learn more about a gluten-free diet

Strict adherence for life is essential

The only treatment for celiac disease is for patients to follow a lifelong gluten-free diet. Patients who adhere to such a diet typically report an improved health-related quality of life.

In the vast majority of cases, following this diet will stop symptoms, heal existing intestinal damage, and prevent further damage. Improvements begin within weeks of starting the diet, and the small intestine is often completely healed in 6 to 18 months. While healing may take up to 2 years for many older adults, new research shows that the small intestines of up to 60% of adults never completely heal, especially when adherence to the diet is less than optimal.

The gluten-free diet is a lifetime requirement. Eating any gluten, no matter how small an amount, can damage the intestine. This is true for anyone with the disease, including people who do not have noticeable symptoms. It can take weeks to months for antibody levels to normalize after a person with celiac disease has consumed gluten. Depending on a person’s age at diagnosis, some problems, such as delayed growth and tooth discoloration, may not improve.

Individuals with celiac disease may have unique tolerance thresholds to the amount of gluten in the diet. Daily gluten intake of less than 10 mg is extremely unlikely to cause significant histological abnormalities in the intestine of patients with celiac disease. Almost half of celiac disease patients may clinically tolerate a gluten-containing diet, yet continue to have mucosal abnormalities. In addition, some individuals have silent celiac disease: they have intestinal damage up to full villous atrophy, but no symptoms.

For more information

Learn more about the benefits and challenges of a gluten-free diet in the Treatment of Celiac Disease Factsheet.

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