Is it too late to improve my health?

Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN
Q: I will be 40 in a few weeks and just learned that my gas and bloating all these years was a result of celiac disease. I am worried that it is too late to improve my health.

Answer


No, it is definitely not too late! Many people get diagnosed with celiac disease later in life, and most heal fully and enjoy much improved health and energy after going on a gluten-free diet. Contrary to popular belief, you can develop celiac disease at any age. In fact, studies have found that the median age at diagnosis was just under the age of 50, and 19-34% of new cases of celiac disease were among those 60 years and over. (1)

I am not sure where you are in the testing process, but you should start the gluten-free diet as soon as your doctor tells you to, usually this happens after all testing is done.

Here are the steps to diagnosis:

  1. The first step is a thorough physical examination and a complete medical history.
  2. The second step is blood work for celiac-related antibodies, also referred to as a celiac panel. The celiac panel usually includes tissue transglutaminase IgA antibodies (tTG-IgA) and total IgA.
  3. The third step is an endoscopy with several biopsies of the small intestine, looking for inflammation and damage to the villi.

I want to note that it is very important to continue to consume gluten throughout the whole testing process. When you start a gluten-free diet, antibody levels start to drop and the intestine begins to heal, so starting a GF diet too soon can lead to a false negative or inconclusive result. Wait until your doctor tells you it is OK to start the gluten-free diet.

Most people improve on the gluten-free diet, though healing time varies by individual. Healing starts within days, but it can take up to 2 years for some to be completely healed. (2)

It is really important to stay on a strict gluten-free diet to allow healing of the intestine. Once you are healing you will start absorbing nutrients again and feeling better. Your doctor should also refer you to a registered dietitian skilled in celiac disease management to help you get a good start on the gluten-free diet. Find a dietitian here. It is also important to see your doctor for regular follow-ups to monitor your healing, as well as check for any other conditions or nutrient deficiencies related to celiac disease.

To get a good overview of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet you can check out our free Newly Diagnosed Course (it’s for parents and kids but most is applicable to anyone with celiac disease), (go to the top of the page and click the green button for the course).

I hope this helps!

References:

  1. Rashtak S, Murray JA. Celiac disease in the elderly. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2009;38(3):433–446. doi:10.1016/j.gtc.2009.06.005
  1. Lebwohl B, Murray JA, Rubio-Tapia A, Green PH, Ludvigsson JF. Predictors of persistent villous atrophy in coeliac disease: a population-based study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Mar;39(5):488-95. doi: 10.1111/apt.12621. Epub 2014 Jan 16. PMID: 24428688; PMCID: PMC4012428.

Note: This information is provided by NCA and Katarina Mollo MEd, RDN, LDN, NCA's Director of Education. This information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for personalized medical advice or replace any medical advice provided directly to you by your health care provider. No liability is assumed by the NCA or Katarina Mollo, MEd, RDN, LDN by providing this information.

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