Anemia in celiacs is the result of malnourishment or malabsorption syndrome which creates nutritional deficits. Anemia is just one possible symptom of celiac disease.
Why Anemia Occurs in Celiacs
Celiac disease is a hereditary intolerance to the protein gluten which is found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats. For those who suffer from celiac disease, ingesting gluten causes the lining of the small intestine to become inflamed. This inflammation flattens and weakens the villi, which are tiny brushlike fingers that, when healthy, allow nutrients from food to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine where they are then released into the bloodstream.
When people with celiac disease eat foods containing gluten, the intestinal damage results due to their immune system attacking and destroying villi. The main problem for celiacs is that when the villi are damaged, nutrient absorption is compromised and the individual becomes malnourished no matter what or how much they eat.
Anemia in Celiacs
To better understand why anemia occurs due to celiac disease, it is important to understand that anemia is not a disease but a symptom. It results from a reduction in the volume of circulating red blood cells, or it is due to a change in hemoglobin. There are more than 400 kinds of anemia and these fall into two categories: nutritional or non-nutritional. In the case of anemia in celiacs, anemia falls in the nutritional category, since it results when the body cannot absorb vital nutrients due to damaged villi.
The main cause for anemia is a lack of iron, but other nutritional deficiencies that contribute to anemia include deficiencies in:
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Along with these vitamins and minerals, a lack of specific enzymes may also lead to anemia.
Once a person has been diagnosed with celiac disease malabsorption syndrome, a gluten free diet can usually help to turn things around. For most celiacs, eliminating gluten will alleviate symptoms. However, this requires diligence in learning what foods contain gluten. Eliminating gluten from the diet often restores health to the villi and increases the intestine's ability to absorb vital nutrients including iron. Your doctor will want to monitor your iron levels regularly to note improvements.