Celiac disease can cause weight gain, according to some sources. Weight loss is the more common association, but here is why celiac could lead to obesity.
Many who feel they are experts with celiac disease believe that weight loss is a primary cause of celiac disease. This is definitely true: the damage caused in the intestine by gluten in celiac patients can lead to mal-absorption and therefore weight loss.
Celiac disease is a complex disease however; being overly simplistic about it is always a danger.
First, let’s not confuse weight gain after going on a gluten-free diet, with obesity when gluten is part of your diet. That is a very different subject, and much more easily understood.
It turns out that more patients with celiac are overweight than underweight, before they start on a gluten free diet, according to some studies (see references). One study showed that 5% of celiac patients were underweight, and 40% were overweight, with the rest “normal”. This is surprising, then again our understanding of celiac disease as greatly increased over the last few years, and with that increased understanding, more celiac patients have been diagnosed.
On reason some patients would have escaped a celiac diagnosis would be that being over-weight, their doctor would rule out celiac disease. The under-weight and anemic celiac is certainly classic, but so too is the obese celiac, more so in fact.
Why Celiac Can Cause Obesity
One reason for obesity is diabetes, and diabetes is one possible symptom of celiac disease (see Celiac Disease Symptoms). Another is what can happen in the gut.
In celiac disease patients, portions of the intestine wall can be damaged when gluten is eaten. This causes the villi, which absorb nutrients from the intestine, to become flattened and stop doing their job. This is the reason for mal-absorption and weight loss. However, there are similar structures further down in the intestine which may not become damaged. They often compensate, preventing the obvious symptoms of weight loss. This accounts for the average-weight celiac.
If the body notices a lack of micro-nutrients, it will give you the feeling of being hungry, you will eat more, and then gain weight through those healthy villi in the lower gut, leading to weight gain.
Going on a gluten-free diet can lead to weight gain as well, for entirely different reasons, but this can be fixed. This subject is covered in a separate article (Gluten Free Diet Weight Gain). Having said this, it is important, essential, that if you are celiac, you go on a completely gluten-free diet.
What is your experience with celiac disease and weight? Where you under-weight, “normal” or overweight before you were diagnosed? What happened when you switched to a gluten-free diet? Please leave a comment.
- Mayo Clinic Going Gluten Free
- Patients with Coeliac Disease Are Increasingly Overweight
or Obese on Presentation
- Overweight in Celiac Disease: Prevalence, Clinical Characteristics, and Effect of a Gluten-Free Diet