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Celiac Disease and Anemia

What is Anemia?

Anemia, also referred to iron deficiency anemia, is a decrease of red blood cells due to a lack of iron. Anemia is extremely common, especially in women. Anemia is also common in those with undiagnosed celiac disease. It can have many causes, including iron deficiency, folate deficiency and Vitamin B12 deficiency. These deficiencies can be related to the malabsorption caused by celiac disease. People who have anemia may feel tired, fatigued or weak. They may also have shortness of breath or not be able to exercise normally. Do not add iron supplements without consulting your healthcare provider first. Anemia should be addressed by a medical professional to identify and treat the root cause and to monitor iron levels during treatment.

What is the Connection between Celiac Disease and Anemia?

  • Anemia is very common in those with undiagnosed celiac disease. Some people feel symptoms of anemia, while others may not.
  • The part of the small intestine where iron is absorbed is the same area that is damaged when gluten is ingested when people have undiagnosed celiac disease
  • Those with unexplained anemia should be screened for celiac disease
  • Anemia greatly improves on a strict gluten-free diet, however it may take time to correct the deficiency completely

Other Nutritional Deficiencies in People with Celiac Disease:

Untreated celiac disease can causes different degrees of malabsorption in each individual. This typically leads to lower than normal levels of important nutrients, such as:

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Folate
  • Vitamin B12
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc

Vitamin deficiencies may continue to occur on a gluten-free diet, so it may be a good idea to take a gluten-free multivitamin. It may also be necessary to take larger amounts of certain vitamins and minerals to correct more severe deficiencies.  Discuss any vitamin and mineral supplements with your doctor or dietitian before you begin taking them.

We also encourage you to learn more about the gluten-free status of your supplements and medicines at www.GlutenFreeDrugs.com.

Where Can I Learn More?

  • Mayo Clinic
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Learn more about the connection between celiac disease and anemia from Peter Green, M.D., from the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University in this podcast:

Note: At the time this podcast was recorded, Beyond Celiac was known as the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Learn more about the name change here.

Do you or a family member suffer from anemia? You may have celiac disease. Find out now. Take our Celiac Disease Symptoms Checklist.

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