How is celiac treated?

Gluten does not harm the bowels of those who don't have celiac disease. But if you have the disease, there's only one treatment: Avoid gluten for life.

For most people, following this diet will halt the symptoms, heal existing villi damage, and prevent further damage, the NIDDK says. The improvement begins almost immediately -- within days of starting the diet. The small intestine is usually completely healed, with the villi intact and working normally, in three to six months. (The healing process may take up to two years for older adults.)

A gluten-free diet bans all foods that contain wheat, rye, or barley. Most grains, pastas, cereals, and many processed foods fall into that category. You can eat breads and pastas made with potato, rice, soy, or bean flour, however, the NIDDK says. Gluten-free foods also are available from specialty food manufacturers. Other foods that are fine to include are meat, rice, fruits, and vegetables.

You must be cautious about what you buy for lunch at school or work, what you purchase at the grocery store, what you eat at restaurants or parties, and what you grab for a snack. According to the NIDDK, U.S. law requires food labels to clearly identify wheat and other common food allergens in the list of ingredients. For more information, talk with your health care provider or see a nutritionist who knows about celiac.