In 1994 I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which led me to create Celiac.com in 1995. I created this site for a single purpose: To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives. Celiac.com was the first site on the Internet dedicated solely to celiac disease. In 1998 I founded The Gluten-Free Mall, Your Special Diet Superstore!, and I am the co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.
Untreated celiac disease can be life-threatening.
Celiacs are more likely to be afflicted with problems relating to malabsorption, including osteoporosis, tooth enamel defects, central and peripheral nervous system disease, pancreatic disease, internal hemorrhaging, organ disorders (gall bladder, liver, and spleen), and gynecological disorders (like amenorrhea and spontaneous abortions). Fertility may also be affected. Some researchers are convinced that gluten intolerance, whether or not it results in full-blown celiac disease, can impact mental functioning in some individuals and cause or aggravate autism, Aspergers syndrome, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and schizophrenia. Some of the damage may be healed or partially repaired after time on a gluten-free diet (for example, problems with infertility may be reversed).
Celiacs who do not maintain a gluten-free diet also stand a much greater chance of getting certain types of cancer, especially intestinal lymphoma.
Untreated celiac disease can cause temporary lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products. To be digested it must be broken down by an enzyme called lactase. Lactase is produced on the tips of the villi in the small intestine. Since gluten damages the villi, it is common for untreated celiacs to have problems with milk and milk products. (Yogurt and cheese are less problematic since the cultures in them break down the lactose). A gluten-free diet will usually eliminate lactose intolerance. However, a number of adults (both celiacs and non-celiacs) are lactose intolerant even with a healthy small intestine; in that case a gluten-free diet will not eliminate lactose intolerance.
Celiacs often suffer from other food sensitivities. These may respond to a gluten-free diet--or they may not. Soy and MSG are examples of food products that many celiacs have trouble with. However, it should be noted that these other sensitivities, while troublesome, do not damage the villi. As far as we know, only gluten causes this damage.