Gluten intolerance and celiac disease

Caring For Our Kids

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Gluten-free diets continues to sweep the country. For some people avoiding gluten isn’t a choice, but a necessity. Severe gluten intolerance, known as celiac disease, is on the rise in the U.S. and more children are being diagnosed with the disease.

Dr. Chad Thornhill a pediatric gastroenterologist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital talks about the disease and gluten intolerance.

What exactly is gluten?

  • Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. In children with celiac disease, gluten damages the lining of the small intestine and interferes with nutrient absorption, affecting their growth.

Signs, symptoms of gluten intolerance

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Poor weight gain
  • Slow growth


  • No one is sure why celiac disease happens, but it appears to be hereditary.


  • Avoid gluten. Following a strict gluten free diet is key. Once a child stops eating gluten, the small intestine can begin to heal and absorb nutrients normally.

If a child is found to have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease can the whole family switch to a gluten-free diet without harm? 

  • Yes, and it can make it easier for your child if the whole family is changing the way you eat. But, your gluten-free choices are important. Replacing your diet with unprocessed, whole food like lean meats, low-fat dairy, vegetables and fruits are a healthy choice.
  • A lot of gluten containing foods have been enriched with vitamins and minerals so if you instead use gluten-free alternatives, which aren’t enriched, you need to be sure you’re getting the right amounts of vitamins and minerals from other sources.

You can find more information about celiac disease from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Celiac Disease Foundation.


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