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I have celiac disease, but I don't have any symptoms. Can I cheat on the diet?

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Updated February 19, 2014

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Is cheating on your gluten-free diet okay?

Getty Images/Mike Kemp

Question: I have celiac disease, but I don't have any symptoms. Can I cheat on the diet?

Answer:

Cheating has the potential to really harm your health. If your doctor diagnosed you, it's because your tests showed damage to your intestinal villi, even though you don't have any celiac disease symptoms. That means you're at risk for all sorts of complications of celiac disease, including osteoporosis, malnutrition, infertility and several different types of cancer, including lymphoma.

You can reverse or avert most of these complications by following a strict gluten-free diet. But if you cheat on your gluten-free diet, even a few times a month, your intestines will continue to sustain damage, and you'll remain at high risk for all those other conditions.

It's possible (although admittedly unlikely) that your first warning sign of unnoticed damage from cheating could be a cancer diagnosis. It's more likely that you will eventually notice celiac disease symptoms, although they may be more neurological than digestive in nature - that's something I've seen fairly frequently on celiac disease forums. You might also wind up with osteoporosis, or with another autoimmune disease.

Now, it's also possible that you could live a long life eating gluten and never get cancer or any of the other conditions associated with celiac disease. There's no way to know.

Yes, the gluten-free diet can be difficult to follow (believe me, I know!), and there are many reasons celiacs give for eating gluten. But there's an abundance of new gluten-free products on the market, including good gluten-free beer, fun gluten-free pretzels and many different varieties of gluten-free pizza.

Also, more restaurants are becoming gluten-savvy, and many even are providing gluten-free menus. So sticking to the diet isn't as tough as it used to be, and it could be one of the best things you can possibly do for your future health.

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