I had never even heard of Celiac disease until not long ago when someone close to me was diagnosed. Celiac (Gluten Enteropathy) is an intolerance to gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is very serious, and even life threatening if left untreated.
But it is the most under diagnosed and misdiagnosed disease in our country today, being known as a “Silent Epidemic”. One in 133 people, and actually one in four women over 50 may have this disease.
Although primarily associated with people of northern European descent, it has become more and more common among the African American, Hispanic, Asian populations.
Celiac does have genetic markers, and so if someone in your family suffers from this then you have a much greater likelihood of having it yourself.
The symptoms of gluten intolerance vary from none in its early stages, to complex.
As a result, it often misdiagnosed as a variety of diseases including irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, gastritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even depression.
Moreover, many people live symptom free for years, never knowing they are losing the nutrients that are no longer absorbed by their digestive tract. In some cases it may even be the symptoms of malnutrition that begin to appear first.
The symptoms can be one to many, including the obvious; gas, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and constipation.
Many are resulting from a lack of nutrition, including weight loss, stunted growth in children, Osteoporosis, headaches (even migraines), fatigue, joint pain, anemia, mouth sores, skin rash, and even tingling in the legs and feet (neuropathy).
Celiac sufferers and people with gluten intolerance that go undiagnosed and untreated are at a much greater risk of other diseases, particularly colon cancer.
Gluten is one of the most difficult to digest proteins, yet we find it in almost everything we eat (especially processed foods). It has even been said that we would all benefit from removing gluten from our diets.
People with Celiac are often also lactose intolerant. And interestingly, gluten intolerance is not always associated with Celiac disease.
So with 1 in 133 people having this disease, and only 3% of those having been diagnosed, the ramifications can be plenty in a society already battling the effects of undernourishment, weight gain, and higher than ever risk of cancers.
Think about that; 97% of Celiac sufferers do not know that they have this disease!
What is Celiac?
When gluten intolerance exists, the body produces an inflammatory reaction in the small intestine, which results in damage to the villi.
Villi are the tiny hair-like extensions that form the carpet like surface of the intestinal wall and produce digestive enzymes, absorbing the nutrients, vitamins and minerals from our food.
A person who suffers long from Celiac can actually die of malnutrition. This does happen, for example, a teenage boy of 13 years old in Colorado.
When my friend began to have terrible, and almost life threatening symptoms of constipation, we ended up in the ER fearing appendicitis or diverticulitis. And once these were ruled out and the episode recurred within 6 weeks, a colonoscopy and endoscopy were ordered.
Thankfully, the doctor responsible for these procedures was very familiar with the disease and knew what to look for. However, many people are not so fortunate and live for years with multiple misdiagnoses and chronic suffering.
The initial test is normally a blood panel to screen for the indicative genes and/or the anti-body presence associated with gluten intolerance. A follow up test is a biopsy of the small intestine normally obtained via endoscopy.
If you suspect that you may be Celiac, you may decide to go gluten free for at least a month or two to see if you feel better.
But if you have a test after going gluten free, then the antibody and biopsy results will be negative since you have allowed your body to begin to heal.
Women have a much greater chance of having this disease, and the reasons are not known as to the higher incidence.
I believe that it may be due to an increased tendency for women to experience emotional stress, which is often a trigger for the genetic triggers of Celiac to be activated, causing the symptoms to begin being more serious.
The only cure for Celiac is the complete avoidance of gluten for life.
Corn, rice and potatoes are fine, but you will have to learn to read labels very carefully, for there is wheat and “modified food starch” in most processed foods and cereals. Even soy sauce, salad dressings, and soups may contain wheat.
As my friend initially thought about having to eliminate all wheat products from his diet, bread, cereal, pasta, pizza, and beer, his initial reaction of “I’m going to die!“.
But this was short lived, as we soon found a plethora of options, and have had no problem going gluten free.
The biggest challenge is breads, but there are some very good bread mixes and frozen loaves that will allow you to enjoy sandwiches and the occasional piece of toast that you thought you’d have to do without.
There are even fabulous gluten free pizza crusts, cookies, pie crusts, and other baked goods. Many restaurants are finally beginning to feature gluten free menus.
Grocery stores are beginning to carry GF selections in cereals, baking mixes, and other flours, and an even larger selection of options can be found in health food stores.
But be sure that going gluten free does not cost you in the fiber often obtained from whole grain breads. Bake with other fours such as rice, teff, quinoa, corn and buckwheat (yes buckwheat is ok), and adding more nuts, vegetables and fruits to your diet.
So if you suspect that you may be Celiac or even possibly gluten intolerant, remove gluten from your diet entirely for 2 months. You may see a difference in a week’s time, but healing in adults may take up to two years to completely recover.
At least you will be avoiding further disease resulting from the lack of proper nutrition!
Some great resources are below, including lists of gluten free foods (at Celiac.com), and ones to avoid! This site also has some great recipes and advice for gluten free baking.
The Celiac Foundation – http://celiac.org/
Celiac Disease & Gluten-free Diet Information – http://www.celiac.com/
Including Safe Gluten Free Ingredients: http://www.celiac.com/articles/181/1/Safe-Gluten-Free-Food-List-Safe-Ingredients/Page1.html
Unsafe Gluten Free Ingredients: http://www.celiac.com/articles/182/1/Unsafe-Gluten-Free-Food-List-Unsafe-Ingredients/Page1.html