We celebrate with it. Mourn with it. Broken hearts are soothed with gallons of ice cream and large quantities of chocolate. But, for some people, it’s not that simple. If you need to run to the grocery store, you do. For someone like me, it takes planning. The average person can run up and down the aisles and grab what looks good or is the cheapest, or even which commercial they liked best, but for someone who has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, it is much more difficult. It involves reading labels, EVERY LABEL. Buying groceries for a simple meal becomes a trek through the ingredients, but if you know how to do it, it is manageable. Now that we have stopped off at the store allow me to create a meal of information for you.
- What I have prepared for you today is an appetizer of celiac and gluten facts.
- Followed by a sumptuous salad of symptoms.
- To further please your palette I have for you a serving of testing and treatments.
- And lastly, the additive sprinkled joy of living with celiac disease.
So let’s dig in.
mayoclinic.com defines gluten as:
- The mixture of proteins found in wheat grains, which are not soluble in water and which give wheat dough its elastic texture.
You can’t turn around twice in a grocery store these days without seeing “gluten-free” on boxes, bags, and cans. But most people have no idea what gluten is or why it is important. The first thing you may need to know is that gluten is not restricted to just food. Just to name a few, there is gluten in dog food, vitamins, medications, and shampoo. When you go buy shampoo, what do you base your decision on? Cost, scent or is the one that makes your hair silky and smooth? None of that matters to people like me. I look to see if there is a gluten derivative used to thicken the product. The names that gluten is hidden under are numerous, but a few that you may be familiar with are:
- Modified food starch
- Thickener or thickening
Now that we have enjoyed our appetizers, we will be moving on to our next course, the salad of symptoms.
Celiac Disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the small intestine and limits ability to absorb certain nutrients. The U.S. National Library of Medicine website provides information about Celiac Disease in their A.D.A.M. Medical encyclopedia which explains that the exact cause of celiac disease is unknown. The lining of the intestines contains areas called villi, which help absorb nutrients. When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products that contain gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging these villi. This damage affects the ability to absorb nutrients properly. A person can become malnourished, no matter how much food they eat.
Healthy villi appear to look like plush carpeting, but someone suffering from celiac symptoms, their intestines look more like a vinyl floor. Remember, you need healthy villi to absorb vitamins and minerals. That means that vital nutrients cannot be absorbed in the intestines of a celiac victim. The symptoms of celiac disease can be confusing and hard to diagnose. This is why diagnosis is not always made right away. Celiac symptoms are similar to many other illnesses.
For example, some people may suffer from constipation while others will have diarrhea. Some may gain weight and still, others will lose weight.
- Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, or indigestion
- Decreased appetite
- Nausea and vomiting … and the list goes on.
Also, because the villi are so damaged, other symptoms can include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Itchy skin (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Muscle cramps and joint pain
- Seizures …and once again the list goes on.
The wedmd.com website explains these symptoms can all lead to long-term complications, such as weak bones or growth problems (in children). Prolonged intestinal damage can increase the risk of developing severe complications, such as lymphoma. 1 in 133 people has celiac disease. Only 3% have been diagnosed. A full list of symptoms can be found on the mayoclinic.com website as well as webmd.com
Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center of Celiac Research at the University Of Maryland, School Of Medicine explained why the number of people with Celiac Disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974.
He believes that because we are so much cleaner than we were 70-100 years ago, our immune systems are not as strong today as they had to be 70 years ago to survive.
Also, we have more grains that are richer in glutens than we did 70 years ago. In Dennis Thompson’s article, “Celiac disease on the rise in the U.S.” he tells how researchers at the Mayo Clinic tested blood samples taken from 9,133 young Air Force recruits in the 1950s and found that about 1 in 700 had undiagnosed celiac disease at that time. Tests on subjects exactly the same age now found that the rate was nearly five times as high today. We eat more wheat based products today and Environmental factors have changed. Modern wheat has been bred to be stronger and for higher gluten content and therefore gluten’s effects are more amplified.
I hope you aren’t full yet because I have more tasty treats to offer. This nest course is our testing and treatment course.
The testing for celiacs has improved over the years. A blood test is now available to screen for the antibodies. A biopsy of the intestines, however, is required to make a definitive diagnosis. Prior to the testing, no changes should be made to the diet, unless a doctor prescribes it. A doctor cannot test for a gluten allergy if a person has already removed it from their system. Once a person knows if they celiac disease, that is when they can start to remove glutens from their diet. At this time there are no drugs to treat celiac disease and there is no cure, yet. But celiac’s can lead normal, healthy lives by following a gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all products derived from wheat, barley, and rye.
To wrap up our wonderful meal, I am offering you the sweet treat of living with celiac disease.
Life with this disease has become easier than it was just a decade ago. It will take some effort, but all things worth having are worth the work. It means reading labels, taking nutritional supplements and just being willing to try new things. As I said earlier, there are many options on the shelves now that have opened up great food opportunities for us to enjoy, including cake. That means that I can have my crackers and eat them too.
I have offered you this full course meal including definitions of what gluten is and why it is an issue, you have enjoyed a large salad of symptoms, a hefty serving of how celiac disease is treated and followed up with how to live and enjoy life with celiac disease. So, the next time you take a trip to the grocery store and you are randomly selecting your items, why don’t you pick up a gluten-free product and taste. See food from our point of view
And yet another PSA! Live it. Love it. Learn it.
Find joy. Be joy. Enjoy.