It is estimated that as many as one in 133 Americans have celiac disease.
But because symptoms can vary so much, it can be hard to diagnose. In fact, many individuals with celiac disease don’t even know they have it.
Celiac disease can affect both children and adults, and unlike other diseases, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. And contrary to what some people believe, it’s not a food allergy, so there’s no chance that you’ll grow out of it.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that has been found to be more common within families, so if your parents or siblings have it, there’s a greater chance you’ll have it, too.
Individuals with celiac disease can’t handle gluten. Gluten is a protein most commonly found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats. When people with celiac disease consume gluten, their immune systems react in a way that causes damage to the small intestines, ultimately blocking nutrients from being absorbed.
Over time, this can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, iron-deficiency anemia, bone loss and depression.
The symptoms and signs of celiac disease can vary. The more common symptoms include abdominal cramping, intestinal gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, weight loss, itchy or blistering skin rash, muscle cramps and bone or joint pain. It is important to note that some people may not even manifest signs and symptoms, but may still have the disease.
If you suspect you may have celiac disease, a doctor can run blood tests to confirm it. Once a person is diagnosed, it’s a good idea to have the whole family tested.
There is no cure for celiac disease. The only way to manage it is with a gluten-free diet. The good news is that most people find that once they manage to avoid all sources of gluten, their symptoms improve right away.
The bad news is, eliminating gluten completely can be quite a challenge. Simply cutting foods with gluten—grains, pastas, cereals and beer, along with sauces and many processed foods—won’t do it. Glutens also come from a variety of non-food sources.
For instance, a strict gluten-free lifestyle includes not licking envelopes or stamps, because the glue may contain gluten. Other unusual sources of gluten include lipstick and lip balm, sunscreen, shampoos and soap, and toothpaste and mouthwash.
If your household includes people with celiac disease and people without, extra care must be taken in food preparation, because gluten particles can linger on utensils and in shared appliances like toasters.
Living a gluten-free life, however, is not impossible. If you or someone you care for has celiac disease, I invite you to join me for a Gluten-Free Cooking Demo at Franklin Square Hospital Center on Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m.
I’ll share tips for eliminating gluten from your life and prepare an entire gluten-free meal that you’ll get to sample. The low $10 cost will cover the cost of the meal.
To register, visit franklinsquare.org or call 443-777-7900.