Many people have heard of Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Cystic fibrosis, Irritable bowel and Lupus but how many of you are familiar with Celiac Disease? Celiac Disease, also known as celiac sprue or gluten-sensitivity enteropathy is now recognized to be very common. Celiac disease affects nearly one in every hundred people and 97 percent remain undiagnosed or untreated! If the disease progresses and is not diagnosed until later in adulthood they develop many other problems from years of inflammation and the malabsorption of vitamins, minerals and other needed nutrients. People with type 1 diabetes are more susceptible to developing Celiac. Approximately 8 to 10 percent of type 1 diabetics have celiac disease. Having one autoimmune disease increases the risk of getting another.
Celiac is a genetically inherited, lifelong autoimmune condition that effects all types of people both young and old. It can manifest itself any time during the lifecycle. When a person with celiac consumes gluten containing foods it triggers an autoimmune reaction in the small intestine damaging the villi projections not allowing foods to be absorbed properly. The only treatment for celiac is following a gluten free diet for life! Once gluten has been removed from the diet a person gradually begins to feel better and the small intestine can begin healing. A person can display a wide variety of symptoms such as intestinal bloating, headaches, vitamin deficiencies, iron deficiency anemia, tooth discoloration, canker sores and many more. Intestinal damage can still occur in asymptomatic individuals.
Diagnosis of celiac disease involves antibody testing and small bowel biopsy. Antibody test results can only suggest the presence of celiac disease but cannot confirm it. Intestinal biopsy is the gold standard for diagnosing celiac disease. DNA testing can be helpful in cases where ambiguous antibody or biopsy results have been obtained or when a patient is on a gluten free diet. Genetic testing does not diagnose celiac disease but rather its largest benefit is that the absence of the genes essentially excludes celiac disease.
So what is gluten? Gluten is the protein found in all forms of wheat (durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn and faro) as well as rye, barley and triticale. Oats are believed to be safe for most people with celiac. Gluten is also in hydrolyzed or texturized vegetable or plant protein (HVP,HPP) and gluten stabilizers. Following a gluten free diet can be quite overwhelming initially, however food labels today are required to provide allergen information. The gluten free life truly is a lifestyle change and one needs to approach it with the mentality of “what can I eat rather than what do I live without.” It takes time and energy to master the diet therapy. Eating outside of the home whether it be dining in a restaurant or through travel can be a daunting task especially with the concern of cross contamination issues. The good news is that there is an abundance of gluten free food products available today in the mainstream grocery store as well as many wonderful resources at your fingertips! Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have extensive product lists of their gluten free items!
It is important that individuals needing to follow a gluten free diet consult with a registered dietitian who is aware of celiac disease or with a celiac support group counselor who can review the fundamentals of the diet. As knowledge of celiac disease grows life will become less stressful and easier as increased numbers of individuals become diagnosed. The need for restaurants to offer gluten free entrees will increase and gluten free food products will continue to grow and become more affordable. Eating gluten free promises health to individuals who have suffered for a great many years before being diagnosed.
If you would like to learn more about the gluten free diet please schedule an appointment with either Jody Daily, RD, CDE or Michele Cordell, RD, CDE