May is Celiac Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of celiac disease, a serious and often misunderstood diagnosis. With the rise in popularity of gluten free diets for goals of weight loss and general health, there is quite a bit of confusion in the general public about what celiac disease actually is. So, let’s delve in and discuss what you need to know about celiac disease.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a type of autoimmune disease in which the body reacts to gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The immune response causes the body to attack the cells of the small intestine, which damages small intestinal vili, fingerlike projections that help the body absorb nutrients.
Celiac disease has a strong genetic component. If you have a parent, child or sibling with celiac disease, your risk of developing it is 1 in 10. While celiac disease is not necessarily common, it’s also not rare. It’s estimated that 1 in every 100 people worldwide suffer from celiac disease. Many are undiagnosed, increasing the risk of severe, long term complications.
What is the Treatment for Celiac Disease?
The only treatment for celiac disease is following a strict, gluten free diet for life. Even the smallest amount of gluten can trigger a reaction for someone with celiac disease – think a breadcrumbs worth! For that reason, people with celiac disease should maintain a gluten free kitchen, or at the very least, keep specific gluten free utensils and cooking eqipment.
Gluten is found in foods made from wheat, barley and rye so non-gluten free breads, crackers and pastas should be avoided. Because wheat and ingredients made from wheat are used in so many foods, usually as a thickener, it’s important to read ingredients carefully. Here’s a link to a list of gluten containing ingredients to avoid.
Could I Have Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is hard to diagnose because it affects people differently and many of the symptoms can be quite general. Some people don’t experience any symptoms at all! Most people think of diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms as a hallmark of celiac disease, however only one third of people with celiac experience frequent diarrhea. Other symptoms include arthritis, bone/joint pain, depression/anxiety, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating, fatigue, and malnutrition, including missed periods, iron deficiency anemia, and unintentional weight loss. A diagnosis can be made through blood tests and/or a biopsy taken during an endoscopy.
There are other related conditions which require adherence to a gluten free diet. Some people may have an allergy or sensitivity to wheat or another gluten-containing grain. Others may be diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a condition where people notice symptoms related to ingesting gluten, but tests for celiac disease come out negative. Science is evolving, but some scientists believe these people are actually having a difficult time digesting a type of carbohydrate found in wheat and other foods called fructans, not gluten, and could be helped by following a low FODMAP diet.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, if you suspect you have a gluten-related condition, it’s important to see a GI before you eliminate gluten. This will ensure an accurate test result and help your doctor provide you with the best advice to manage your health.
If you’ve already adopted a gluten free diet, Luvo makes a variety of gluten free frozen foods to make living gluten free convenient! Try Roasted Cauliflower Mac & Cheese, Chicken Harissa & Chickpeas and Great Karma Coconut Curry.
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