Q: What is Celiac Disease?
A: Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disorder, where the ingestion of gluten causes damage to the villi in the small intestine. This means the villi can't absorb nutrients, which leads to a host of sypmtoms. Approximately 1% of the population has Celiac Disease, although many are undiagnosed. This is a genetic condition.
Q: What are symptoms of Celiac Disease?
A: The presentation of Celiac is different for everyone, it seems. The most common sypmptoms are digestive issues (often leading to misdiagnosis of IBS, lactose intolerance, etc), growth problems (especially in children), nutrient deficiencies (anemia, etc.), cognitive functioning issues (depression, anxiety, dizziness), and some people have no symptoms. The average time spent seeking a diagnosis is 8 years.
Q: How is Celiac Disease diagnosed?
A: Usually there is blood test to screen for an abnormally high level of the antibodies, called Tissue-transglutimate, ot TTG. If that is positive, a gastroenterologist will perform an endoscopy and small intestine biopsy.
Q: Is there a cure for Celiac Disease?
A: The only cure is an entirely gluten-free diet.
Q: What is gluten?
A: A protien found in wheat, barley and rye.
Q: Why is it so hard to avoid gluten?
A: Gluten is in everything! It's in more food than just pasta and bread. It is often added to foods to thicken or preserve or as filler. It can be found in a lot of sauces, cut in with oats and cornmeal, I've even found it in ice cream – gross. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, however, as there was an increase of gluten during the 1990s push for cheaper, longer lasting foods. This uptick may be why gluten issues are becoming more common.
Q: That must be terrible! I can't imagine life without cake/pasta/pizza?!
A: This isn't a question, nor is it helpful, but it is generally the reaction people give when they first learn about gluten. It was my reaction ten years ago when my friend was diagnosed. While there are many difficulties and frustrations about being gluten free (restaurants, parties, more expensive food, the threat of getting sick), but there are many gluten-free options and substitutes for favorite foods. In Dallas there are many gluten-free and gf friendly restaurants and even several gluten free bakeries.
Q: But can't you have just a little bite?
A: No, most definitely not. The amount of gluten in one bite is more than enough to make the Celiac very sick and cause damage to the intestines. Most people with Celiac will even get mildly ill if their non-gluten food touches the same surface as gluten containing food. Cross-contamination is what makes eating out so difficult.
Q: What happens if you get glutened?
A: Just like the presenting symptoms, this is different for different people. I get nauseous, a headache, a dizzy or clouded brain, and very tired. My son, however, gets painful stomach cramps and will vomit for several hours. It sucks.
Q: What about the gluten-free and gluten sensitivity trend?
A: From my understanding, it is estimated that 20-40% of the population has a varying degree of gluten sensitivity. There is not much research or accurate tests to determine this, however. It is usually discovered by eliminating gluten and seeing if you feel better.
Q: Is gluten-free healthier?
A: Yes and no. Yes because it will cause you to eat less processed foods and more fruit, vegetables and meat. No, because processed gluten free foods often contain preservatives and more sugar and fat than gluten foods. So if you swap your brownie for a gf brownie – not healthier, but if you swap your brownie for some strawberries – healthier. GF is not a magic weight loss tool.
Q: So what CAN you eat?
A: A lot! All fruit, vegetables and meat, rice, quinoa, dairy, cornmeal (like in corn tortillas), pure oats, and beans. Gluten free sauces and spices, as well as the many gluten free substitutes of bread, cake, crackers, pasta, etc.