March 12, 2012
I’m going to take a million dollar guess and say that you’ve never heard of celiac disease. Did I win? If it’s unfamiliar, you're definitely not alone. In fact, few people even realize they have it: 97% of those affected go undiagnosed, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center (UCCDC). This year through working with food bloggers at my day job (I do PR for a few food industry clients), I learned about this disease that affects many but is often unrealized.
The More You Know
Let’s start with a basic definition. According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is:
“A digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten, which is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. People with celiac disease who eat foods containing gluten experience an immune reaction in their small intestines, causing damage to the inner surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb certain nutrients.”
There is a vocal, intelligent segment of the food blogging population – primarily women – that is doing its part to get the word out about this condition that affects an estimated 3 million Americans (UCCDC). This includes men, women, children, young, old, all backgrounds and all ethnicities.
Wendy Gregory Kaho is the author of Celiacs in the House, a blog she started in December 2008 after her family had gone gluten-free for three years. On it she shares recipes, resources and her story.
Though not a medical professional, Kaho is a wealth of knowledge and suggests this to women who are unsure if they might be affected: “Look at the list of symptoms related to gluten and think about what health issues you are having…there can be infertility and hormonal problems, joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis, mood issues.”
Speaking of infertility, here's a startling stat: 610,000 women in the U.S. experience unexplained infertility and, according to the UCCDC, 6% (36,600) of these women might never learn that celiac disease is the cause of that infertility.
Undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease has many symptoms, including risk of infertility. Kaho states that she had “low-grade depression.” The Celiac Disease Foundation states that some people experience fatigue; others react badly to foods that contain gluten. Still others will experience cramping, vitamin deficiencies, weight loss, joint pain and a laundry list of other health concerns.
Working on Wellness
According to the
Mayo Clinic, this disease has no cure. However, altering your diet
and lifestyle will go a long way in treating the disease. Experts
suggest those with celiac disease work with a dietitian to help with
meal planning. Vitamin supplements may be required, as eliminating
gluten can make patients deficient in other vitamins. And it's also important to be aware that gluten is not only present in food - it can be in your beauty products and medications! Check out this article from EverydayHealth.com that lays out a list of surprising sources of gluten.
Kaho recommends that if you think you might be reacting to gluten, get tested for celiac disease first because going gluten-free on your own makes it harder to detect the disease. Since she has gone gluten-free to treat her celiac disease, she says she is healthier and happier.
If you have
symptoms or strange reactions to certain foods, don’t be afraid to
talk to a doctor. Odds are you’re just fine, but there is always a
chance you may have celiac disease or another food allergy. A simple
call to the doctor’s office is far easier than living an
uncomfortable, unhealthy life that prevents you from being your best