Celiac Disease- The Mystery Disease That Affects Millions Of Americans

The symptoms can range from what may seem like insignificant ailments such as headaches, diarrhea, reflux, lactose intolerance, and abdominal pain and bloating to more significant signs of malabsorption, which can manifest itself as weight loss, anemia, assorted autoimmune disorders, depression and malignancies.

The elusive culprit behind these varied discomforts is celiac disease and international studies show that 1 out of 100 people have it. This means that nearly 3 million Americans are affected and sadly only 3% have been diagnosed. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten- the protein found naturally in wheat, rye, and barley. Even trace amount of gluten can flatten the villi in the intestines which will then lead to a variety of symptoms and if prolonged serious health complications that may include other autoimmune diseases.

Below is a tiered checklist of symptoms of celiac disease from the comprehensive book Celiac Disease –A Hidden Epidemic. (Peter H.R. Green, MD and Rory Jones 2006: Back cover)

I. Check each symptom you have had at least once a week during the past three months:
- Bloating, gas, and/or stomach cramping
-diarrhea or runny stools
-Joint pain or numbness or tingling in your extremities
-Itchy Skin lesions
-Constant unexplained fatigue
-Frequent headaches or migraines

II. Check if you have had or been diagnosed with any of the following:
-Irritable bowel syndrome
-Eczema or unexplained dermatitis
-Chronic fatigue syndrome
-Nervous stomach (non-ulcer dyspepsia)

III. Check if you have any of the following:
-Lactose intolerance
-Osteopenia and/or osteoporosis
-Autoimmune disorders (thyroid disease [hypo/hyper], type 1 diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome, chronic liver disease) or an immediate family member with an autoimmune condition
-Peripheral neuropathy
-Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
-Small intestinal cancer
-Psychiatric disorders or depression
-Anemia (iron deficiency)

Checking one or more lines in section I and II and having any of the illnesses listed in section III warrants a personal and medical investigation to rule out or confirm celiac disease.

Before you try to alleviate any of the above symptoms by trying out a gluten-free diet, it is important for you to get a professional diagnosis of celiac disease. Prematurely trying a gluten-free diet before getting tested for antibodies to gluten will skew your test results. It is important to get tested while you have been eating gluten in order to have accurate tests. Antibody tests will be followed up by an endoscopy and biopsy, which is considered the gold standard for a diagnosis of celiac disease within the medical community. If you have a negative antibody test, but suspicion of celiac disease is still high, a biopsy may still be performed.

In the recent past the American medical community has lagged behind many other countries in regards to understanding that celiac disease is not as rare of a disease as once taught in medical schools. Fortunately, and most likely due to the efforts of the press and the high profile work of foreign medical pioneers, such as Dr. Peter Green of the Celiac Disease Center At Columbia University and Dr. Alessi Fasano of the University Of Maryland Center For Celiac Research, the mysterious symptoms of celiac disease are finally becoming more recognizable to physicians within the United States. Be sure to find a gastroenterologist that is familiar with celiac disease and has actually diagnosed the proper ratio of patients with celiac disease.

There is no cure for celiac disease. The good news is that it can be treated with a gluten-free diet and the health of most patients is restored once they completely eliminate gluten from their diet. At first the gluten-free diet may seem overwhelming, but there is no need be afraid or feel alone. There are many friendly gluten-free bloggers among us that share helpful tips about navigating restaurant menus, recipes, and travel while following a gluten-free diet.

Here is a short list of blogs by gluten-free authors that show what a variety of information and encouragement is available right at your fingertips:

A Chronic Dose
Author Laurie Edwards manages several chronic illnesses in addition to celiac disease.

Diabetes Mine
Author Amy Tenderich manages diabetes and celiac disease.

Elana’s Pantry
Elana Amsterdam’s recipes focus on organic ingredients, almond flour, and natural sweeteners.

Fab Grandma
Karen shares her gluten-free recipes along with her inspirational RV experiences.

Gluten-Free By The Bay
A kosher collection of gluten-free recipes. One of the first bloggers to share a recipe for gorgeous looking gluten-free donuts.

Gluten-Free For Good
Melissa is a Nutrition Therapist and shares healthy gluten-free recipes with a focus on nutrition.

Gluten-Free Girl
Author Shauna Ahern blogs about the intimate details of her gluten-free life with some recipes mixed in.

Gluten-Free Gobsmacked
Kate shares gluten-free recipes along with details about the trials of trying to adopt a child. Be sure to check out her lovely and very normal looking gluten-free croissant recipe.

Karina’s Kitchen
One of the most prolific gluten-free recipe creators with an artsy angle and solutions for enjoying food despite multiple food allergies.

La Tartine Gourmande
Professional food stylist and Boston Globe recipe contributor, Bea, shares gluten-free recipes with magazine worthy photos.

Mrs. GF
A busy mom shares her gluten-free tips and tricks.

Straight To Bed Cake-Free & Dried
English homeopath Naomi Devlin shares creative gluten-free recipes that are also suitable for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

Kelly Courson writes about her favorite gluten-free finds at CeliacChicks.


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