The What, Why and Where of gluten intolerance and Celiac disease in the Berkeley Community
By Cecilia Bonaduce
More and more people are being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease and, as a result, gluten-free foods and menus are popping up all around the country. Although only recently catching the eye of the media, Celiac Disease has long been affecting the human population. For years the medical community failed to realize the prevalence of Celiac Disease. According to the National Institute of Health, up until ten years ago, medical schools taught that only 1 in 2,500 people have Celiac disease. Today, we know that 1 in 133 people have Celiac Disease but only 1 in 4,700 is ever diagnosed. What is Celiac Disease? Why is it so egregiously under diagnosed? How do you live on a gluten-free diet? The answers to these questions could be critical to bettering your health.
Many people suffer for years with symptoms such as abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea arthritis and anemia before achieving a proper diagnosis. Correctly diagnosing Celiac disease is very difficult because the symptoms of Celiac disease mimic the symptoms of many other chronic conditions such as IBS, GERD and macrocystic anemia. After ineffective treatments and invasive, yet ineffective, diagnostic tests, patients lose their good will and become frustrated with both their doctors and their bodies. The correct diagnosis represents a small victory in a long line of obstacles that the patient must face. Adopting a gluten free lifestyle is the real challenge.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine in response to the consumption of gluten. The damage to the small intestine prevents the body from effectively absorbing nutrients resulting in severe malnutrition and various other symptoms. There are four major steps involved with diagnosing Celiac disease: a physical examination, blood work, a biopsy of the duodenal and the implementation of the gluten free diet. If the gluten free diet causes the symptoms to subside and the patient’s small intestine to heal then the diagnosis of Celiac disease is confirmed.
If the patient strictly adheres to a gluten free diet then their health and quality of life should increase greatly. The time it takes to experience relief from symptoms varies from person to person and depends on the ability of the person to avoid all gluten and age (it takes longer for adults to heal). Although the small intestines take anywhere from months to years to heal, relief from symptoms such as cramping and digestive problems should subside fairly quickly. A quick recovery from Celiac symptoms is often hard to come by because new patients have yet to master the gluten free diet which can be quite tricky to adhere to. Over time the person with Celiacs will heal and the gluten free lifestyle will become second nature.
Although no cure for Celiac disease currently exists, there are ways to relieve the potentially debilitating symptoms of Celiac disease. There are three rules every gluten free dieter should live by to have a healthy life:
- Memorize – People with gluten intolerance must memorize safe and unsafe ingredients. For example, the Celiac must know that; malt flavoring, wheat starch, spelt, soy sauce, and couscous are unsafe ingredients. They must also learn how common restaurant foods are prepared. For example, someone with Celiac Disease must know not to order tomato bisque soup at a restaurant because it is often thickened with wheat flour. Lastly, they must know the manufacturing process for many foods. For example, oats are technically gluten free; however, the manufacturing process results in gluten contamination and, thus, must be avoided.
- Commit – If you have Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity you must commit whole-heartedly to a gluten-free lifestyle. Even a “little bit” of gluten can cause a lot of damage. When someone has just baked a fresh cake and says “just one bite won’t hurt” the Celiac must not give in. A 100% gluten-free diet is the only way to sustain a healthful lifestyle. Even the slightest bit of gluten can damage the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
- Question – A gluten-free lifestyle requires that you interrogate chefs. Whether at a friend’s dinner party, or at a restaurant, if you cannot eat gluten you must be ready to ask about how the food is prepared. Is the soup thickened with flour? Is the meat braised or dusted with flour? Are the French fries fried in the same oil as breaded foods like chicken strips? Does the restaurant make its chicken or vegetable stock fresh daily? Finding out about how the food is prepared is the only way to avoid gluten contamination while dining out
Going gluten free, though challenging, can drastically improve your health. If you think you might have Celiac Disease talk to your physician right away. For more information, go to www.celiac.org.
About the Author: Cecilia Bonaduce studies Public Health with a concentration in infectious disease at UC Berkeley. As Chief Blog Editor of PHA Blog, she enjoys contributing articles in addition to her duties as Editor. Cecilia plans to take a year off to work in the public health field before applying to medical school. Additional interests include cooking, singing and Cal Boxing Club.