CELIAC DISEASE: LIVING A GLUTEN-FREE LIFE

Celiac disease affects the digestive process of the small intestine. It has been around since the time of the ancient Romans and is the world’s most common genetic autoimmune disorder, affecting an estimated three million Americans and nearly one percent of the world wide population that have had the gene passed down to them. A 2009 Mayo Clinic study found that celiac disease is four times more common today than it was 50 years ago. However, it remains so misunderstood that 97 percent of Americans with the disorder are undiagnosed. The disease can also mimic symptoms of many other conditions such as anemia, fatigue, joint pain and infertility, making it even more difficult to diagnose. In addition, a large number of people who are affected show no symptoms at all. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. And these grains have become a staple of many people’s diets. Consuming gluten, even in microscopic amounts, causes the immune system of a person with celiac disease to attack the small intestine and hamper the absorption of nutrients into the body. For those diagnosed with celiac disease, the only effective treatment is adopting a strictly gluten-free diet. A program of gluten-free foods can produce symptom improvement within weeks. Gluten-free options in stores are increasing so it is important to always carefully understand what you are eating. Celiac disease, unlike a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance, is an inherited condition. While the symptoms of “intolerance” can be similar, they do not cause permanent damage to the small intestine. Thus, one can test negative for celiac, but still be “gluten intolerant” or have a wheat allergy. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity can include fatigue, headache, “foggy mind”, numbness of the arms, fingers or legs, and joint pain, along with associated gastrointestinal symptoms.