It sounds really scary, doesn’t it? Anything with disease in it is seems to cause heart palpitations, perhaps a twitch of the eye, or shoulders to tense. Celiac Disease caused no less of a reaction in me (except for the eye twitch – those are reserved for when my son hits this really loud and really high pitch). Admittedly, now that I know more it still strikes a bit of fear in me.
The nuts and bolts of it are this: Celiac Disease is a symptom and an autoimmune disease. It is literally defined by villous atrophy. Those small little things in your small intestine that help you absorb nutrients? Well, they’re blunted in someone with celiac’s and thereby hinders their ability to be healthy by causing malnourishment. In some patients celiac presents its self as a bit of iron deficient anemia and perhaps, as is the case with my son, what is called a failure to thrive (he didn’t gain much weight that year). It sounds so simple; such a very undramatic thing. In reality it is sneaky, persistent, and destructive.
The reason this isn’t merely a case of gluten intolerance (and I don’t mean that as a way of diminishing that issue – a dear friend of mine has it and chronic pain is no walk in the park), but literally a level of intolerance that is more akin to actual allergy. The reason it is categorized as an autoimmune disease is because of what happens when the person with celiac’s eats gluten. The enzyme that our bodies produce in order to fix our intestines is called tissue transglutaminase and in people with celiac’s their bodies produce antibodies to destroy it as the gluten actually destroys the villi. This is why a blood test looking for these antibodies is so vital in diagnosis (and, honestly, why a small intestine biopsy is not necessary). In many cases physicians will also do tests called the IgA and/or IgG test to see what other antibodies the body is producing.
All of these things disappear when gluten is no longer present in the individual’s diet. So much so that if they had stopped eating gluten in the weeks before these tests were done they more than likely would show a negative result. This is possibly why so many physicians still opt for the small intestinal biopsy (might also be because it’s a rather costly little test despite the fact that it still boils down to getting just the right samples for a positive result to be shown; minimal damage/early stages makes it that much harder to get the “right” samples) for a definitive diagnosis. Damage done to the intestines, depending upon the duration of gluten ingesting as well as age at diagnosis, can be reversible. However, remaining gluten free is absolutely imperative for a patient with celiac’s.
When a person’s body can not handle gluten the risk of colon cancer, small intestinal adenocarcenoma are both increased should the individual continue to ingest it.
Now, the fun part. The elimination of gluten is not merely getting rid of wheat or obvious wheat byproducts such as flour, but also avoiding spelt, barley, rye, kamut, triticale, malts, and according to one source couscous. This also means any derivative of the above. Sweeteners and thickeners are both very suspect until you know their origin. Also, beware of vitamins as many of them are contaminated by or contain wheat (among other allergens). Same goes for dried fruit.
I’ll save my longer rant for another time, but since going gluten free I must say this: The US has massive issues with processed foods and cross-contamination. Needless to say this is a huge adjustment for my family and, writing wise, has taken up much of my writing time. It is no small thing to become in the know about all this stuff never mind trying to find a way of maintaining a balanced diet. What I wish I knew before all this was how to read a nutrition label. Not exactly the fun type of reading I usually prefer.
Anyone else have to deal with this? Perhaps a family member or friend needing a dietary restriction? Any sanity saving tips?