Combating Celiac Disease
By Anthony Demetrius / November, December, 2011

With everyone being food conscious nowadays, a trip to the grocery store can easily be considered grueling drudgery rather than a quick and easy task. Whether you are someone with a disease that places limitations on your diet or simply just trying to adopt healthier eating habits, going to the grocery store, instead of just piling your shopping cart with whatever you desire, now requires you to stop and carefully read the list of ingredients and nutritional labels on all food packages. However, without a set definition of what a gluten free product really is, the grocery store can be even more daunting for people who suffer from celiac disease.

October is National Celiac Awareness Month. Affecting at least 1 in 133 Americans, celiac disease is a digestive condition caused by the consumption of food (wheat, oats, rye, and barley) that contains a protein called gluten. Eating food that contain gluten will result in a toxic autoimmune reaction, in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged and cannot properly absorb nutrients essential to one's health.

Because overlap exists between the symptoms of celiac and other diseases (irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, gastric ulcers, etc.), the condition can often be hard to diagnose. Varying amongst individuals from mild to severe, typical symptoms of celiac include abdominal cramping, intestinal gas and bloating, constipation/diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss.

It is not clear as to what causes celiac. However, research indicates that it often runs in families. Researches have also discovered that some gene mutations may increase an individual's risk of acquiring celiac.

With no foreseeable cure, the best way for celiac disease to be treated is for the individual to change his or her diet. This means staying away from foods that contain gluten. Although the FDA has no set definition, it suggests that a gluten free product is any product that does not contain any prohibited grains (wheat, oats, rye, and barley), does not contain any ingredients derived from a prohibited grain, or has less than 20 ppm (parts per million) of gluten. Common foods that contain gluten include bread, bagels, pasta, pizza, baked goods, pretzels, beer, and many processed foods. Individuals with celiac should also be wary of foods that may contain "hidden" sources of gluten, in which some foods will have ingredients such as emulsifiers, flavorings, binders, fillers, hydrolyzed plant protein, natural flavorings, stabilizers, or starch. However, with the prevalence of celiac on the rise, such foods are increasingly becoming available in gluten free versions.

Once gluten is removed from the diet, the small intestine will begin to repair itself. If left untreated, an individual with celiac will increase their chances of gastrointestinal cancer by 40 to 100 times that of the normal population. Untreated celiac is also associated with osteoporosis, neurological and psychological complications, pancreatic insufficiencies, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

If you or a loved one suspects that you may have celiac disease, you should contact your gastrointestinal doctor. The GI doctor will perform a series of tests, such as blood tests, endoscopies, and small intestinal biopsies to determine whether you have celiac. If you are diagnosed with the disease, your GI doctor may even refer you to a dietician to help you plan a gluten free diet plan and conquer the daunting aisles of the grocery store.

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