May is Celiac Awareness Month.
As you may have read, I have celiac disease and I talk (and write) about it a lot. It is a huge part of my life – it controls everything I eat, where I eat it, the medication I can take, and even what sunscreen I can wear. In my many discussions about celiac disease with friends, family, servers, colleagues, grocery store clerks, doctors, nurses, and others, I find that people are usually very interested in knowing more about celiac disease.
So, in the spirit of increasing awareness, I offer my list of ten things everyone should know about celiac disease.
- Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. When people with celiac disease eat gluten it causes an immune response and their immune system attacks and damages their intestines. This damage stops the body from absorbing nutrients properly. Celiac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance to gluten.
- Celiac disease is genetic. In order to develop the disease you must have the HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 genes.
- One in every 133 people has celiac disease. Many have the disease and do not know it.
- Celiac disease has more than 300 symptoms, affecting many different parts of the body, these can include chronic diarrhea, skin disorders, and infertility. These symptoms often subside after a gluten-free diet is instituted.
- Celiac disease diagnoses requires a blood test and biopsy. In order to properly diagnose a person with celiac disease the person should be eating gluten, have a blood test, and a biopsy of the upper intestine. If the blood test and the biopsy are positive the person has celiac disease.
- The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.
- The intestinal damage caused by celiac disease can heal over time if gluten is eliminated from the person’s life. A person with celiac disease can never safely reintroduce gluten into his or her diet.
- Gluten is found in many products other than breads, crackers, and cereal. It can also be found in soy sauce, condiments, juices/smoothies, candy bars, processed foods, ice cream, beauty products, and alcoholic beverages, to name a few.
- Food is not gluten-free if it has come in contact with a surface, utensil, or other ingredient that contains gluten. That is called cross contamination and it can make a person with celiac disease sick.
- Not everyone on a gluten-free diet has celiac disease. There are many reasons why people may be on a gluten-free diet.