About Celiac Disease and the Gluten-Free Diet

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Celiac Disease, What’s that?

If you’ve never heard of celiac disease, you’re not alone. Of the 3 million Americans living with the genetic autoimmune disorder, only about 150,000 have been formally diagnosed!

Celiac disease affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients in the small intestine, and is triggered by an autoimmune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. When a person with celiac eats gluten, the protein causes damage to a part of the small intestine called villi.

Nearly 1 in 100 Americans have the digestive disorder, equivalent to 1% of the U.S. population, and it can be passed genetically from parent to child. In some cases, the onset of celiac can be triggered by stressful events like pregnancy, surgery, infection, or severe emotional distress.

Left untreated, individuals with celiac have a fourfold increased risk of early death, can develop further complications such as other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and even cancer.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Despite being the most common autoimmune disorder in the United States, celiac disease has gone largely undiagnosed because the symptoms often mimic other conditions such as Crohn’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome.

With nearly 300 associated symptoms, it is often difficult to identify the condition. Some people with celiac may not have symptoms, but still be at risk for the complications associated with the disease.

A few of the most common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Bloating or Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy Skin Rash
  • Tingling/Numbness
  • Pale Mouth Sores
  • Joint Pain
  • Delayed Growth
  • Poor Weight Gain
  • Thin Bones
  • Infertility
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Discolored Teeth

A helpful checklist of symptoms associated with celiac disease also can be found on NFCA’s website.

Do You Have It?

As doctors become more aware of the many varied symptoms of the disease and reliable blood tests become more available, celiac disease diagnosis rates are improving.

To support a proper diagnosis of celiac disease, doctors will first order a simple screening blood test. Should symptoms indicate, a biopsy of the lining of the small intestine may also be required for a positive confirmation. Some physicians may also recommend a gene test for patients and family members.

A Gluten-Free Diet: Food is the Remedy.

The treatment for celiac disease is simple: a gluten-free diet for life. There are no medications or surgeries that can cure this autoimmune disease.

What is it exactly? Gluten is a protein found in all forms of wheat, barley and rye.

The gluten-free diet is a lifelong commitment for people with celiac disease. Eating any amount of gluten, no matter how tiny, can cause damage to the villi of the small intestines and prevent patients from absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream.

Although a medical necessity for individuals with celiac, more and more Americans are seeing health benefits from going gluten-free, and the diet is quickly become one the fastest growing nutritional movements in America! In fact, US News and World Report estimates 15-25% of U.S consumers report looking for gluten-free products, and the marketplace is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2012.

Gluten-containing wheat additives are still the most commonly used in U.S. food products today. The protein gluten sometimes is found in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms.

Thankfully NFCA is making it easier for people with celiac to manage a gluten-free diet and still enjoy life! It’s website offers exclusive free resources for download including a Getting Started Guide for individuals and families beginning the gluten-free lifestyle, recipe ideas, restaurants, product reviews, and so much more!

The NFCA Is Here To Help!

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to driving diagnosis, improving quality-of-life, and working with leading researchers to better understand celiac disease and find a cure.

NFCA’s website offers free, comprehensive information and support materials for patients, their families, health care providers, food industry professionals, and anyone with an interest in celiac disease and gluten-free living!

For information, visit the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) website.

Information supplied by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

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