Celiac Awareness Month

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Did you know that celiac disease affects 3 million Americans, yet many sufferers don’t even know they have it? October is Celiac Awareness Month, calling attention to a health problem that’s often misunderstood. Just what is celiac disease?

Also called celiac sprue, celiac disease is a digestive condition triggered by gluten, a protein found primarily in bread, pasta, baked goods, and other foods containing wheat, barley or rye. When certain people consume gluten, they experience an inflammatory reaction which damages the small intestine. The result is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue.

This inflammation in the small intestine also impairs the absorption of critical vitamins, minerals, and calories. Celiac disease symptoms classically include diarrhea, iron-deficiency anemia and lactose intolerance. However, many patients also present with “non-classical” symptoms, such as abdominal pain, “irritable bowel”, and osteoporosis.

According to the American Celiac Disease Alliance, this health issue is often under-diagnosed in this country. It can also be misdiagnosed, given the range of associated symptoms. Fortunately, the cause of the illness is easily removed once the patient is aware of the real problem.

The solution is as simple as cutting out all dietary gluten. Simple─yet challenging─since gluten is virtually everywhere in the Western diet. Many Americans practically live on wheat-based, refined baked goods, snack items, and gluten-containing fast/packaged/processed foods. Health education is vital, not only to determine the problem, but in many cases, to adapt to an entirely new diet.

Information, guidance, and support all promote healing─and remaining disease-free. The good news is that awareness around food-related health issues is growing. In 2006, the FDA required food labels to clearly state the 8 main allergens: wheat, eggs, peanuts, milk, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts. This was a good start, although listing gluten specifically is still not mandatory, so unless you see the term “gluten-free,” beware.

However, many companies have voluntarily responded with specifically labeled gluten-free products, making it easier than ever for celiac sufferers to live a normal lifestyle. It does take effort, though. The following resources can help:

Organizations for education/support/information:

http://americanceliac.org/celiac-disease/

http://www.celiaccentral.org/

A listing of companies offering gluten-free products:

http://www.glutenfree-lifestyle.com/gluten-free-food.html

Gluten-free recipes:

http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/

http://allrecipes.com/Recipes/healthy-recipes/gluten-free/main.aspx

http://www.food.com/recipes/gluten-free

Remember, for yourself─or those you love facing celiac disease─information is power. With proper care, you can live a happy, healthy, symptom-free life.

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