Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diet Q&A

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1. About how many Americans have celiac disease?  Has this number increased in recent years?

Although there are estimated to be nearly 3 million Americans with celiac disease, and incidence of celiac have risen four fold since the 1950’s. Unfortunately about 95% remain undiagnosed.

Why? Celiac disease is rarely considered by physicians, it currently takes about 6 years for a patient to receive a celiac diagnosis on average.

Additionally, emerging research suggests that conditions such as gluten sensitivity, a condition affecting an additional 18 million Americans, are also apart of a much bigger picture than once thought. 

Until now, little has been known about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. However, scientists hope that recent breakthroughs and greater awareness will lead to better diagnosis of both conditions.

NFCA is working to gain 1 million diagnosed celiacs by 2015 by educating primary care providers about the signs and symptoms of celiac disease. For information and to help NFCA in this effort visit: http://www.celiaccentral.org/CMEtoolkit/rev–2/

2. How do you know if you have celiac disease?

NFCA’s website has an online symptoms checklist that can help determine if your health problems or symptoms may indicate celiac.

The first step to getting diagnosed is as easy as asking your doctor for a simple blood test to check for celiac disease. It is very important to continue eating a normal gluten containing diet before being tested.

If the blood test comes back positive, your doctor will then follow up with a small intestine biopsy, which is currently the most definitive way to test for celiac disease.

3. Can you have celiac disease and NOT experience any symptoms?

Yes, some individuals may have asymptomatic celiac disease. In fact, 38% of patients are asymptomatic.

In these cases, the undamaged part of their small intestine is able to absorb enough nutrients to prevent symptoms.

However, people without symptoms are still at risk for the complications of celiac disease including other autoimmune disorders, infertility, neurological disorders, and cancer.

4. If I have celiac disease, are family members also at risk?

Yes, celiac disease is one of the most common genetic disorders in the country.

  • Prevalence of Celiac in first degree relatives: 1 in 22
  • Prevalence of Celiac in second degree relatives: 1 in 39

Family members may have Celiac Disease without experiencing symptoms and should be tested every year or so.

5. What is a gluten-free diet and what foods are gluten-free?

A gluten-free diet means avoiding all foods and beverages containing wheat, barley, and rye. That also includes ingredients like malt that derive from gluten containing grains.

While the gluten-free diet may seem restrictive, believe it or not most things on the food pyramid are naturally gluten-free including: fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, legumes, diary, and even some starches such as rice, potatoes, and yams. And yes, you can even have chocolate!

6. Is there any amount of gluten that is safe to eat if you have celiac disease?

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.

7. Once someone with celiac disease goes on a gluten-free diet, will they get better right away?

Due to the harmful and sometimes prolonged effects gluten exposure, those with celiac may have severe nutrient malabsorption issues, and low levels of essential vitamins and minerals. Consulting a doctor or nutritionist during this critical restoration process is encouraged, as it may take up to two years to completely heal.

8. Where do buy gluten-free food?

Grocery stores and food distributors nationwide are responding to the skyrocketing demand for gluten-free products. NFCA’s website lists many locations that have dedicated gluten-free sections to help you easily identify products that are safe for a gluten-free diet. There are also several online retailers for gluten-free products to explore.

9. How do I eat gluten-free on the go?

Keep energy bars, trail mix, nuts, and/or gluten free crackers everywhere! Your car, gym bag, and pocketbook are perfect places to store some emergency gluten-free goodies- just in case!

10. Are there benefits to eating gluten-free if you do not have celiac disease?

While research is ongoing, those suffering from autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, and autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis are finding that adopting a gluten-free diet can alleviate many of their symptoms as well.

There ARE benefits to eating a healthy diet, embracing foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, meats, and dairy, which are naturally gluten-free and low processed foods.

Have a question? 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.

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