Yes, May is Celiac Awareness Month. That means that I am going to be telling everyone I know, and some I don’t know, about Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance.
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Three million Americans have celiac disease, yet 95% of those who have it are undiagnosed. (1) It damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats. (2)
Those of us who have Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance can not eat wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. If we do, we get sick. We won’t get sick quickly like someone who has allergy, but we will get sick. So, you ask, what is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance? Here is one answer to that question:
“If you have a food allergy, even a tiny amount of the offending food can cause an immediate, severe reaction. Digestive signs and symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea. Other signs and symptoms can include a tingling mouth, hives, and swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat. A life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can cause breathing trouble and dangerously low blood pressure. If you have a food allergy, you’ll need to avoid the offending food entirely.
Food intolerance symptoms generally come on gradually and don’t involve an immune system reaction. If you have a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. You may also be able to take steps that help prevent a reaction. For example, if you have lactose intolerance, you may be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills that aid digestion (such as Lactaid).” (3)
But just because you may be able to eat something you are intolerant of, such as wheat gluten, it doesn’t mean that your body is not being damaged by the substance you have eaten. And therein lies the problem. When you can still eat something without having the chance of dieing from eating it, it is very hard to convince even the people who love you the most that you shouldn’t eat that thing.
People who have Celiac Disease must eat a gluten free diet or be sick. Before I knew what was wrong with me, every time I ate a meal, I had to know where the bathroom was, because I had to be able to get there in a hurry. This was not just once a week or a couple of times a month. It was every day, every time I ate. I had chronic diarrhea, that was uncontrollable. I was a 55 year old woman, who had pooped her pants in public more than once. My husband and I had discussed buying me some adult diapers because I couldn’t hold it long enough to get to the bathroom. It was very embarrassing, not only for me, but for my husband and whoever else was with me.I also had a foul smelling flatulence.
In addition to the intestinal problems that I had, I had a foggy head. Some days I just couldn’t think clearly. I had headaches. My feet and legs hurt so bad that I had to take over the counter pain relievers every night before I went to bed just so I could sleep. And I was beginning to experience tingling and numbness in my toes and feet. I just assumed that because I had type II diabetes, that it was Peripheral neuropathy (4). But, when I started eating a gluten free diet, all of those symptoms disappeared.
Not everyone who has Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance has the same symptoms. In fact, the symptoms may mimic some other condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohns disease, or even parasite infections and anemia. Common symptoms of Celiac are abdominal pain, bloating and gas; constipation; diarrhea; lactose intolerance; nausea; stools that float, smell bad, are bloody or “fatty”; unexplained weight loss. As time goes on, these symptoms may appear:
Because the intestines do not absorb many important vitamins, minerals, and other parts of food, the following symptoms may start over time:
- Bruising easily
- Depression or anxiety
- Growth delay in children
- Hair loss
- Itchy skin (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Missed menstrual periods
- Mouth ulcers
- Muscle cramps and joint pain
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Unexplained short height
People who have Celiac Disease are more likely to have other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis,lupus, intestinal lymphoma, and thyroid disease to name a few.(2)
Eating a gluten free diet is the only thing a person with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance can do to get well. The gluten free diet is not a weight loss diet. I have been eating gluten free since April of 2007, and I am still just as fat as I was back then. The only difference is that now, I am not sick all the time. I feel a lot better than I did back in 2007. My feet don’t hurt, except for having plantar fasciitis, but that is not related to my gluten intolerance or possible Celiac Disease. I no longer need to think about getting adult diapers. And for me, that is all I need to think about to stay as gluten free as possible.