May is Celiac Awareness Month
By: Hannah Chapeskie, Dietetic Intern 2021
Did you know that 1 in 133 people live with celiac disease? It affects people of every age, sex, and ethnicity and is not the same as a gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder that impacts the digestive system. For people living with CD, consuming gluten (a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye) triggers the body to attack the lining of the small intestine. This damages the intestinal villi that line the small intestine and are essential for absorbing nutrients. As a result, people with unmanaged CD can become deficient in many vitamins and minerals. Have you or a loved one recently diagnosed with celiac disease? Are you looking for nutrition support?
Signs and Symptoms:
There are more than 300 symptoms associated with CD and every individual can experience CD differently. Some individuals with CD experience no outward symptoms at all which makes diagnosis difficult.
Some of the more common symptoms include:
It is unknown what exactly causes the development of CD, however, you are at higher risk if you are female, have a family history of CD or dermatitis herpetiformis, have type 1 diabetes, and/or have another autoimmune disorder. Research has shown that CD tends to become active following a surgery, pregnancy, infection, or severe stress.
Diagnosis begins before one starts a gluten-free diet to avoid false negatives. A blood test is performed to look for specific antibodies that are produced in someone with CD. These tests include IgA-TTG, IgA-EMA or a combination of both. Total serum IgA can be tested as well as an IgA deficiency can lead to false negatives in the previous tests. If blood tests are positive, a biopsy of the small intestine is performed to look for damage and inflammation due to CD and confirm the diagnosis.
Undiagnosed Celiac Disease:
With a wide range of symptoms, around 83% of sufferers go undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed with other conditions such as IBS, lactose intolerance, chronic fatigue, and/or ulcers. Undiagnosed CD can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS) as well as other health complications. Many complications are attributed to prolonged nutrient deficiencies due damage of the intestines and can include anemia, lactose intolerance, osteoporosis, infertility, heart disease, intestinal cancers, peripheral neuropathy (pins and needles/numbness in limbs), epilepsy and more.
Currently, the only treatment for CD is to adhere to a gluten-free (GF) diet for life. Going gluten-free allows the small intestine to repair itself and can reduce symptoms. A gluten-free diet avoids all grains that contain the protein gluten including wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. Although many foods may appear to be gluten-free, CD sufferers need to watch for items that are often contaminated with gluten, such as:
Many cosmetic and personal hygiene products also contain gluten but typically there is not enough to trigger a reaction in someone with CD. Overall, it’s important that individuals living with CD learn how to read labels and identify ingredients that contain gluten, in order to avoid them. Have you or a family member been diagnosed with Celiac Disease? We can help ensure that all nutrient needs are met on a gluten-free diet.
Cross-Contact and Celiac Disease:
Cross-contact refers to when a gluten-free food is exposed to a gluten-containing food, making it unsafe for those with CD to consume. Being aware of how and where cross-contact can occur is essential in maintaining a strict, gluten-freediet and managing CD.
Outside of the home, avoiding cross-contact can be difficult to control. Here are some places where cross-contact can occur, and caution is advised for those with CD:
At the Grocery Store
In your own home, avoiding cross-contact can be easier to control but requires the entire household to be onboard. Here are some tips for ensuring a household member with CD stays safe:
Tips for Gluten Free Baking:
With so many gluten-free replacements and recipes available today, cooking gluten-free gets easier with time and practice. However, making gluten-free baked goods with the right texture and flavour can be difficult at first.
Here are some tips and tricks for baking better gluten-free favourites at home: