May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month - what better time to take a closer look at this disorder: how to recognize, diagnose and live with it, and become more proactive in your own health care.
Celiac Disease (CD) refers to a condition where an individual’s immune system reacts negatively to the presence of gluten, either via ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact (yes, it’s true, personal care products need to be examined!). All people with Celiac Disease have gluten sensitivity; however, not all people with gluten sensitivity have Celiac. In either case, the multitude of possible symptoms often results in lack of diagnosis for ten years or more. Currently, statistics indicate that 1 in 133 people are living with diagnosed CD. It is estimated that in reality the number of people affected is much higher since this figure does not include those with gluten sensitivity.
Gluten (from the Latin word for “glue”) is a naturally-occurring protein found in cereal grains, particularly the wheat family (durum, semolina, spelt, triticale and kamut) rye and barley. Oats are usually included in the list due to cross contamination during manufacturing, however, it is possible to buy non-contaminated gluten-free oats. Gluten helps the grain bind together during baking, providing elasticity and chewiness. It is also used as a stabilizing agent and additive in multiple foods and personal care products.
Extreme gluten sensitivity can trigger an auto-immune response which attacks the inner lining of the small bowel, causing swelling and destruction of the hair-like projections called villi. This destruction of villi is what makes Celiac, also known as gluten sensitive enteropathy. The villi’s role is to absorb nutrients from the food we eat; nutrients to fuel, sustain and maintain our health, such as iron, folate, vitamin D, calcium, protein, fat, and other food components. It’s no wonder the individual displays so many symptoms, which can often be misdiagnosed and mistaken for other sometimes more sinister conditions.
What would make one suspect gluten sensitivity? In a child the symptoms would present as malnourishment, often labeled as ‘failure to thrive’. Typically, they are underweight and sometimes short of stature, not growing at the normal rate. They will often complain of abdominal pain, experience diarrhea and bloating, and sometimes developmental delays are also apparent. An adult can experience gastro-intestinal issues, in addition to a range of conditions such as irritability, diarrhea, weight loss or gain, depression, fatigue, and sometimes a serious skin rash known as Dermatitis Herpetiformis. The list can go on and includes bone or joint pain, arthritis, iron-deficiency anemia, anxiety, foul smelling bowel movements that float, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, seizures, missed menstrual periods, infertility or recurrent miscarriage, and canker sores in the mouth.
With the multitude of symptoms that can be experienced, it is easy to understand why this sensitivity can often be misdiagnosed or overlooked. It is worth noting that CD is often more prevalent in people with other conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes, Down Syndrome, Autism, Infertility, Addison’s Disease and T-cell Lymphoma.
Prolonged exposure to gluten for those with sensitivity can lead to serious, life threatening conditions. The sooner one determines their status, the better. Indication of gluten sensitivity can sometimes be detected by a simple blood test - the results can often take two to three weeks. A similar test is offered at the Natural Food Pantry (NFP) Wellness Clinic, where only a finger prick of blood is required and the results are available within 10 minutes. If positive, the test should be followed up with a visit to a physician.
Diagnosis of gluten sensitivity can be somewhat unreliable; false-negative results are notorious due to the number of different types of gliadin that can be responsible for the condition. If symptoms persist with no explanation and no alternative diagnosis is offered, it is advisable to act as if gluten is an issue and follow a gluten-free diet.
The good news is that once a person adheres to a 100% gluten-free lifestyle symptoms will dissipate. With the correct support to heal the gut, health can be restored, not to mention the avoidance of serious related health issues. A qualified nutritionist can guide you through this challenging transition, assisting you with menu design, delicious & nutritious recipes and shopping skills to avoid accidental gluten exposure. Unlike days gone by, you are not simply introduced to rice cakes and shown the door!
It is essential to learn how to read labels to identify hidden sources of gluten in common products, which include, but are not restricted to “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”, “modified food starches” or “artificial food colouring”. Also, be aware of other products such as adhesives and children’s play-dough since absorption through the skin can be just as devastating. Consider that the skin is the body’s largest organ; thin and permeable, unprotected by digestive juices. It is especially vulnerable in a hot shower when the pores are expanded and unprotected, creating a direct channel to your bloodstream and other organs. A good rule of thumb to live by is to not put anything on your scalp or skin if you would not be prepared to eat it!
Rather than lament the loss of what’s lost, the focus should be on the array of wholesome foods and other goodies that are allowed…a gluten-free diet can be of benefit to us all!
At the Natural Food Pantry we focus on all the things an individual can have and how that can lead to a healthier life, more energy and avoidance of health complications. Products made from whole grain, gluten-free flours such as quinoa, buckwheat, teff, amaranth and rice can be found in-store. Plus, we house the only dedicated gluten & nut-free bakery in Ottawa, which specializes in delicious treats, custom cakes, and convenient snacks. In-store you can also find other gluten-free items such as natural skin and hair care products and supplements.
To watch yourself or a loved one return to health and vitality is the ultimate payback for some adjustments in lifestyle!
Further information and support regarding gluten sensitivity can be found at the following websites:
Written by Joanna Park, a Registered Nurse and Nutritionist located at the Natural Food Pantry Wellness Clinic within the Billings Bridge location. She can be contacted to arrange a consultation at email@example.com or 613-445-0275.To arrange an appointment for gluten sensitivity testing, please call the Natural Food Pantry Wellness Clinic at 613-733-0871.