Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease

Definition: Celiac Disease is an incurable autoimmune disease in which, when exposed to gluten, the body attacks itself. Often the target is the small intestine, but the immunological response can affect other bodily systems as well. The most common reaction is the damage is to lining of the small intestine. The villi of the intestine, the small hair or finger-like appendages that usually grab onto to molecules, become stunted or completely flattened. This leads to absorption difficulties which in turn leads to malnutrition problems.

People with Celiac Disease usually react when there is anywhere from 1 to 10 ppm (parts per million) of gluten in food. Food products labeled as “gluten-free” (often shortened to “gf”) are allowed to contain up to 5ppm of gluten. This gives room for some gf products to still be dangerous to Celiac patients. The safest way to eat or drink for a Celiac patient is to buy natural base foods and make most things at home, from scratch. As daunting as this may seem, it is definitely worth it in the end. You save money (as gf processed foods are highly inflate price wise), you end up eating healthier with the absence of chemicals and excess salt and sugar (most gf processed foods use excess salt or sugar to add flavor that is usually present in gluten based foods), and you are able to make food that you know is safe and is something you would actually want to eat.

Symptoms:

  • bloating

  • diarrhea

  • mood swings

  • cramping of the abdomen

  • vomiting

  • itchy skin

  • weight loss

  • fatigue

  • heartburn and indigestion

  • stunted growth

  • malnutrition

  • bone growth issues

  • joint issues

  • anemia

  • nausea

  • abdominal pain

Diagnosis:

Confirmation of Celiac Disease is often done via a colonoscopy or other internal examination and usually with a biopsy. Though, if your diet is not high in gluten, this test can be inconclusive or even negative. The most definitive way to test is an elimination diet.

After suffering years of weight issues, stomach issues, hospitalizations and eventually gastrointestinal surgeries, I was tested for Celiac Disease. By the time they tested, I had been in the hospital for a while and on a liquid diet due to surgeries and such. The test was inconclusive and, for some reason, ruled out. As I recovered from a surgery to have my stomach moved and reconstructed to operate as the colon at the base of my esophagus (the natural one had stopped working due to constant vomiting issues when I ate), I began to eat normally again. I also began to have rashes, bloating, abdominal pains, and other issues come back. My primary care manager said she wasn’t convinced I didn’t have Celiac Disease. She explained what it was and started an elimination diet. Three weeks later my weight was becoming healthier, the rashes were fading, I wasn’t nauseous all day, and the improvements were becoming obvious. I was pissed. I called bullshit, I mean, I had eaten gluten my whole life. So I had some crackers. I was bed bound for three days. It was the gluten. She had me retested and this time it was conclusive. I had Celiac Disease and my reaction threshold was actually 3-5ppm!

Prognosis:

Celiac Disease is not curable. The only treatment is a strictly gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Although eliminating wheat, barley, and rye seems easy enough, gluten is often used in a plethora of products as a thickener and as a binding agent as well as the basis for many artificial and caramel colors and flavors. Everything from canned soup, processed lunch meats, candy, pre-made seasonings, and flavored potato chips to bread, cereal, crackers and noodles contain gluten. Another problem is cross-contamination. Many facilities make products that contain gluten or harvest crops that are grown next to or with gluten containing crops. The latter is why people with Celiac Disease have to be careful to make sure the oats they purchase and consume are gluten free and not harvested with wheat. Even Pringles now has a gluten warning on their container.

The recent diet trend of eating gluten free has both benefited and hurt the Celiac community. On one hand, there are more companies aiming for a gluten free product. On the other, any products are falsely labeled and often Celiac patients are not taken seriously by people who assume the diet is not health and medically relevant.

So what contains gluten? You would be surprised.

  • Caramel color and flavoring is made from barley, so usually anything with caramel color or flavor is a probable candidate for gluten (dark sodas, candy, sauces)

  • Canned soups (even tomato and potato soups!)

  • seasoning packets and premixed seasonings

  • maltodextrin unless it is specified that it is made from corn

  • modified food starch

  • soy sauce

  • bread, crackers, cookies, and cereal (in case that wasn’t a given, unless they specify – Chex has several gluten-free cereal flavors and Cheerios does as well though some people claim they still get a reaction. Recently Cheerios went to all new facilities to prevent cross-contamination and there have been less complaints of reactions. There is a possibility that those people could have other allergies or were having psychosomatic reactions.)

  • “cheese products” like sliced cheese that has color and flavor added

  • Whiskey, Bourbon, beer, and lager (There is debate that the process for hard liquor means whiskey and bourbon have gluten but it is “cooked off” but I would say try at your own risk…I definitely had a reaction)

  • many barbecue sauces and marinades

  • mixed nuts often have cross contamination issues due to the facilities they are packaged in

  • chocolate that has added coloring

  • anything with durum or semolina (it’s from wheat)

  • spelt, kamut, and triticale

  • some medications, vitamins, and other pills use gluten (often maltodextrin) as a binding agent and a thickener (in liquid forms)

So what can you have?

  • Fruit

  • vegetables

  • dairy that isn’t flavored or colored

  • meats (some people claim that some beef that is raised on grains can still cause a reaction, I have yet to find legitimate proof or personally experienced this)

  • vodka (made with potatoes, sugar cane, or corn and not colored or flavored)

  • rum (made from potatoes, sugar cane, fruit, or corn and not colored or flavored)

  • flours made from corn, coconut, rice (any), almonds, flax, potato, sorghum, and oat (if labeled as gf)

  • noodles made with the above

  • breads, crackers, and cookies made from the above

  • Angry Orchard hard cider (it’s so yummy and gluten free!)

  • Yoplait yogurts (not the kind with toppings, the ones in the tapered containers and their greek yogurts are gf)

  • Chex rice, corn, cinnamon, apple cinnamon, chocolate, and vanilla cereals

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