May has been designated as National Celiac Awareness Month. The goal is to raise awareness about what the disease is, how to recognize your symptoms and what to do about them. May is also known as Food Allergy Awareness month and Digestive Disease Awareness month.
Celiac Disease, also known as nontropical sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy, orceliac sprue, is an immune response to the gliadin portion of the gluten protein found in certain grains. It appears that the immune system attempts to neutralize and destroy gliadin and in the process damages the microvilli of the intestinal lining. This damage leads to the many symptoms of celiac disease, most of which result from malabsorption of nutrients and improper digestion of other foods.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease include bulky, frothy and foul-smelling stools, weight loss , vitamin/mineral deficiencies, abdominal distension, joint pain, irritability, muscle wasting, delayed development in children and behavioural problems such as depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia. A proper diagnosis of the disease requires a blood test for the presence of gliadin antibodies and sometimes an intestinal biopsy to determine the damage done to the microvilli. Another way to diagnose is to follow an elimination diet by avoiding all gluten containing grains and products for at least 2 weeks. If symptoms disappear than gluten intolerance is most likely the culprit. Test yourself with a gluten containing grain like wheat and wait atleast 3 days for a reaction. Most reactions are delayed, which is why they are so hard to detect. If you know you are celiac or gluten intolerant, complete avoidance of gluten containing grains for life is the only cure. Even when the intestinal lining heals itself gluten avoidance is still a must. After all, a little bit of poison is still a poison.
What is the next step? Educate yourself. Gluten containing grains include: wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, triticale, and oats. Oats are tolerated by some individuals if they have been tested and proven to be free of wheat and gluten contamination. Most, however, are advised to stay away from them. Gluten free grains include: rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, corn, teff, buckwheat, and sorghum. Nuts and seeds can also be ground into flours and used in recipes. Gluten is hidden in many prepared foods as well, so learning to read labels is extremely important. Some common ones are soy sauce, salad dressings, soups, dips, sauces, ice cream, beer, and other alcohol products. Today we are very lucky to have so many gluten free options available. It is becoming easier and more convenient to find foods that are safe to eat for the celiac individual.
Lactose intolerance is sometimes a by product of celiac disease. Because of the damaged intestinal lining, the body may have a deficiency in the enzyme lactase. It is a good idea to temporarily avoid all dairy products to encourage the full healing of the GI tract. Dairy is best avoided for at least 4 weeks, but for some individuals it may take longer. Test yourself after a month with a small amount of dairy and wait several days to determine if there is a reaction.
There are a few highly recommended natural products to encourage the healing of the body when suffering from celiac disease. A high quality vitamin and mineral supplement is a must since damaged microvilli prevent the uptake of nutrients from your food. In order for the lining to heal itself it requires certain nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C. Glutamine is an amino acid that helps to heal the gut from gluten induced damage, it can be found in powder or capsule form and is best taken on an empty stomach away from other protein foods. Enzymes are critical to encourage the body to break down food and absorb nutrients, they should be used with every meal to enhance digestion. Probiotics are healthy strains of bacteria found in the intestinal tract, they will encourage proper digestion and absorption of food, regulate bowel movements, and boost the immune system. Since dairy is best avoided, probiotic capsules are a better choice compared to yogurt.
Living with celiac disease or gluten intolerance takes some adjusting and may be difficult initially. But the rewards far outweigh the inconvenience of having to alter your life, as you will see when you gain back your health and vitality. Healthyway Natural Foods offers many products to make the transition to your new gluten free life much easier. We have a wide variety of prepackaged gluten free foods such as breads, crackers, pasta, cookies, soups, sauces, and snacks. We also have an excellent selection of baking supplies that will provide you with everything you need to conquer gluten free baking. There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to gluten free baking but with our selection of cookbooks and our knowledgeable staff we can help you along your journey. To acknowledge Celiac Awareness month this May we are offering a store walk through to provide people with the knowledge and tools they need to successfully live the GF way. Please join us on May 13 from 10-11 am or May 14 from 2-3pm to see the array of gluten free products and supplements we have to offer and to sample some tasty treats that will prove gluten free is not taste free! We will provide handouts on the products we carry including a list of gluten free baking supplies and a couple of recipes to get you started. Looking forward to seeing you in the store.