October is Celiac Disease Awareness Month

October is Celiac Disease Awareness Month – a great time to learn more about this disease and following a gluten-free diet. Jill Nowak, RD, CDE, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s, shares her recommendations and the signs and symptoms of this condition.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disorder affecting approximately 1% of the population.  When a person with celiac disease eats gluten an immune-mediated response causes damage to the small intestines and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.  Therefore, the only treatment for celiac disease is following a gluten-free diet.  Over time if left untreated, celiac disease can lead to an increase risk for anemia, osteoporosis, nutritional deficiencies, skin disorders and other health problems.

People with other autoimmune disorders, in particular type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease, are at increased risk for celiac disease.  Unfortunately, it may take as long as 11 years to correctly be diagnosed with celiac disease.  By being aware of the symptoms of celiac disease and discussing with your doctor to screen for celiac disease if you have another high risk autoimmune disorder, this time frame can possibly be decreased.

Symptoms for Celiac Disease
• Stomach pain, gas, constipation  and/or diarrhea
• Change in mood
• Weight loss
• Slowed growth in children
• An itchy, blistering skin rash

Following a Gluten-free Diet
A gluten-free diet involves not consuming gluten, a storage protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.  Most breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, baked goods and crackers have gluten.  In addition, hidden sources of gluten are found in foods such as soups, sauces, and gravies.  During recent times the gluten-free diet has become somewhat of a fad diet.  Ironically, this diet could lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight gain because many gluten-free products are made with highly processed, unenriched flours and added fat and sugar.  Therefore, it is strongly recommended that a person diagnosed with celiac disease seek nutrition counseling by a registered dietitian.  Eating well on a gluten free diet is possible.  Aim for eating gluten-free whole grains, choose enriched or fortified  gluten-free grains, cook with less fat, and eat more fiber rich and calcium rich foods.  Lastly, cross contamination is a major concern and food handling techniques is crucial in your own kitchen and when dining away from your home.

To find more information about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet, check these sites out:
• Celiac Disease Foundation ( http://celiacdiseasefoundation.org/ )
• National Digestive Diseases Information (http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/ )
• Shelley Case, RD  (http://www.glutenfreediet.ca/ )

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