A week ago I tested positive for Celiac Disease, the reason why I’ve spent the better part of the last year and a half sick. I haven’t been able to get much research done in the last few weeks as I’ve been feeling pretty run down, so I decided instead I’d use this blog post to help raise awareness.
Celiac affects 1 in every 120-odd Americans, possibly more. Your chances go up to 1 in 22 if you are like me and have a close relative with Celiac – my mom. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder where the body treats the protein gluten as a poison, which leads to the immune system attacking the small intestine. Slowly this destroys the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and can lead to a variety of health risks, short term being gastrointestinal issues and malnutrition, to long term problems ranging from diabetes, osteoporosis and an increased risk of cancer. At this point there is no cure except for a gluten-free diet, which involves cutting out wheat, kamut, spelt, barley, rye and malt. If I manage to cut out everything, my body will heal and hopefully I’ll go back to being healthy.
What does living gluten free mean? It means that I’ll be shopping at Whole Foods a whole lot more. It means that if I can’t read the ingredient label, I can’t have it – I’ll be having little but salads, no crutons please at restaurants. It means I need to make sure the obvious (bread, bagels, brownies) and the non-obvious (soy sauce, hot chocolate, toothpaste) are gluten free. It means that my roommate and I can’t use the same toaster and I’m constantly cloroxing the counters and table to avoid cross contamination. It means a huge lifestyle change, and to be perfectly honest between holidays and finals, I’m overwhelmed.
So why am I telling you? The main reason is that it took a year and a half of being sick for months at a time before I got diagnosed – on average it takes 10 years to get a firm diagnosis. I only found out because I specifically asked my doctor to test me, and he nearly blew me off because I didn’t have the usual range of symptoms. I wasn’t anemic, I didn’t seem malnourished, I wasn’t throwing up. I just kept getting sick, going on any and every prescription drug they could think of and treating the effects, not the cause. If any of this sounds like you or someone you know, I urge you to talk to your doctor. If he or she tells you that Celiac seems to be the “buzz” word these days, then tell them to test anyways. Celiac symptoms are still being discovered, and often don’t occur until the body is subjected to an intense stress such as illness, hospitalization or college. Too many people spend the better part of their lives not knowing how much better they could be feeling because they just haven’t heard about it, when gluten intolerance is in the top 10 most common allergies in the nation.
Also, the more people that know about Celiac the more likely it is that someone will decide to come up with a gluten-free recipe for the donut I’ve been craving. Get on that. 🙂
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Celiac, the lifestyle or are just curious.