Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is Celiac?

I was diagnosed with Celiac in November 2007. I often tell people it's like a food allegy for the sake of simplicity, but it's really an autoimmune condition. Whenever I eat gluten (a protein found in wheat) my immune system responds by attacking the gluten in turn damaging to the lining of my gut. This produces an astonishingly wide variety of symptoms and complications ranging from mild heartburn to neurological impairment. For most people it leads to gastrointestional issues and can lead to other things like anemia, infertility and malnutrition.

There is no cure for Celiac. There are no drugs to take to be able to digest the protein. The treatment is very simple, do not ingest any gluten. Unfortunately simple and easy are not the same thing.

Some sources of gluten are pretty obvious. Since wheat, rye and barley all contain gluten anything with these ingredients is out. No pasta, cookies, crackers, breads, cakes... But there are a whole host of things that are not quite so easily identified and avoided. It's often hidden in foods that I would think would be okay, like bullion cubes. Suddenly I had to become a label reader, and not just on food, on everything. Lip gloss, tooth paste, medications.... Not to mention the list of unsafe foods is approximately 3 pages long. It was a bit overwhelming.

And then there is the issue of cross-contamination. Since it takes very little gluten to set off an autoimmune reaction I have to be extremely careful with my food. I have to make sure that there's no gluten in it, and that nothing containing gluten has touched it. If I'm at a fast-food restaurant and the cook puts my gluten-free hamburger on a bun it is contaminated. I can't just take the hamburger off the bun and eat it. I need a whole new hamburger. If someone has made themselves a sandwhich and then puts their hand in a bag of chips to put them on their plate, I cannot eat chips from that bag. My body is that sensitive to gluten.

While I'm on the subject, I hate using the word contaminated. To me that has implications of someone or something being unsanitary. That's not at all what I mean when I use this word when talking about gluten. It simply means that my food cannot touch any food or any surface that has touched gluten containing food. It's a like like keeping kosher. The foods must be kept apart at all times.

In my experience the medical community has few answers and very little practical help. I have been given incorrect information by several medical professionals. So where do you turn? I was lucky. I had a close friend who has Celiac as does my mom. But my saving grace has been internet sources of information. I'm not a doctor. I'm not even in the medical field. I'm just another person with Celiac trying to help out other people with Celiac.

So on my blog you will see gluten-free product reviews, recipes and links to articles about Celiac. If these have no interst to you, just pass them on by. But since roughly 1 out of 133 people has Celiac it seems that most people will at least know someone who has Celiac.

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