Most everyone has noticed the influx of products labeled “Gluten Free” encroaching on supermarket shelves, and some of us have probably come across entire grocery sections or aisles dedicated to these products. These products are intended for those who have a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, which is a genetically inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the intestines and decreases nutrient absorption. As the intestines are exposed to proteins found mainly in wheat, they become porous and consequently interfere with the digestive process. There is no known cure for Celiac disease, and the only treatment is a gluten-free diet!
There are many symptoms that can accompany Celiac disease, but these vary greatly between people and are commonly associated with other ailments. To avoid confusion and uncertainty, its best to undergo a simple blood test to be diagnosed. Yet some common symptoms include:
- Headaches and fatigue
- Joint pain
- Acid reflux and heartburn
- Loss of bone density
- Skin rashes
- Stomach pain
- Diarrhea or conversely, constipation
- Weight loss
These symptoms flare up as a result of ingesting products containing gluten, which is not always done intentionally.
One of the biggest struggles for those diagnosed with Celiac disease is eating out. While more restaurants and eateries are beginning to offer gluten-free choices, overall the options are still limited. Those with hypersensitivity to gluten have to be extra cautious when consuming food prepared by other people or facilities, as the risk of contamination may be higher. Avoiding gluten can be a challenging task if the product is not labeled as being gluten-free, and there are some foods in particular that surprisingly contain the protein. Some of these foods include:
- Soy sauce
- Ice cream
- Salad dressings
- Deli meats
Products that are labeled “wheat-free” are not always gluten free, as the protein can be found in some grains like barley, rye, and spelt. Even non-food products like makeup, shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen, and body soap can contain gluten.
To live a happy and healthy life, those with Celiac must first be diagnosed and then follow an appropriate diet. If you suspect you or a family member may have Celiac disease, consult your physician and ask for a blood test. For more information, consult the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.