Celiac Disease: So Common, Yet So Misunderstood

Written by Leigh Attaway Wilcox
[DallasChild Magazine, May 2006, page 18]

During a school recognition ceremony, 8-year-old Scott could not accept his yummy doughnut reward for fear of jeopardizing his health. Scott has Celiac (pronounced see-lee-ack) Disease—a genetic Immune Disease which prevents his body from digesting gluten—a protein in wheat, rye, barley and oats. Ingested gluten damages Scott’s intestinal lining, making it difficult to properly absorb nutrients from food. Plus, eating it could give him any number of immediate symptoms. Scott’s mother, Natalie Simigian of Coppell, shares that, “Scott’s Principal forgot and it broke his heart.” Simigian now has the complete cooperation of the school to ensure that Scott has comparable Gluten-Free (GF) snacks under similar circumstances.

“Celiac Disease is considered to be the most under-diagnosed common disease today, potentially affecting one in every 133 people in the USA,” says Betty Barfield, President of the North Texas Gluten Intolerance Group. And according to Dr. Kenneth Fine, local Founder of the Intestinal Health Institute, Celiac Disease (CD) is just the tip of a larger, “Immunologic Gluten-Sensitivity (GS) Iceberg,” which if gone untreated can advance into additional severe health issues including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and even female infertility.

Gluten is the binding agent which holds mainstream breads, pastas and other baked goods together. Processed foods often contain large amounts of it. Gluten is a common ingredient in the average American diet. The only prescription for CD and GS is a life-long GF diet. When people like Scott do not stick to the diet, a variety of symptoms, ranging from diarrhea or joint pain to depression or migraines, can result.

If anyone in your family suffers from highly-correlated syndromes, diseases or symptoms listed below, Faye Elahi, local Gluten Sensitive Nutritionist suggests, “Get tested properly.”

Sound simple, right?

It might not be; many doctors are not familiar with new blood, saliva, stool and genetic tests. Though they’re available through doctors’ offices, and directly to patients through a local lab—Enterolab, some tests have just become available in recent years, and not everyone knows.

Intrigued? Want to learn more? Local support groups are a treasure trove of trustworthy information and support. They hold monthly meetings and offer mentors. Fundraising walks held every May support disease research and offer participants a chance to socialize. Groups’ websites address Frequently Asked Questions and recommend reputable doctors and specialists known for treating patients with respect.

Utilizing a knowledgeable dietician/nutritionist and relying on a support group or mentor is important with early diagnosis. Most grocery stores have a “Natural Section” which house GF pastas, breads, cookies and cereals. Health food and specialty stores generally have a wider variety. Market Street locations host GF cooking classes and many restaurants, like Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and Carrabba’s Italian Grill have developed GF menus. The GF diet has even spread to summer camps; CD or GS children and their siblings can attend the second annual week-long resident camp in Texas, “The Great Gluten Escape,” this June.

Leigh A. Wilcox is a Celiac herself and a contributing editor for the NTGIG Communicator, a bi-monthly newsletter for local support group members.

[Sidebar] Organizations to Contact for Assistance and Information:
• North Texas Gluten Intolerance Group (NTGIG): www.northtexasgig.com
• Lone Star Celiac Sprue Support Group (DFW Celiac): 214/274-6094 www.dfwceliac.org
• Dallas R.O.C.K. (Raising Our Celiac Kids): 972/359-1955 www.dallasrock.org
• Intestinal Health Institute: 972/686-6869 www.intestinalhealth.org
• Nutrition For Life: 214/743-1425 www.specialneedsnutrition.com
• EnteroLab: 972/686-6869 www.enterolab.com
• Gluten Intolerance Group: www.gluten.net
• Center for Celiac Research: www.celiaccenter.org

[Sidebar 2: Note—this information was originally cut from the publication for space reasons] Syndromes, Diseases and Symptoms highly correlated with Celiac Disease and Gluten-Sensitivity:
• Relatives of GS Individuals
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
• Rheumatoid Arthritis
• Any Autoimmune Disorder
• Psoriasis
• Fibromyalgia
• Asthma
• Osteoporosis
• Down’s Syndrome
• Female Infertility
• Depression/Irritability
• Autism
• Seizure Disorders
• Psychiatric Disorders
• Short Stature or Delayed Growth in Children
• Enamel Defects
• Continual Diarrhea or Constipation

(Source: Intestinal Health Institute. For a more complete listing of associated risk factors, visit www.IntestinalHealth.org.)