As part of Celiac Awareness Month, the Canadian Celiac Association is trying to help Canadians become better aware of Celiac Disease, its symptoms, and what it means to go gluten-free.
Celiac disease, also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, sprue and coeliac, is an autoimmune condition that causes irritation and damage to the small intestine whenever gluten is ingested. It is often hereditary; individuals with relatives such as a parent, sibling or child with celiac disease have a much higher risk of developing it themselves. Over time, celiac disease will cause the small intestine to deteriorate and even present the body from being able to absorb essential nutrients. Celiac disease affects an estimated 1 in 100 people worldwide, and 1 in every 100 to 200 people in North America. As many as 300,000 Canadians have celiac disease, but many patients go undiagnosed meaning that number could be even higher.
Below is a look at some of the most common symptoms of celiac disease:
• Vitamin deficiencies
• Abdominal discomfort, bloating or gas
• Extreme fatigue
• Bone and/or joint pain
• Swelling of the hands and/or ankles
• Canker sores and mouth ulcers
• Weight loss
• Migraine headaches
• Other unexplained neurological conditions
Children with celiac disease may also experience other symptoms such as vomiting, weakened dental enamel, irritability and/or changes in behavior, poor growth/short stature, and delayed puberty.
Diagnosing celiac disease can be difficult as it often mimics symptoms similar to other diseases including IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Certain blood tests such as an IgA anti-transglutaminase test (tTG) and an IgA anti-endomysial antibody test (EMA) help to accurately diagnose celiac disease. While there is currently no cure for this condition, it is important that individuals maintain a strict gluten-free diet to help reduce the symptoms and avoid any future complications. By avoiding gluten, this allows the nutritional deficiencies to resolve and the intestine to heal.
As adjusting to a gluten-free diet (or any other diet for that matter) can be extremely challenging for many individuals, it is important that you consult with a dietician or physician for help. Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family doctor in Vancouver, has always been a strong advocate of healthy eating and can make appropriate recommendations.
Gluten is most commonly found in pastas, breakfast cereals, breads, wheat flour, wheat starch and baked goods such as cookies, cakes, donuts and bagels.
Examples of gluten-free foods include grains such as rice, corn, soy, potato, beans, tapioca, quinoa and flax. Fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood and dairy are also naturally gluten-free foods. As celiac disease is becoming more and more common, many gluten-free alternatives are now widely available in grocery stores across Vancouver and all around Canada. However, it is important to be wary and ensure that you properly read food labels, as gluten is often hidden in foods.
For more information on Celiac Awareness Month, visit the Canadian Celiac Association’s website at http://www.celiac.ca. You can also find more information on diet by visiting Dr. Ali Ghahary’s blog on WordPress and by following him on Instagram and Twitter.