My role is to be an advocate for Celiac Awareness for families of children with Celiac Disease, like yours, and their doctors, schools, churches, and clubs. As your advocate, I will put good information at your fingertips to cover many of your questions, where to find support, how to read labels, how to accurately follow recipes, and other information to get you more "comfortable in your own skin."
So what is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive process of the small intestine. When a person who has celiac disease consumes gluten (a protien found in wheat, rye, and barley), the individual's immune system reacts by attacking the small intestine and inhibiting the body's ability to absorb important nutrients. Undiagnosed and untreated, celiac disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders, as well as osteoporosis, infertility, neurological disorders and in rare cases, cancer or death.
But this is rare, right? How many people really have celiac disease?
Medical experts, until recent years, have considered celiac disease very rare--occurring only once in 2000 people. Medical studies published as recently as February 2003 from the Center for Celiac Research give compelling evidence that celiac disease is the most common autoimmune disorder occurring in one of every 133 average healthy Americans. The ratio, when divided into age groups, shows one in every 105 average health adults and one in every 320 average healthy children have celiac disease. When people have a relative diagnosed, their risk of also having the disease increases dramatically! People with a diagnosed first-degree relative such as a parent, child, or sibling will have a risk factor of one in 22 people. With a diagnised second-degree relative, such as an aunt, uncle, or a cousin, the risk factor is one in 39 individuals.
But all these people are really sick, right?
In the children that tested positive for celiac disease, 60% showed no symptoms.
In the adults that tested positive for celiac disease, 41% showed no symptoms.
When a patient does have symptoms, the average length of time it takes to be diagnosed in the United States is eleven years; the delay in the diagnosis dramatically increases the patient's risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders, osteoporosis, or (rarely) cancer.
Source: Characteristics of adult celiac disease in the USA: results of a national survey. Green, P.H. et. al. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2001.
Then what is the treatment?
The good news: a simple diet change.
The bad news: the diet is rarely simple.
The only treatment for celiac disease is a life-long avoidance of gluten. This medically required diet eliminates wheat, rye, and barley as well as any derivative of these grains. Following a strict gluten-free diet will stop the symptoms, heal existing damage, prevent further damage, and restore health.