(Written by DAN DESROCHERS for The Recorder)
While gluten-free is the thing to be right now, for people with celiac disease, it is imperative to abstain from gluten. Celiac disease prevents your body from properly digesting gluten, a type of protein found in grains and used in many different products we consume every day.
Dr. Rose Cesar, gastroenterologist at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, said the reason those with celiac disease have problems with gluten is due to their immune system.
“It’s an autoimmune disorder,” Cesar said. “If you ingest gluten, you have an abnormal immune response, and this leads to damage of the small intestine.”
And damage to the small intestine can have a severe impact on your health. Cesar said the damage can result in a lack of absorption of key vitamins and minerals, including iron, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin B12. Cesar said this absorption can lead to other medical issues, such as depression, osteoporosis and unhealthy weight loss.
“The most common symptoms are in the (gastrointestinal) tract,” Cesar said. “Abdominal bloating, pain, excessive flatus, diarrhea.” She said it is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. She said to watch for unexplained weight loss, malnutrition, diarrhea and bloating that persists. These are not normal conditions and should be discussed with your doctor.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Cesar said that in order to diagnose celiac disease, a simple blood test must be done. Once diagnosed, a gluten-free diet can be planned with a nutritionist and gastroenterologist.
Cesar urges those who may be afflicted to not cut gluten completely out of their diet prior to testing. Doing so could result in a false finding, which could lead to more suffering.
And Cesar said being gluten-free is not as easy as it sounds. Gluten can be found in everyday foods that are grain-based, but can also be found in baking soda, beer, some salad dressings and even gum, so it is important to read labels fully. Cesar warns those afflicted to avoid all fast food, and only eat at restaurants that are certified gluten-free. “Even the slightest amount of gluten — which may be equivalent to a breadcrumb — can cause issues,” she said.