Every woman on my mom’s side of the family had Irritable Bowel Syndrome. When I was a kid, after my eighty-five-year-old grandmother rushed to the bathroom at a museum, my aunt told me, “that will be you one day.”
No one wants their claim to fame to be the “fastest sprint to the nearest bathroom.” As an adult, I discounted my aunt’s prediction that my genes would make me need to carry toilet paper in my purse and got tested for celiac disease.
One in every 100 people worldwide has celiac disease and even more claim gluten intolerance. With increased testing and awareness, the number seems to grow every day. And that’s a good thing: no person should have to spend over eighty years in a constant state of emergency like my grandmother. Knowing that your body can’t handle gluten can save you a lot of trouble.
If you know or suspect you’re in a dysfunctional relationship with gluten, here are a few things you should know about getting tested and going gluten-free.
What is it?
Celiac disease is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes your body to react poorly to the presence of gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and other closely related grains that helps give bread its chewiness and baked goods their moist texture. For people with gluten allergies, consuming gluten causes the body to attack the lining of the small intestine which causes the villi, the small, finger-like objects in the lining of your digestive tract, to flatten and prevents proper absorption. Over time, malabsorption can cause many health complications. My symptoms manifested in hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism, ITBS, migraines, brain fog, increased injury and over-training syndrome.
What to Look Out For
Obvious symptoms of undiagnosed celiac disease include general G.I. distress, such as altered bowel habits, abdominal discomfort, gassiness, bloating, constipation and heartburn. If your life revolves around making it to the bathroom on time, talk to your doctor about getting tested.
If your healthcare provider suspects that you may have celiac disease, they’ll probably order a tissue transglutaminase antibodies blood test. If you test positive for celiac disease, your doctor will likely suggest an intestinal biopsy to check for signs of intestinal damage.
There is no “cure” for celiac disease, and the best treatment is sticking to a gluten-free diet. It’s important to note that celiac disease sufferers are at higher risk for nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron, calcium and vitamin D.
Eating Gluten Free
Every time I visit family or friends who don’t have celiac disease, they ask about silly things like whether eggs or vegetables have gluten. I always chuckle and say “not unless you plan on garnishing it with flour.” But I get it. A gluten-free diet can sound overwhelmingly restrictive if you aren’t sure what it is. But celiac disease is not as restrictive as you might think. Yes, you have to give up wheat, but the rest of the food groups are still yours for the savoring. Fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, legumes and even grains aren’t out of the question. By replacing quinoa and even corn as a wheat substitute, you can still cook family favorites—just with a gluten-free twist.