What is Celiac Disease?

For many of you, this is probably the first time you have heard of this disease, even though it’s estimated that one in 133 persons are suffering from it.
The root of this disease is gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats—yes, the foods we call the “Staff of Life.”
For people with Celiac Disease, ingesting even a small amount of these grains (a crumb) causes a reaction in the small intestine.
The small intestine is the home to finger-like fibre (called villi), which are responsible for absorbing all the nutrients from the food we eat. When they become diseased, they flatten and no longer are able to absorb the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need to stay healthy.
Symptoms can be non-specific, vary greatly from one person to the next, and may be confused with other diseases, which mimic the same conditions.
Symptoms include irritability; extreme weakness and fatigue; gas, bloating, and abdominal pain; nausea and vomiting; diarrhea and sometimes constipation; and anemia (deficiency of iron, folic acid, or Vitamin B12).
Depression, weight loss, easy bruising of the skin, lactose intolerance, swelling of the ankles and hands, bone and joint pain, missed menstrual periods in women, infertility, and Dermatitis Herpetiformis (a skin condition in which sufferers develop an intense itching and burning rash) are other symptoms.
Celiac Disease, if left undiagnosed, may cause other diseases such as thyroid disease, diabetes, reproductive problems, osteoporosis, and cancer, to name a few.
How is Celiac Disease diagnosed? A blood test is the first step, followed up with a biopsy to confirm that there is damage happening to the villi.
(Note: A gluten-free diet should never be started until the blood work and biopsy has been completed as this could result in a false negative reading).
Is there medical treatment for Celiac Disease? No! The only treatment for is
a gluten-free diet for life!
Living gluten-free is a real challenge for a person with Celiac Disease. Most convenience foods are not an option, so making meals from scratch is very time-consuming.
Eating at restaurants becomes very difficult, as most often prepared food is not safe for a Celiac person due to cross contamination. In addition, it can be difficult finding out the ingredients in each dish.
Living with Celiac Disease means reading every label of every food you eat, shopping at health food stores, and often having to order food from larger centres.
Even prescription and non-prescription drugs must be checked to ensure they are safe.
As you can see, being diagnosed with Celiac Disease can be overwhelming. Therefore, it is very important to educate our community, including our health care providers, schools, restaurants, and families, so they can play a role in helping people with Celiac Disease live a long and healthy life.
Thankfully, there are support services available.
The Rainy River District Celiac Support Group meets on the second Tuesday of each month from 7-9 p.m. in Room 138 at Fort Frances High School. We can answer many of the questions you have regarding this disease, the safe foods you can eat, and how to get started living a healthy life gluten-free.
We are inviting people who have been living with this disease, and are willing to share their knowledge and ideas to join us. This is the place to share information and give support to others, as well as help educate our community.
We are a satellite group of the Thunder Bay chapter for Celiac Disease and affiliated with the Canadian Celiac Association of Mississauga, Ont.
Together we are providing information for life!
October is Celiac Awareness Month. Please watch for the Celiac Disease Awareness Day and sampling being held at Pharmasave on Saturday, Oct. 29t from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
For more information, call Sue Hatfield at 274-3327 or Lori McKay at 274-2116 (members of the Rainy River District Celiac Support Group).