Monday, November 8, 2010

Celiac Disease and GF: What is it?

You may have noticed a new section cropping up on menus in restaurants these days- the gluten-free choices. What's up with that? Celiac disease. This disease is very common in the United States, affecting 1 in 133 people. In people with this disease, eating gluten (the wheat protein) causes an auto-immune reaction that damages the small intestine, causing poor absorption of food and nutrients.

What symptoms show up? Diarrhea is the classic symptom, but it turns out there are probably more cases of celiac disease without diarrhea. The symptoms are often rather nonspecific: fatigue, irritable bowel, anemia, vitamin deficiencies, and osteoporosis. There is, though, one symptom that is 85% specific for celiac disease-a rash called dermatitis herpetiformis, DH for short. This rash has nothing to do with herpes, however (nope, no STD talk in this topic!) This rash is intensely itchy, symmetrical eruption on the face, buttocks, elbows and knees.

The good news is that celiac disease can usually be treated with dietary changes alone-no medications required! The bad news is that gluten is found in many products beyond the obvious wheat breads and cereals, so to completely avoid gluten requires significant effort and education. Stay tuned this week for more about Celiac disease diagnosis and diet.

BOTTOM LINE: Problem: Celiac disease, a very common challenge. Answer: Gluten-free diet.

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