May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month and I want to raise awareness to help people who are going through what I have already experienced. Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease affecting 1 in 133 people in the U.S., is the root cause of nearly 300 different symptoms ranging from digestive problems, headaches, skin rashes, anxiety and depression just to name a few. It actually took 15 years of treating symptoms before I found the underlying cause of my misery. Migraines, chronic diarrhea, premature osteoporosis, miscarriage and very difficult pregnancies with preterm labor were the main symptoms that doctors kept treating with pills. I think I developed every side effect of every drug ever prescribed and my symptoms only got worse until I learned about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. It was truly life changing.
It was also lifestyle changing. No longer could I run through a fast food drive-thru to pick up dinner on the way home from work or grab a snack cake out of the pantry for a quick snack. I actually had to learn what was safe to eat and what wasn’t. I had to have a plan. This change also affected my family in a big way.
Gluten, a tiny protein found in wheat, barley and rye, was making me deathly ill and I was willing to do anything to learn where it was hiding and completely eliminate it from my diet. After a lot of research and help from the celiac community (and a few mistakes along the way), I got the hang of it pretty quickly and I was able to convert many of my family’s favorite recipes to make them safe for me to eat. I declared my kitchen to be dedicated gluten free and made every effort to get rid of gluten. New cutting boards, strainers and stone bakeware were a few of the first steps I took to rid my kitchen of this protein that is my kryptonite. In just a couple of weeks, my symptoms started disappearing. No more migraines, aches and pains, or diarrhea made the effort totally worth it.
My husband was (and still is) very supportive and chose to eat what I ate, but the kids were not so willing. My pro-gluten daughter actually refused to eat anything that didn’t contain gluten. I’m glad that phase didn’t last long. Fortunately for me (or unfortunately for her), I’m the one who pays and shops for groceries, so she didn’t have the much choice in what she ate at home. She still had the option of eating whatever she wanted at school and when she visited grandparents, but at home, she had to eat what I bought and prepared—and she actually prefers it now and can tell that she feels bad when she consumes gluten.
My son, on the other hand, was suffering from his own growing list of symptoms and we figured out that gluten was his enemy, too. He was born at 35 weeks and was ALWAYS sick. At three weeks of age, he was hospitalized with a respiratory illness that doctors never diagnosed. My newborn was on IV antibiotics and had severe constipation. He started having migraines, behavioral issues, chronic ear infections and speech delays. Doctors only wanted to treat him with prescription medication and I knew that wasn’t the answer. It turns out that I was right. Just two weeks after changing his diet, his symptoms subsided. His teacher even texted to tell me whatever I had changed with my son was working and to not stop. His behavior chart quickly changed from red to green, his ear infection went away and he started meeting his speech therapy goals. By the end of that semester, he was released from speech therapy and never had another ear infection. The headaches also subsided.
Know the Symptoms
There are approximately 3oo symptoms associated with celiac disease. Click here to see if you have symptoms. Also, if you have a family member that has been diagnosed, it is recommended that you also be tested. Some people actually have celiac disease and have no symptoms. It is a hereditary condition, so if someone in your family has celiac disease, there’s a good chance that you could also have it.
If you have symptoms or a diagnosed family member, ask your doctor to screen you for celiac disease. The doctor will order a simple blood test. If the results are positive, the doctor will order an endoscope to get a small intestine biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. It is essential that you be consuming gluten for the test to be accurate. If you have already stopped eating gluten, your doctor will ask you to start eating it again for several weeks or months before testing can be done. If you are not willing to eat gluten again, there is a genetic test that can be done to see if you carry the gene for celiac disease, but this test is expensive and is usually not covered by insurance.
Positive test results. What next?
If your doctor diagnoses you with celiac disease, the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten is in a lot of food, but there’s still plenty you can eat! Trust me—gluten free is not the end of the world! There are lots of foods that are naturally gluten free (fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish and poultry to name a few) that we should be eating for optimal health. I’m a self-proclaimed chocoholic and love a good brownie or cake. There are lots of really bad gluten free products on the market and I have spent an obscene amount of money buying gluten free bread, crackers and snacks that ultimately ended up in the trash. I learned so much from doing my own research, seeking out gluten-free bloggers, and attending amazing events like the Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo. These events offer product samples from more than 100 companies, money saving coupons, discounted products, educational sessions taught by healthcare professionals, chefs and cookbook authors, and the opportunity to meet people who “get it.” GFAF Expo holds several events across the country, so check out their website for details and schedule.
Click here to read more about my family’s experience at GFAF Expo.
I have been selected to serve as an official blogger at the GFAF Expo-Atlanta and would encourage everyone who lives within driving distance (I’m driving six hours) to attend. Tickets are available by clicking HERE and you can save 20 percent off each ticket by using the promo code: ADVANCE. Beat the crowd and skip the line by purchasing your tickets in advance. The best part about this event is watching my son eat anything he wants. He feels like a regular kid at GFAF Expo.
Celiac disease is not a death sentence. While I do have frustrations with the fear of cross contact at restaurants and watching other people eat things that I used to love, gluten free feels so good. I don’t even consider cheating. I don’t want to damage my body with gluten.
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