During the month of May, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness wants you to learn more about celiac disease, how to get tested for it, and how it can affect you and your family. The theme for this year’s National Celiac Awareness Month is “Fuel the Family,” which is aimed at encouraging family testing for celiac disease. Research has shown that having an immediate family member with celiac disease greatly increases your risk.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by the ingestion of gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It’s estimated that 1 in 141 Americans have the disease, yet 83% of them are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the villi (fingerlike projections) in the intestine are damaged, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients. This hereditary condition can affect men and women of all ages and races.
What are the Symptoms?
Classic symptoms of celiac disease include weight loss or growth failure, anemia, and diarrhea. Other symptoms can include abdominal pain, a rash, fatigue, or headaches. When untreated, celiac disease can increase your risk of osteoporosis, infertility, thyroid disease, and certain cancers. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you think any of your symptoms are related to gluten ingestion.
How Can I Get Tested?
A simple blood test is the first step in getting tested for celiac disease. Your doctor may call for an intestinal biopsy as well. Be sure to continue eating your normal diet (including gluten) during testing. Most health insurers will cover the cost of the test, and your primary care provider should be able to administer it.
Gluten-free labels can be found on several natural food packages. Most doctors and dieticians recommend that people should continue to eat gluten unless there is a medical need to avoid it. A gluten-free diet is not meant for weight loss. In fact, many pre-packaged gluten-free foods are high in sugar and calories. Be sure to always check the label!
Naturally gluten-free foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, and fresh fish and meats. Grains such as quinoa, teff, and millet are also gluten-free. For those with celiac disease, a completely gluten-free diet is the only “cure” for the disease. There are currently no procedures or medications to treat the symptoms.
What Can I Do During Celiac Awareness Month?
The main goal is to spread the word about Celiac Disease. If you think you or anyone in your family is affected, visit your doctor and get tested! You can also host a fundraiser and donate the money to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). The NFCA uses the money to educate physicians and restaurants about the gluten-free diet. They also use the money to offer free resources to patients with celiac disease.
For more information, visit the official website for the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
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