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Celiac Disease: Understanding the Basics and Raising Awareness

May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, a time to bring attention to this often-misunderstood condition. As a functional medicine health coach, I have seen firsthand how celiac disease can impact a person's health and wellbeing.

intestinal lining illustration

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body has an immune response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.

The immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. This damages the surface of the small intestines, affecting nutrient absorption and leading to a range of symptoms.

The symptoms of celiac disease can vary from person to person.

  • Some may experience digestive issues like stomach ache, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation,

  • while others may have fatigue, headaches, joint pain, infertility, nerve damage, disorders that affect coordination, balance, and speech.

  • Some people have "silent" celiac disease where they do not have any symptoms at all, making diagnosis tricky, and many people may go undiagnosed for years.

Celiac disease is unfortunately also common in children, estimated to affect 1 in 100 in the UK. Symptoms in children, in addition to those mentioned above, include struggling to thrive, slow growth, or delayed puberty.

The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten can be found in many obvious sources like bread and pasta, but it can also be hidden in unexpected places like soy sauce, salad dressing, and even some medications and supplements. It's important for those with celiac disease to read labels carefully and avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Gluten Free meal example

Maintaining a gluten-free diet is crucial to managing symptoms and avoiding long-term health consequences. However, I know that it can be challenging. As someone who has been following a gluten-free diet for two years, I have experienced the confusion and frustration of accidentally ingesting gluten.

While I have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, I want to highlight the importance of recognizing non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Unfortunately, this condition is often overlooked by mainstream medical professionals.

In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the immune system produces IgG antibodies in response to gluten consumption, causing symptoms similar to celiac disease but without damaging the intestinal lining. This condition is difficult to diagnose, and current food sensitivity tests are not always accurate. Symptoms may take up to three days to appear, making it challenging to identify the trigger.

When suspecting gluten sensitivity, I recommend a short elimination period followed by a structured reintroduction while carefully monitoring symptoms.

Additionally, individuals with autoimmune disorders often experience increased intestinal permeability and inflammation, making it advisable to remove gluten from their diets to reduce symptoms.

What can we do to help those affected?

Gluten Free label stamp

To cope with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, preparing food from scratch at home is the safest approach, but it may not be feasible in our fast-paced and busy lives and could get boring!

Although dining out provides more options, not all restaurant staff are knowledgeable about cross-contamination and hidden sources of gluten. We need more efforts in educating and training to ensure safety of food provided to Celiac patients.

While many gluten-free products are available in UAE supermarkets, two concerns need addressing.

  • Firstly, products labelled gluten-free may not account for cross-contamination during production, resulting in reactions for those with celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

  • Secondly, the cost of these products is significantly higher than purchasing them in Europe.

Did you know that in Italy, individuals diagnosed with celiac disease receive vouchers worth up to 140 euros per month to buy specifically produced gluten-free foods? The Italian Celiac Association and government have done an excellent job educating restaurants on how to deal with celiac disease, and gluten-free meals are now available in schools, hospitals, and other public eating establishments. This is a wonderful initiative that could be implemented in more countries to help those with celiac disease.

Book cover of What makes you Super? let's talk about celiac disease

I recently came across a fantastic children's book series called "What Makes You Super?" by Dubai-based author Fernanda Neves, and one of the books is about Celiac Disease. The book offers a lovely way to explain celiac to children and help them understand why some friends may have dietary restrictions and can't share foods at parties and events. It would be great to share this book with your children's schools and ask the teachers to use for discussion, this would help children with celiac feel represented and understood. The book is available on Amazon.

I am not affiliated, but a happy mother as my 7 years old daughter is highly intolerant to gluten and her stomachache with accidental ingestion is heartbreaking. I'll be sharing this book with my daughter's teacher for discussion so her friends have better understanding of her food choices.

Let's use this month to raise awareness of celiac disease and support those affected by this condition. Together, we can help more people live happy, healthy, and gluten-free lives.

I know bread is most missed on a gluten-free diet so here is my ebook with successful recipes I make regularly for myself and family. Download page here.

Learn more about Celiac Disease and Gluten Free Living through Celiac Disease Foundation.


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