Celiac disease is an inherited and lifelong condition that affects one in 133 children and adults in the United States. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. If a person with celiac disease eats food containing gluten, this will damage the lining of the small intestine. Because the small intestine absorbs nutrients from foods, a person with celiac disease may not get enough vitamins and minerals. Such deficiencies can lead to many health problems, including fatigue, muscle cramps, depression, bone weakness, tooth problems, skin rashes, arthritis, and intestinal cancer.
Doing blood tests and taking samples of intestinal tissue help doctors to determine which patients have celiac disease. Some people need vitamin and mineral supplements. For example, some people with celiac disease take vitamin D and calcium to keep their heart, bones, and teeth healthy.
People who have celiac disease benefit from avoiding foods and medications with gluten. Even a small amount of gluten can cause damage. Affected individuals must read packaged food labels to determine whether gluten is an ingredient. For example, most pastas, breads, and cereals contain gluten. Avoiding gluten completely will enable the small intestine to heal.
Doctors and government officials concerned about celiac disease and food allergies have made progress in giving citizens the information that they need to stay healthy. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that food labels must clearly identify wheat and other common foods that people are allergic to in the list of ingredients.
Businesses now produce many items that help people with celiac disease. Books for children and adults give advice about gluten-free diets. There are also special cookbooks. Health food stores give shoppers the choice of bread and noodles made from rice, gluten-free cookies, and pills that do not contain wheat. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free meals. Chelsea Clinton had a gluten-free cake at her wedding. The Detroit Lions have a gluten-free food stand at Ford Field. Madison Square Garden in New York also offers sports fans snacks without gluten.
Some athletes have discovered that they have celiac disease. Karl Alzner and Jay Beagle, who play for the Washington Capitals hockey team, find that eliminating gluten settles their stomachs and enables them to move faster. Florida State University’s former quarterback Clint Trickett was underweight until he discovered that he has celiac disease. Similarly, former University of Utah’s women’s basketball forward Diana Rolniak dropped below 100 pounds in high school until she learned that she has celiac disease. Green Bay Packers running back James Starks heals faster from injuries now that he avoids gluten. He reports that it was very hard to give up pizza. Professional golfer Sarah Jane Smith also has celiac disease. Since tennis star Novak Djokovic changed his diet to eliminate gluten, he feels much better. He has become the world’s number one tennis player, winning major tournaments in Australia, England, and the United States.
Although there is no complete cure for celiac disease, many people can live happy and productive lives if they understand the disease and avoid gluten.
Celiac Disease Foundation. “Celiac Disease.” www.celiac.org
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov
National Foundation for Celiac Disease Awareness. “Novak Djokovic: Number 2 in the World & Newly Gluten-Free.” www.celiaccentral.org
U. S. National Library of Medicine. “Celiac Disease.” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov