Despite the growing prevalence in Celiac Disease in children and adults, there are still a lot of people out there who have no idea what it is, nor any idea what gluten is.
Celiac Disease IS a lifelong disease.
Celiac Disease DOES affect children AND adults.
Celiac Disease is NOT a food allergy.
Celiac Disease canNOT be cured.
Celiac Disease canNOT be grown out of (as was once believed).
Celiac Disease CAN be handled with a LIFELONG commitment to a GLUTEN FREE diet.
What happens when a person with CD eats gluten? This is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine; Celiac sufferers have a reaction to gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat and similar proteins* (such as, but not limited to, barley and rye).
Unlike food allergies (including wheat allergies), you cannot grow out of an autoimmune disorder.
This reaction causes damage to the small intestine which prevents food and nutrients from being absorbed properly. Even very small amounts can cause problems for people with CD — and, it is very important to note that damage is being done even when there are no obvious symptoms!
* These are found in ALL forms of wheat (including spelt, kamut, einkorn, faro, durum, and semolina), related grains rye, barley (malt!), and triticale. Anyone with CD must eliminate these from their diet.
* Buckwheat is NOT a form of wheat, and when 100% pure, it is safe to consume. Be careful, however, as wheat is commonly mixed in with buckwheat (ex prepackaged buckwheat pancake mixes frequently have gluten in them).
* Approximately 1 in 133 people in the US have Celiac Disease.
* If a family member has it, it is very likely that others will as well.
* If you have an autoimmune disease, there is a 25% higher chance you will have CD.
Food Allergies and Food Reactions
It is possible to have allergies in addition to Celiac Disease, so you want to be very careful when determining what you are allergic to and what your body simply will never be able to process (some people outgrow their allergies; you will not outgrow Celiac Disease).
It is also possible to develop reactions to foods which are not allergies. This will vary from person to person, but in my experience, my “food reactions” were caused by the damage that had been done to my small intestine by eating gluten before I knew that I shouldn’t.
When a person with CD removes gluten from their diet, their small intestine will begin to heal, and they will find that their overall health will improve. How long this takes logically depends on how much damage there is to heal. It could take a few months, a few years, or more.
People who suddenly find themselves unable to eat foods they have eaten for years without a problem, and who aren’t having typical allergic reaction symptoms, may find that after they allow their small intestine (and perhaps stomach) to heal after gluten elimination, that they are able to eat those foods again. For me, it was garlic, onions (especially raw), and highly acidic fruits and vegetables.
You will want to work these back into your diet slowly, and one at a time so you can judge the process. I can have garlic again! But, it must be thoroughly cooked. Raw garlic still tends to bother me. I can have raw scallions and raw Vidalia onions in small quantities, but otherwise can only consume cooked onions. Red onions are something I have never been able to eat, and this has not changed.
Fruits and veggies that began to bother me a few years ago include items such as pineapples and peppers (green, red, yellow, orange, and of course the hot peppers). Pineapples still make my tongue tingle (or burn) but do not cause any other problems. All Bell Peppers are fine, and spicy ones, such as jalapenos are fine if cooked. I no longer am limited to reduced acid OJ, which is great since it can be difficult to find.
It took me four years to get to this point. Your recovery may be shorter, longer, or may not happen fully at all; I have talked with some people who say they never fully healed, but did feel remarkably better.
But try not to be discouraged. Even if you encounter some foods you are never able to eat again (gluten ones aside), you have done your body an immense favor by sticking to your gluten free diet. It will take time, but you should notice an overall feeling of well-being which will grow stronger the longer you are gluten free. Friends and family, especially those who don’t see me often, have commented on how much healthier I look, which is wonderful.
It’s not an easy road, but if you want a chance at living your life to the fullest, please stick with it. You’ll get there.
Originally published 11 October 2009.
Revised 15 October 2012.
Revised again 13 August 2013.