Coping With Celiac Disease
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN FINLAND
“What flour did you use to make this cake?”
“Why, corn flour.”
“And what did you apply to the lining of the cake pan?”
“In that case, I’m sorry, but I cannot eat it.”
SUCH an awkward interchange is probably familiar if you suffer from celiac disease. This disturbance of the digestive system is brought on by the body’s inability to tolerate a common element of many foods. The problem is with the gliadin fraction of gluten, which is present in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Gluten is harmless to most people, but in those with celiac disease, it can destroy the lining of the small intestine, reducing its ability to absorb nutrients.
The symptoms of celiac disease may include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, and weight loss. Of course, these symptoms are present in a number of illnesses, so diagnosing celiac disease can be difficult. “For years I was told I suffered from ‘irritable bowel syndrome,’” says a sufferer named Judy.
Celiac disease usually becomes manifest in childhood, but some sufferers do not show symptoms until middle age. Doctors say, though, that in at least some of these cases, the condition may have been present all along, albeit latently. In any event, when it is left untreated, celiac disease can be devastating. Typically, children with the condition are small and emaciated, with a swollen abdomen and underdeveloped muscles. Since the absorption of vitamins is impaired by the disorder, a number of diseases may follow, including anemia, rickets, and scurvy. Advanced cases may manifest bone deformation or osteoporosis. In rare cases, celiac disease can even be deadly, especially among adults whose condition has been prolonged and severe. Yet, with proper treatment, most people who have celiac disease can cope with—and even improve—their condition.
What Can Be Done?
The best treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet—that is, a plan that avoids all foods containing wheat, rye, barley, and oats. Following such a regimen can be challenging. Says one sufferer: “At first when I heard that I was no longer allowed to eat wheat, barley, rye, or oats, I thought to myself, ‘Well, that’s easy enough. I’ll just leave out the bread and pastries.’ But when I finally realized the vast variety of items that include these grains—especially wheat—I was shocked!”
People with celiac disease must read food labels carefully. While they must avoid wheat, rye, barley, and oats, celiac patients can eat buckwheat, corn, rice, soybean, millet, and potato products. There are also a number of gluten-free flour mixtures that are acceptable. Granted, it can be disheartening to find that supermarket shelves are for the most part stocked with ‘forbidden foods.’ But do not become discouraged. Instead, concentrate on the foods that you can eat rather than on those you cannot. In time, food shopping will become less daunting.
It may seem that a gluten-free diet will hinder your social life. But do not cut yourself off from others just because you have celiac disease. Instead, tell your friends what celiac disease is, and let them know how they can help you maintain a gluten-free diet. When others know your needs, they will likely be glad to accommodate them. If some make remarks that are insensitive, do not become embittered. Your friendly response will encourage them to be more empathetic.
In time, some patients with mild cases of celiac disease are able to reintroduce gluten into their diet. Whether or not this occurs in your case, maintain a positive attitude. “Keep in mind the good points involved,” recommends one celiac patient. Good points? She continues: “Celiac disease is not contagious, and the treatment is simple and clear—a strict diet. The longer you follow it, the better you will feel. In all likelihood, you will be able to feel quite well in spite of the fact that you suffer from celiac disease.”
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If you know someone who has celiac disease, do not think that he or she is just being troublesome by refusing to eat a particular food. And refrain from making such callous remarks as, “How can a person who looks so healthy be ill?” Most important, do not try to persuade a celiac sufferer to eat something with gluten in it, perhaps saying: “A little bit can’t do that much harm.” It certainly can! Remember, the small intestine of the celiac patient regards gluten as poison, and it reacts accordingly.
It is not difficult to comply with the dietary needs of a celiac patient. A few adjustments in your shopping list will make a sufficient number of food items acceptable. It may even be possible to prepare everything on the celiac patient’s “terms.” Really, all guests can enjoy gluten-free meals. They will likely not even recognize the difference. In addition, the celiac patient will not be made to feel like the center of attention—something for which he or she will be grateful!
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People with celiac disease must avoid wheat, barley, rye, and oats