Thursday, May 23, 2013

Guest Post: Celebrating Celiac Disease Awareness Month by Casey Conway

"Gluten is the protein found in wheat,
barley, rye and often oats, due to
cross-contamination with wheat."

Gluten free diets are all the rage and restaurants are slowly adding gluten free meals to their menus; but what is celiac disease? Why is it important to raise awareness about it and just how serious is this gluten stuff? 

Contrary to popular belief, celiac disease is not an allergy to gluten or wheat. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine, therefore interfering with the absorption of nutrients from food. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and often oats, due to cross-contamination with wheat.

Celiac disease is hereditary and there is no cure other than following a strict gluten free diet. Although a person is born with genes for celiac disease, those genes may not be expressed until later in life. There is currently no evidence to support that celiac disease is more likely to be expressed at a certain age if the genes are present (Mann, 2010).

Celiac Disease by the Numbers
·         It is estimated that 97 percent of Americans with celiac disease are not diagnosed (“Celiac Disease Facts and Figures, 2003).
·         It takes six to ten years on average for an individual to be correctly diagnosed (“Celiac disease facts and figures,” n.d.).
·         Celiac disease has more than 300 known symptoms (“Celiac disease symptoms can be elusive,” n.d.).

Common Misconceptions
·         People with celiac disease are skinny, or a gluten free diet leads to weight loss
Due to poor nutrient absorption, inflammation and the increased risk of other autoimmune diseases, it’s not uncommon for someone with celiac disease to be overweight. Additionally, gluten free product replacements often contain more sugar and carbohydrates and offer little nutritional value.
·         A little gluten won’t hurt someone with celiac disease
The smallest amount of gluten which has been shown by biopsy to cause damage to an individual with celiac disease is 0.1 gram per day. Try to cut one slice of bread into 48 parts for a visual. One of those parts will do it.

Gene tests are popular because they will confirm whether or not the genes for the disease are even present. If they are, a person can request further blood tests from their primary care physician. In addition to blood tests, a biopsy can be performed to confirm damage to the villi.

Why is Awareness Important? The Autoimmune Snowball
Because celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, it often causes other autoimmune diseases to occur. The most common autoimmune diseases associated with celiac disease are type 1 diabetes and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Experts recommend that anyone with either of these conditions be tested for celiac disease. Learning that you have celiac disease first and following a strict gluten free diet may help prevent a snowball of other problems.

There are several organizations that provide support for individuals with both celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Below is a list of helpful resources.

Remember, knowledge is power!

Casey Conway received a “suggestive” celiac disease diagnosis in 2011 after years of dealing with unexplained illness. She is the owner of Purely Thriving Health & Wellness, where she uses a holistic approach to coach individuals seeking healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes. Find her on the web at, or contact her at to learn more.

Celiac disease facts and figures. (n.d.). National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Retrieved from
Celiac Disease Facts and Figures. (2003). Retrieved from
Celiac disease symptoms can be elusive. (n.d.). National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Retrieved from
Mann, D. (2010, Sept 27). Celiac Disease Can Develop at Any Age. WebMD. Retrieved from

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