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Celiac Disease Awareness

Oct 10, 2017, 15:40 PM by Emily Luxford, MS, RD
Emily Luxford with Nutrition Class

The month of May may have different meanings to each of us – Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, graduation or Memorial Day. For me, May denotes Celiac Awareness Month. This designation is relatively new. Twenty years ago celiac disease was rarely recognized as a disease or diagnosed.

Even today, you may ask, what is celiac disease? This autoimmune disorder occurs in genetically predisposed individuals and results in damage to the small intestine when
gluten is ingested. In such cases, the gluten free diet is a treatment protocol for healthy living.

Do you know individuals with diabetes? Are they taking medication or following a specific diet? The doctor prescribes medication and refers the patient to a dietitian for nutrition counseling in order to control the diabetes and improve long term health outcomes. Medication and diet are not a cure, but a treatment.

A similar medical approach applies to celiac disease. It is the gluten free diet. This treatment removes all gluten from the diet. The results are improved health and long-term health outcomes for the majority of this population.

As simple as the treatment approach appears, there is another significant problem. A large percentage of the population with celiac disease continues to suffer each day because they have not been diagnosed. This gastrointestinal disorder was long over looked and continues to be neglected in the training of health professionals. Celiac disease is more common than multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, colitis and Parkinson’s disease combined. It is present in 1 out of 100 in the U.S. population. Of
that population, 83% are undiagnosed. Unfortunately, the longer the individual goes undiagnosed and continues to consume gluten, the greater the risk factor for type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like migraines and epilepsy, short stature and intestinal cancers, among others.

As an educator and health practitioner, I want to build awareness of this disease and its ramifications. I also want to share the good news. Celiac disease is treatable. There is no reason to suffer needlessly. Be your own health advocate. Go to and check out the symptom checklist. If you feel that you or a family member exhibits these symptoms, request a celiac disease blood screening test. If you have a family member
with celiac disease, take the simple swab test for genetic testing. For those individuals testing positive on the genetic test, physicians recommend laboratory blood tests every 3 to 5 years. If the blood tests are positive, talk to your physician about a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Most important, remember, an early diagnosis will offer you a pathway to healthy living.

Spread the word that May offers more than holidays and celebrations. It is also a time to take note of your health and improve the health of others!