May is Celiac Awareness Month. It’s a disease affecting an estimated three million Americans, but most don’t know they have it.
“Celiac disease is actually the world’s most prevalent genetic autoimmune disease,” Celiac Disease Foundation CEO Marilyn Geller explains. “It affects about 1 to 2 people in every 100.”
The disease is frequently misdiagnosed because there are more than 300 symptoms. They can include: stomach pain, chronic fatigue, skin rashes, arthritis, canker sores, infertility and depression.
“People with Celiac disease have a four times greater risk of cancer, of stomach cancers, and double the risk of heart disease,” said Geller.
“Unfortunately, there was a study that just came out of Columbia University that shows that people with Celiac disease, even on a gluten free diet, have a slightly increased risk of mortality.”
There is no cure, the only treatment available at this time is a strict gluten free diet. When a Celiac ingests gluten, even the smallest amount, it damages the small intestine. Subsequently, it becomes a disease of malnutrition.
The disease impacts day-to-day life and activities, and for many, results in missing school, work and other events.
“The thousands and thousands of patients in there (the Celiac Disease Foundation’s patient registry) have reported that, on average, people with Celiac disease are missing 20 days of work or school per year, due to their illness,” Geller said. “So it’s not go gluten free and we’re happy. We want people to understand that this is a serious disease with serious ramifications.”
According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, untreated Celiac disease can lead to other autoimmune disorders including Type I diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It could also lead to conditions including: anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature, heart disease and intestinal cancers.
Eating at a restaurant is always tricky for Celiacs because of cross-contamination.
Mrs. Bickel’s Gluten Free Baking Company in Las Vegas is owned by the Harkins family. Katie Harkins and her daughter Keeley were diagnosed with Celiac disease in the early 1980s. At that time, there were very few gluten free options in stores or restaurants.
“Growing up it was next to impossible,” Keeley Harkins said. “And even with gluten free options, it’s hard to know it’s completely safe. Since I can remember, we’ve always been working to create a pizza crust that doesn’t taste like it’s gluten free, but that is gluten free.”
They’ve perfected their crust, and it’s now sold to restaurants in Las Vegas and all across the country. They also make desserts and breads, including blondies and brookies (half cookie, half brownie), sold at the bakery or directly to restaurants. They also offer low-glycemic baked goods. Learn more about the bakery, here.
There’s been an effort underway for years to develop a drug for treatment. The Celiac Disease Foundation says there are a couple of promising drugs in trial right now.
You can access the Celiac Disease Foundation’s assessment to determine if you are at risk for the disease, here.