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For decades I’ve been trying to improve my health. Only a few things (such as mercury-free dental fillings, natural progesterone cream and the Blood Type Diet) have helped significantly, and even those things have not gotten at the root of my problems. I had just about concluded that I was doomed to feel increasingly crummy for the rest of my life.
Then in July, my cousin emailed me that her recent endoscopy and biopsy had turned up an ulcer, a hiatal hernia – and Celiac Disease!
I had always considered Celiac Disease to be a real long shot in my case, because my symptoms didn’t really match the typical description. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, see “What Is Celiac Disease,” below.) Besides, it was thought to be extremely rare, affecting perhaps one person in 5,000. (And I certainly wasn’t about to undergo the diagnostic procedure, an intestinal biopsy that wasn’t even completely reliable.)
But my cousin’s email prompted me to do some Internet research, and how things have changed! Recent studies show that roughly one American out of 133 is suffering (generally unbeknownst to them) from Celiac Disease. And roughly one person in three carries the genes for it!
Newer diagnostic methods include laboratory tests for gluten antibodies in the blood or the stools, now considered just about as reliable as a biopsy. There’s even a cheek-swab DNA test to tell whether a person has the Celiac genes.
The list of recognized symptoms has increased dramatically as well. My cousin’s father, who had a chronic “nervous stomach,” also developed many other Celiac symptoms, such as loss of all feeling in his lower legs – so she is reasonably certain that she finally knows “what was wrong with Daddy.” His brother – my father – also had a “nervous stomach,” plus a host of other mysterious problems such as gallstone-type symptoms without any gallstones (at the age of thirty!), so we figure he was probably a Celiac as well.
When I shared this news with Hubby, he said sympathetically that he sure hoped I don’t turn out to have it too. I said, “Are you nuts? I’d be absolutely ecstatic! After all these years, I would finally know what’s wrong with me – and I’d actually be able to do something about it!”
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is not the kind of “disease” that you can catch, and it’s not even really curable. I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve read, it starts with a genetic condition. If you didn’t inherit certain genes from your parents, you cannot ever develop Celiac Disease.
If you do have these genes, you are susceptible, but you may or may not ever develop Celiac Disease. The genes simply cause your body to be suspicious of a protein called gluten, which is found only in wheat, rye, barley, and closely-related grains such as spelt, Kamut, and triticale. Apparently, the more gluten you eat and/or the longer you eat it, the more likely you are to actually develop Celiac Disease. (Other stresses may increase your chances as well.) What happens is that your body begins to manufacture antibodies against gluten. Unfortunately, unlike antibodies that fight the flu, these particular antibodies are far from helpful. Over time, they begin to destroy the lining of your intestines, so that you can no longer fully absorb nutrients from your food or supplements.
Once you reach this point, continuing to eat even tiny amounts of gluten can cause the continued production of antibodies and the continued destruction of your intestinal lining.
Symptoms often include obvious digestive problems such as gas and diarrhea. But because you’re no longer absorbing nutrients properly, symptoms can also include just about any nutritional deficiency, leading to such seemingly-unrelated problems as irritability, anemia, and osteoporosis.
The solution is, of course, to stop eating any gluten. At all. Forever. This can be either an interesting challenge or a burdensome curse, take your pick.
See Melissa Jones’s blog (on this web site) for another writer’s experiences with Celiac Disease.