Question: It seems like an awful lot of people are on gluten-free diets. Is there really that many people with celiac disease?
Answer: More than 330,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) and more than 73,000 are children, so basically one in 100 people with 30 per cent of children initially misdiagnosed.
How many slip through the cracks entirely we don’t know.
Up until 10 years ago CD was thought to be relatively rare and only affected about one in 2,500 people. It was also thought to be a disease that primarily affected children and young people.
Celiac disease affects three times more people Crohn’s and colitis combined and in my experience many people who suffer from Crohn’s and colitis are worse when they eat gluten.
People with untreated CD suffer intestinal damage when they eat gluten grains such as wheat, rye or barley. Celiac is more common in people of Northern European descent. It presents a broad range of symptoms, from mild weakness and bone pain to chronic diarrhea, abdominal bloating and progressive weight loss. In some cases it may only be slow growth and anemia are the only indicators.
Celiac disease is diagnosed with positive antibodies followed by a positive intestinal biopsy. It is very important to be consuming regular amounts of gluten one week prior to both tests. In most cases, treatment with a gluten-free diet leads to a full recovery from celiac disease.
If untreated, CD leads to a 40 to 100 increased risk of gastrointestinal cancers. People with CD also more commonly have the following conditions: anemia; arthritis; non-Hodgkins lymphoma; cow’s milk intolerance; dermatitis; IBS; liver disease; migraines; nerve disease/peripheral neuropathy; obesity; osteoporosis; thyroid disorders and type 1 diabetes.
A study at the University of Ottawa found that 41 out of 42 people with type 1 disease were allergic to wheat.
In fact, untreated CD can actually cause or worsen some of these conditions, and medical guidelines now recommend celiac screening for all people with these conditions.
Nutrient absorption is impaired in CD because of the damage caused to the villi in your intestinal lining. These nutritional deficiencies cause or contribute to the associated health problems. I recommend consulting an ND to assess your nutrient status if you have been diagnosed with or suspect celiac disease. Ask your doctor to rule out celiac if you fit the above criteria. NDs can do the blood test for celiac, but the cost is not covered by the province.
The cost of ruling out celiac with a blood test is justified compared to the health and financial costs of celiac and increased risk of associated conditions. Ironically, some seem “allergic” to even discussing food allergies as a possible cause or contributor to health problems.
Question: I was tested for celiac because my digestion and energy were so improved plus my joint pain was almost gone when I was gluten free. However, the test came back negative what do I do?
Answer: Trust your experience. You felt great so avoid gluten as much as possible and see how things worsen the times it is unavoidable or you just really want some.
You may have more tolerance than a person with celiac and low gluten grains such as kamut or sprouted grain breads with little or no gluten can give you more dietary variety. The immune system is complex maybe you just have a sensitivity or you weren’t eating enough gluten to get a positive result.
I wish every Islander would try a gluten free diet for a month — the health benefits and cost savings to our health-care system would be astounding. Go with your gut feeling — pun intended.
Kali Simmonds, ND, is a doctor of naturopathic medicine who practises in Charlottetown. The information provided is not intended to diagnose or substitute the advice of your health-care professional. Please consult with a health-care provider before making any changes. She welcomes questions for this column, which is published every second Tuesday in The Guardian. She can be reached by mail at 34 Queen St., Charlottetown, C1A 4A3 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.