As you make your way through the supermarket, you may notice products that are marked “gluten free.” Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley products like bread, cereal, and pasta. People who are sensitive to gluten can develop various digestive disorders.
The most serious of these is celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects about two million people in the United States. This condition requires a person to avoid consuming gluten completely.
While the level of gluten sensitivity can vary from person to person, the good news is that people can avoid gluten and still have a healthy diet and lifestyle.
What is celiac disease?
Celiac disease is an immune response to gluten that damages the lining of the small intestine. When this lining is damaged, it’s difficult for the small intestine to absorb nutrients properly. If left untreated, this can lead to many health issues like coronary artery disease and certain cancers. But with the proper diet, those with celiac disease can continue to live a normal and healthy lifestyle.
How to know if you have celiac disease
Symptoms of celiac disease are similar to those of other digestive disorders and may include:
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal pain
- Constipation or chronic diarrhea
- Nausea or vomiting
If you experience any of these symptoms regularly after eating, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. They will likely test your blood for certain antibodies that can determine whether you have celiac disease.
Living with celiac disease
The best way to manage celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Unlike managing gluten sensitivity, having celiac disease means making lifelong changes in how you eat rather than simply adopting a temporary diet. A drastic and permanent change in your diet can be difficult to adjust to, but there are many resources available to help support you.
If you have a loved one with celiac disease, there are plenty of ways to support them. Start by helping them find gluten-free snacks and meals. Continue to support them and include them in social outings, even if the focus includes things which may not always have a gluten-free alternative, like pizza and beer. With more people being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, you may be surprised by how many gluten-free alternatives there are now available in grocery stores and restaurants.
Remember that it’s possible to manage celiac disease and live a healthy life. For those who have not been diagnosed, it’s important not to cut out gluten without talking to your primary care provider first. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, cutting gluten out of your diet will likely not have any benefit.