What Is Celiac Disease? My Gluten-Free Journey

What Is Celiac Disease? My Gluten-Free Journey

Angela Tague headshotPosted by Angela Tague, guest blogger

An upset stomach is annoying. When mine lasted more than a week, I knew it was time to visit my doctor. After explaining my symptoms—multiple bowel movements each day, joint pain, and a foggy brain—he ordered a few blood tests.

The results showed an elevation in the reactive proteins associated with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.

So I asked him: “What is celiac disease and gluten intolerance? Where do I go from here?” He explained that gluten is a protein found in several grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. To stay healthy, I had to eliminate them from my diet and personal care products.

Understanding the Celiac Lifestyle

making homemade gluten-free cupcakes

When people ask, “what is celiac disease,” it’s a popular misconception that you can no longer have bread or baked goods to avoid gluten. That’s not true! I love baking from scratch with gluten-free flours made from rice, tapioca, and almonds.

Individuals with celiac disease can experience intestinal inflammation because their bodies can’t digest gluten, according to the Mayo Clinic, and as I spoke with my doctor, I learned there are various levels of sensitivity or intolerance. I decided to turn to a nutritionist to set the record straight for everyone wondering about gluten and why people are avoiding it in their diets. After all, May is National Celiac Disease Awareness month.

“A gluten-free lifestyle may be required for health reasons, or it may be a choice because you want to feel better. Gluten intolerance is a reaction to gluten, which requires we eat gluten free as much as possible. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that demands that no gluten be consumed at any time,” according to nutritionist Cherie Calbom, who holds a Master of Science in whole foods nutrition from Bastyr University in Washington.

Calbom has penned twenty-six books relating to healthy living, including the popular The Juice Lady’s Anti-Inflammation Diet, a helpful resource for people living with celiac disease. Here’s a little more about how to approach each level of gluten avoidance.

Choosing a Gluten-Free Diet

Eliminating gluten for medical reasons or personal choice goes far beyond diet. The protein also lingers in everyday personal care items, like deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo (thankfully all Tom’s of Maine products are gluten free!).

Calbom reminds readers, “You need to change how you shop, what you eat, the restaurants you choose, what you drink, how you cook, how you think about food, and the products you use.” As a result, I’ve found myself reading labels on everything from lip balms to salad dressings, and often check restaurant menus online before heading out for a meal. This reduces my chances of having a reaction.

About Gluten Sensitivity or Intolerance

If your doctor determines you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, you ultimately need to make avoiding gluten exposure part of your daily life.

These intolerances are “different than a true allergy to gluten,” Calbom elaborated. “It is a condition that causes a person to react after eating gluten. Symptoms can include gastrointestinal problems, joint pain, fatigue, foggy brain, and depression. Many of the same symptoms can be present with celiac disease as with gluten sensitivity or intolerance; therefore it’s important to get the correct diagnosis.”

What Causes the Reaction?

When the immune system rejects gluten in your body and triggers a damaging response in the digestive system, there’s a chance you have celiac disease. If your doctor says so as well, you need to avoid gluten to reduce the chances of nutrient malabsorbtion, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Calbom cites the Celiac Disease Foundation for additional insight: “Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.” And the only treatment for celiac disease is a 100-percent avoidance of gluten in your daily routine.

For me, that means cooking at home much of the time and using simple, natural products such as coconut oil in lieu of makeup removers or body lotion. What is celiac disease to you? Are you on a similar gluten-free journey? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Image source: Angela Tague

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.