July 23, 2008

Disease Spurs Diet Change: Celiac Disease is an Autoimmune Disorder Triggered By the Consumption of Gluten.

By Kim Archer, Tulsa World, Okla.

Jul. 23--Eric Gentry can feel it almost immediately when he "gets glutened." His stomach starts bloating and gurgling with pain.

"I feel it within five minutes; probably even less," he said.

After a year or more of looking for answers about what was wrong with him, Gentry and his wife, Stacie Gentry, found it online: celiac sprue disease.

It is a lifelong autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

In celiac patients, gluten damages the small intestine and prevents absorption of nutrients from food.

About 2 million Americans have been diagnosed with celiac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Because it is genetic, the risk is higher for those who have a first-degree relative diagnosed with celiac disease.

Once the Tulsa banker saw the list of symptoms, he knew that that was his problem.

"I said, 'That's it. That's gotta be it,' " Gentry said.

He was scheduled to have his gallbladder removed the next day but canceled the surgery to explore this new possibility.


was referred to the Mayo Clinic, which employs one of the world's top celiac specialists.

After thorough testing, Gentry was finally diagnosed.

"They said: 'It's clear-cut. You have celiac.' "

Gentry was relieved.

"Yeah, I have to change my lifestyle and diet, but at least I didn't have to have an invasive surgery," he said.

On his way to a diagnosis, Gentry saw several doctors and had three colonoscopies.

He was misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. So that doctor put him on a high-fiber diet, one of the worst things for someone with celiac disease.

He had lost 40 pounds in three months and had suffered with headaches, mouth sores, tingling in his arms and gastrointestinal difficulties. And he knew that some people thought he was a hypochondriac.

"You think you're going crazy. But I knew something was wrong," Gentry said.

Finally, during the last colonoscopy, the doctor noticed that his villi were smashed down, a classic sign of celiac disease. Villi are the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestines that help absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.

Citing the difficulty of a gluten-free diet, the doctor still wanted to remove Gentry's gallbladder. But Gentry said no.

"A gluten-free diet is the only treatment for this. It is extremely hard for at least the first month," Gentry said. "But after three days, I felt like a new person."

Two years later, Gentry's gallbladder is better, his headaches are gone, he has gained healthy weight, and even his allergy-induced asthma is nearly nonexistent.

"You have to be careful what you read on the Internet," he said. "But if it wasn't for us looking at the symptoms on the Internet, I probably would have had my gallbladder out or even worse."

Undiagnosed, the disease can lead to lymphoma or cancer of the intestine.

"If you find out you have celiac disease, don't think it's the end of the world," Gentry said. "Stick to the diet 100 percent. You'll see instant improvement in your health."

Kim Archer 581-8315 [email protected]

Symptoms of celiac disease


Recurring abdominal bloating and pain

Chronic diarrhea


Pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool


Unexplained anemia (a low count of red blood cells causing fatigue)

Weight loss/weight gain

Bone or joint pain

Osteoporosis, osteopenia

Tingling numbness in the legs (from nerve damage)

Muscle cramps


Missed menstrual periods (often because of excessive weight loss)

Infertility, recurrent miscarriage

Behavioral changes

Delayed growth

Failure to thrive in infants

Pale sores inside the mouth, called aphthous ulcers

Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel

Itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

Not everyone has all of the symptoms. Some people with celiac disease may have no symptoms, but they are still at risk for the complications of celiac disease, including malnutrition. The longer a person goes undiagnosed and untreated, the greater the chance of developing malnutrition and other complications.

Source: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

Dining out with celiac disease

Gentry's suggestions for local restaurants with gluten-free menus:

Michael Fusco's Riverside Grill, 9912 Riverside Parkway

P.F. Chang's China Bistro, 1978 E. 21st St.

PeiWei Asian Diner, 3535 S. Peoria Ave.; 5954 S. Yale Ave.; 4609 W. Kenosha St., Broken Arrow

Outback Steakhouse, 4723 S. Yale Ave.; 9006 E. 71st St.; 9710 Riverside Parkway


Celiac Sprue Association, Tulsa Support Group Ronda Falkensten, president, [email protected] (please include "celiac" or "gluten-free" in the subject line) tulsaworld.com/celiac

Next support group meeting: 7 p.m. Aug. 19, St. Francis Hospital Education Resource Building, 6161 S. Yale Ave. (northeast part of St. Francis Hospital; next building past Children's Hospital)


Barbara Sipple (918) 733-4571 For more information about celiac disease, go to tulsaworld.com/celiacorg


To see more of the Tulsa World, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tulsaworld.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Tulsa World, Okla.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.