Do you avoid gluten-rich foods? If you do, it may because gluten’s been featured in headlines for the past few years and not because the doctor told you to.
Gluten sensitivity or celiac affects 1% of the population. Of the 3 million people in the United States affected by it, 97% are undiagnosed. That’s what happened to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the former co-host of ABC’s daytime panel talk show “The View”.
She suffered from mysterious symptoms for years. Her doctor diagnosed her as having irritable bowel syndrome and prescribed medication for that condition. But the symptoms didn’t subside and the doctor didn’t have answers.
It wasn’t until Hasselbeck joined the cast of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” in 2001 that she started to get answers. The unusual and sparse diet she was forced to eat while filming finally gave her answers. But the questions still abounded for Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Celiac may have been the condition that gave her the mystery symptoms.
What Is Celiac?
Celiac disease, or gluten-sensitivity enteropathy, triggers an immune reaction in your small intestine when you eat a protein found in barley, wheat, and rye. It’s also called coeliac or sprue sometimes.
What happens is that eating gluten damages the small intestine’s lining over time and prevents it from absorbing some nutrients. The damage also causes other symptoms like bloating, weight loss, and anemia.
These symptoms can lead to serious complications. In children, not being able to absorb nutrients can also affect development and growth.
Wheat Allergies vs. Celiac Disease
It’s important to note, however, that celiac disease and wheat allergies are not the same thing. Some people may experience similar symptoms after eating foods with gluten in them, like gas or bloating, which may cause some confusion.
But an allergic reaction to wheat can trigger mild symptoms like rashes and hives to severe ones like loss of consciousness and trouble breathing. Depending on the severity of your allergic reaction, food allergies can be fatal.
Celiac, on the other hand, makes your body react differently. If you have celiac disease, not only does your body dislike gluten, but it triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestine lining.
Those attacks can do damage to your intestines over time and cause serious complications like intestinal damage or malnutrition. However, you won’t immediately experience any potentially life-threatening reactions to gluten the way you would with a food allergy.
So in the simplest terms, wheat allergies generate an allergic response while celiac disease triggers an immune response. Both can cause serious health complications to varying degrees over time, but a food allergy can be fatal.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Unfortunately, you can’t point to one set of symptoms and signs as a way to tell if you have celiac. Some symptoms are not even related to the digestive system at all. They may include:
- Loss or softening of bone density
- Blistery, itchy skin rash
- Mouth ulcers
- Dental enamel damage
- Joint pain
- Acid reflux
- Cognitive impairment
Celiac symptoms in children may also differ from adults and include constipation, irritability, delayed puberty, and muscle wasting. This makes it even more difficult for doctors to pinpoint the exact cause of the symptoms.
Risk Factors and Complications
According to the Mayo Clinic, only 20% of people with celiac receive a diagnosis. Doctors can do blood tests for celiac disease, but sometimes celiac symptoms are so close to other conditions that they may not know to test for it.
If you go untreated for celiac disease, you may experience serious complications like:
- Loss of bone density and calcium
- Lactose intolerance
- Miscarriage and infertility
- Neurological problems
Celiac disease does go untreated, though. Nearly 1% of the world population has celiac disease, but 80% don’t even know it. This, in turn, can lead to the serious complications mentioned before.
Anyone can get celiac disease but there are certain risk factors that may make your potential higher. They may include having someone in the family that has celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis. Having type 1 diabetes is another major risk factor. Other conditions like Addison’s disease, Down syndrome, and Rheumatoid arthritis may also make your risk higher.
The only real treatment option is to go 100% gluten-free. Your doctor or dietitian may also recommend vitamins and other supplements to address malnutrition issues, but you have to be careful about that.
Gluten can be found in some unexpected sources. Medications, vitamins, and even lip balms may have trace amounts of gluten, so you have to read ingredient lists carefully. There is currently no cure for celiac disease. However, doctors believe that eliminating gluten from your diet removes the trigger for celiac symptoms.
Eating with Elisabeth Hasselbeck – Celiac-Friendly Cooking and Media Awareness
Being outspoken is one of the trademarks of celebrity host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Celiac has been one of the main topics since she came out about having the disease. She has also written a few books about her gluten-free life, including one cookbook that showcases her favorite recipes.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of money going into research for autoimmune diseases such as celiac, but Hasselbeck says that you don’t need a magic pill. Diet changes are all you need.
Her influence and vocal support about celiac awareness have eased the way for others who were diagnosed with the disease. She’s shown through example that a celiac diagnosis doesn’t mean that you have to stop eating great food when you go gluten-free. In fact, many people are choosing to eat that way even when they don’t have celiac disease.
Being an outspoken advocate for gluten-free living and controversial topics seems to be the gluten-free bread and butter for Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Celiac disease may not have been in the limelight years ago, but celebrities like her who have come forward with their chronic conditions provide inspiration to the hungry public.
The hospitality industry is also catching up. Many eateries and markets across the country now provide gluten-free options for those who suffer from celiac disease, proving that you can still eat freely with the disease.