Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. When gluten is consumed, the body produces antibodies to attack the gluten. Unfortunately, these antibodies also attack the lining of the small intestine. This damage, however, can be reversed and the disease treated by following a gluten-free diet.
When I was diagnosed in 2000, celiac disease was considered rare (1 out of 5,000-10,000), so getting diagnosed was not easy. I had to point the doctors (more like push them) in the right direction. Celiac disease (pronounced see -lee-ak) is considered a genetic disorder. That is what led me discover the source of my problems. I found out that I had an uncle with celiac disease and started searching for information. After reading lists of symptoms online, I knew that was it. In the end, the gastroenterologist said, "You diagnosed yourself."
Celiac disease is no longer considered rare. A prevalence study conducted by Dr. Alesio Fasano a the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research found that 1 out of 133 people have celiac disease. Since the results of that study were published in 2003, doctors have been diagnosing many more patients.
If you are newly diagnosed, eating gluten free can seem a bit overwhelming. The good news is that with more people being diagnosed, it has become a lot easier. There is a better understanding of what needs to be avoided, better food labeling, and more gluten-free products available. If you're just starting out on this diet, focus on what you CAN eat. Fruit, vegetables, corn, potatoes, rice, beans, eggs and plain fresh meats are a good beginning. Summertime is a great time for gluten-free cooking. Meat cooked on the grill, corn on the cob and a fresh salad make a great meal. I like to marinade chicken breasts in Italian dressing. You do have to be careful about dressings and marinades. Always read the labels. You might be surprised to learn that most soy and teriyaki sauces contain wheat.
As with anything, it's important to keep a good attitude. There are many people enjoying the gluten-free lifestyle, and connecting with some of those people can be a great help. There are many ways to connect online, but even better is a local support group. An Internet search for "celiac support groups" should help you find a group near you.
Welcome to the celiac community and happy gluten-free eating.