These days it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing “Gluten Free” on menus, packaging … and even makeup! Gluten free diets and lifestyles seem to be all the rage. It’s great that gluten free options are more readily available for those who have Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivities. But, while awareness has grown and people are finally starting to take Celiac Disease seriously, education about the disease itself is a bit lacking. There is still a lot of misinformation out there.
Here are eight myths about Celiac Disease and the truth behind the myths.
Myth #1: People with Celiac Disease are allergic to wheat
Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease, not an allergy. Yes, it is possible to be allergic to wheat but that is not what’s happening with someone who has Celiac Disease ingests gluten. The reaction in the body is much different.
When you have Celiac Disease, your body sees gluten as an enemy that it must fight. Gluten causes the immune system to produce antibodies and auto-antibodies that cause damage to the small intestine, the islet cells of the pancreas and the nervous system.
Myth #2 It’s ok for people who have Celiac Disease to eat gluten once in awhile
It’s a very bad idea to eat gluten if you have Celiac Disease because the effects are very serious. It’s not like cheating on a diet. You risk major health complications if you ingest even a small amount of gluten.
Beyond feeling awful afterwards, you will trigger an autoimmune reaction in the small intestine which will not only cause damage, but will prevent you from absorbing necessary nutrients.
Myth #3 Gluten sensitivity is the same thing as Celiac Disease
If you are sensitive to gluten, you will experience gastrointestinal distress but it is not the same as Celiac Disease.
Myth #4 Bread is the only thing you need to avoid
Gluten is found in more than just bread. It’s also in alcohol and is snuck into all kinds of processed foods. French fries, meats, soups, candy, salad dressing, sausage, non-dairy creamer, etc. Beyond actual food products, you also need to make sure that the food you eat was not prepared with the same equipment that made food with gluten. Think cutting boards, knives, frying oil, pots, pans, etc.
Myth #5: You can be “cured”
Once you’ve been diagnosed with the disease, you have it for life. It cannot be cured. The disease can be developed at any age. If you have the gene, your body’s microbiome determines when the genes are turned on or off.
Myth #6: Celiac disease only affects your gut.
While the gut is the most common place to experience the symptoms of Celiac Disease, it actually affects more than just your diet. Every organ in your body can be affected. The disease has been known to cause Dermatitis Herpetiformis, insulin dependent diabetes, migraines, thyroid problems, osteoporosis, depression and cardiac abnormalities.
Myth #7: Celiac Disease is not serious
Autoimmune diseases are very serious. If not treated, your risk of developing serious disorders is high. Thyroid disorders, cardiovascular disease, severe infections and neurological problems are just some examples.
Myth #8: Your life is over
Yes, adjusting to a gluten free diet is challenging but it can be done. And, it gets easier once you learn how to cook without gluten, where to shop, where to eat, and how to ensure you get the necessary vitamins and fiber in your diet.
If you’ve been diagnosed and are having a hard time adjusting, talk to your Gastroenterologist (us!). A good Gastro doc can help you plan your diet and most will connect you with a reputable nutritionist. There are also plenty of forums and groups you can join for support.