Celiac disease is one of the hardest conditions to diagnose-and until recently, I had no idea why I was always tired, got blister on my shoulder and arms on occasion, and was unable to gain weight (trust me, that turns into a problem after a while). My body was becoming very disproportionate, and I figured my constant fatigue, sneezing, and swollen glands were a result of allergies. But my ‘allergies’ seemed to be more than seasonal, so I decided to do a little more research.
After getting a skin test at the allergist, I was told that I had a wheat allergy, and should stay away from any products with wheat in them. I figured this made sense, since I did eat a lot of bread (I think I liked bread more than most people), and was constantly sleepy and irritable. My joints had also begun to ache frequently, but at the time, I was playing sports regularly and working out several times a week, so I though the joint pain was a result of overextending myself physically. So, I stayed away from wheat (or so I thought) for a few months, hoping the symptoms would go away. But they never did.
Later, the doctor also told me that I should stay away from ‘gourd’ fruits and vegetables. That meant no melons, except for watermelon, no squash, and no eggplant. This meant my diet was even more restricted-as if living without wheat wasn’t hard enough. On top of that, I was vegetarian, and many meat substitutes are made from wheat, so I was pretty much stuck with tofu and green vegetables for lunch and dinner.
Then, I ran across this site for celiac disease, www.celiacs.org, while I was doing a health report for a client. I started to look through the site to find out more about the condition, and saw that I had almost all the symptoms. I was tired on a constant basis, which was strange, since I was active and though exercising was supposed to give me more energy. I was irritable because I was tired, and was impatient when it came to completed tasks and schoolwork. My knees and elbows hurt more than they should, and no amount of soaking in Epson salt was helping, and acne medications were doing nothing for the blisters that appeared on my arms and shoulders.
After reading more, I discovered that celiac disease is the name of the condition for people who are unable to digest gluten-and gluten is in just about everything, from bread to baked goods, and even most snacks. It’s in everything that contains wheat, and even in foods that contain barley, rye, and spelt. Gluten and its derivatives can also be found in certain condiments, such as barbecue sauce and soy sauce, so it’s hard to tell if you’re sticking to a gluten-free diet sometimes. If gluten gets in the system of a person with celiac, the villi, or the small hairs on the intestines that help to digest food, are flattened, meaning that it’s next to impossible to digest food after a while. So, even if I was healthy foods, they may not necessarily be healthy for me.This both relieved me and frustrated me-now I had to make even more diet adjustments, and what was I going to eat besides rice and fruit?
After another trip to the doctor, it was clear that I definitely had celiac disease. Only a blood test can determine if a person has the condition, which is why skin tests and allergy testing were not yielding the right results. The only way to remedy the condition as of now is to stay away from all forms of gluten, but there are digestive enzymes that are available (I take them after every meal now), as well as amino acids that celiacs can take to supplement the diet.
And, gluten intolerance is much more common than I thought-many of the grocery stores in my area offer gluten-free food products to cook with, so I can still enjoy things like spaghetti (with rice noodles) or enchiladas (with all-corn tortillas) without getting sick. And, Whole Foods Market (www.wholefoods.com) has a Gluten-Free Bakehouse line, which features everything from muffins to pizza crust that celiacs can enjoy. So, I’ll survive until a cure is found for celiac disease-but until then I’ll whip up a bowl of gluten-free corn puffs for breakfast and have a sandwich or two on rice bread for dinner.