By Lauren Wanko
Every day Howell resident Linda Pickett prepares gluten-free meals in her kitchen. She was diagnosed with Celiac disease more than 15 years ago.
When asked what it feels like to be suffering with Celiac disease, she said, “Lost is a good word for it because unless you know someone else that has it, most people don’t have a concept as to what it is. They thinks it’s a fad.”
“Celiac disease in an autoimmune disease in which people will intake gluten into their diet — which is a protein which is found in wheat, rye and barley — and will actually cause their body to attack their intestines,” said Dr. Beth Loverigge Lenza.
As we eat, our body digests the food.
“Your small intestine is the major organ that works in absorption of all of our minerals, vitamins, fat, protein after digestion of food occurs,” Dr. Lenza said.
There is villi — finger like projections — on the small intestinal wall which help to increase the surface area to absorb nutrients. But when Celiac disease sufferers eat gluten, their villi is damaged. Those nutrients can’t be absorbed properly.
“When you eat gluten it actually causes your immune system to higher the army of white blood cells to go to that area because it acts like it’s a bacteria or a foreign object. So when it does that, when your body is trying to defend itself in the intestinal lining it actually causes some damage,” Dr. Lenza said.
Meridian Health’s Dr. Lenza says there’s lots of symptoms including stomach discomfort, chronic headaches, infertility, nutritional deficiencies. The disease is hereditary and diagnosed with blood tests and a biopsy from an upper endoscopy.
Pickett now runs the Seashore Celiacs Support Group. Her kitchen’s lined with cookbooks and a special peanut jar for Celiacs only because cross contamination is something she says happens all too often.
“If you’ve taken your knife and taken peanut butter out and put it on regular bread that’s not gluten-free bread, once that knife goes back in that jar you’ve contaminated whatever’s in that jar,” she said.
The treatment for Celiac disease is to stay on a gluten-free diet. Those kinds of products line store shelves.
Dean’s Natural Food Market’s been in business for nearly 20 years. They have lots of gluten-free products and the store manager says over the year’s he’s seen an increase in the number of manufacturers offering gluten-free foods and expansion of their product lines.
Dean’s store manager Eric Nelson says there are customers who don’t have Celiac disease that choose to eat gluten free.
“I’ve been stocking these shelves for a long time and I’ve realized that over time gluten-free has become much, much more popular,” said Nelson.
Nelson recommends his customers visit their doctors to get properly evaluated.
“I feel that a lot of people have gone on gluten-free diets as a fad diet. I really advise not to go on a gluten-free diet unless it’s confirmed that you have Celiac disease because there are a lot of vitamins and minerals you lack in your diet when you’re on a gluten-free diet,” Dr. Lenza said.
Pickett says there are so many naturally gluten-free foods and with all the choices and availability, living a gluten-free lifestyle has made her not only happy, but healthy.