Updated: Jun 27, 2020
This month is an exciting time for allergy awareness! During May, there is Celiac Awareness month, Allergy Awareness Week, and Eosinophilic Awareness Week. For today's post, I'm focusing on Celiac Awareness Month.
For those who are unfamiliar with Celiac, it is an autoimmune disorder which is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. According to BeyondCeliac.org, approximately 3 million people in the US have Celiac Disease, but 83% of people with the disease are currently undiagnosed. Common symptoms include anemia, bloating and gas, fatigue, brain fog, infertility, and others, but you can be asymptomatic as well. That is why it is important to get screened for Celiac if you have any immediate family members with the condition. There is currently no cure, and the only approved treatment is following a strict gluten free diet.
People with Celiac experience many difficulties because of the disease, but one of the largest struggles is that the illness is "invisible," meaning that there are no outward signs you are sick. Unfortunately, this can lead to issues with diagnosis and lack of support from friends and family since you don't look sick. Personally, I have struggled with this from family, friends, and medical staff. I have been told many times by medical staff that I'm "too young" to be sick, and that I don't need to have my blood work checked because that is for older patients. Family members have pressured me to eat just a small bite of food with gluten because that "can't hurt."
As a disease that affects one's food, eating out can be a struggle. Not only do many recipes include hidden gluten, there is the concern of cross contamination, and some restaurants take this more seriously than others. A fantastic resource that can help you navigate the restaurant landscape is, Find Me Gluten Free. This website/app has reviews from other people who eat gluten free that specifically focus on the "safeness" of a restaurant. People can mark a place "Celiac Friendly" or warn others about what to avoid. This app has helped me find some amazing restaurants in cuisines that are typically difficult for those with Celiac and avoid some places that would have gotten me very sick.
For some, including myself, Celiac affects more than food. Exposure to topical gluten sources can cause symptoms as well! This means you have to check for sources of gluten in not just food but medication, soap, makeup, lotion, shampoo, even the food you feed to your pets. This is why even non-food products may be marked gluten free!
If you don't personally have Celiac and are wondering how you can help, check out some of the resources on Celiac.org to learn more about the disease. Additionally, you can support initiatives to help those with Celiac such as advocating for transparency in medication ingredients that contain gluten or advocating for Celiac research of a treatment or cure. You can directly support your friends by respecting their choices when it comes to food. Some people may not feel comfortable eating out or only may eat at certain restaurants they know. Many people will not feel comfortable having home baked goods that do not come from a 100% gluten free kitchen. Whenever in doubt, ask your friend or family member directly!