Miramonte Students Adopt a Gluten-free Lifestyle

Colleen Burke, Staff Writer

“Gluten free” cards read in grocery stores across the country. Those two words have been appearing more frequently in the last year. In fact, one out of every 133 U.S. citizens is said to have Celiac disease or Gluten Sensitive Enteropathy (GSE). This disease, though often thought of as an allergy to wheat or gluten, is an autoimmune disease merely triggered by gluten. When someone with this disease ingests gluten, the villi in the small intestine are damaged. When villi are damaged they can’t absorb proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, which are all necessary to stay healthy.

Sophomore Evan McAvenia was tested for gluten sensitivity, and the results came back as extremely high. This means her body cannot digest gluten, and her body begins to fight itself. McAvenia does have gluten sensitivity, but tested negative for Celiac. A wheat allergy is a condition that can come from Celiac, although people can grow out of their allergies. The difference between Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is that there is a slight possibility that one can outgrow sensitivity. Celiac disease is not a food allergy and is much more common than most would assume, occurring in five to 15 percent of children. If one person in the family has tested positive for Celiac, it is wise for the rest of the family to get tested as well because it is hereditary.

The cause of Celiac disease continues to be a mystery, but it is known that if someone has another autoimmune disease they have a 25 percent higher risk of having it. Celiac disease also goes by the name of Celiac Sprue.
There is a surprising number of symptoms of Celiac disease, most commonly including abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, anemia, unexplained weight loss with a large appetite, unexplained weight gain, fatigue, weakness, depression, migraines, and tingling or numbness in hands or feet. There is also the possibility of having Dermatitis Herpetiformis as a result of Celiac. This means blistering, intensely itchy skin, and a symmetrical rash, mostly found on one’s face, buttock, and knees.

The only treatment for Celiac disease is a life-long gluten-free diet, which can be challenging.
“At first it was extremely difficult. I refused to stop eating [gluten] until I saw how high my intolerance was,” McAvenia said. “Most of my favorite foods, like pasta and pie, have gluten. It was a big change in how I ate. Once I found things that were gluten free and tasted good it got easier.”

Junior Charlotte Pitt tested positive for an allergy to gluten as well, so she established a no-gluten diet. “I was bummed that I’d be missing out on a lot of food, but now it doesn’t matter to me because I just feel so much better and healthier,” Pitt said.

By not eating gluten, the small intestine has time to heal and your overall health improves. If it is left untreated, there are potentially horrible side effects. There could be great damage to the small bowel, which can be chronic as well as life threatening. This increases the risk of nutritional and immune disorders. It is recommended to get one’s bone density measured because osteoporosis is one of the most common symptoms.

It is difficult to tell if someone has Celiac disease because many signs can be interpreted as obscure and unharmful sicknesses. There are a few recommended blood tests one can get if they are worried about having Celiac or if a family member has already tested positive. However, one must take into account that they are not 100 percent correct. Also genetic testing does not diagnose Celiac.

Fortunately for those with Celiac disease, it is possible to purchase gluten-free food at almost all supermarkets. One website, Gluten-Free Kathy’s Weblog, has a variety of gluten-free recipes to make homemade meals easier. However, many restaurants still don’t offer options for those with gluten intolerance. Even the smallest amount of gluten can be very harmful.

“Earlier this year I accidentally ate gluten and got sick all over again,”  said McAvenia. Therefore it is best to stick to things you are absolutely positive do not contain gluten.
Families of those who have Celiac or gluten intolerance have to make changes as well.

“A lot of the time we just make dinners he can eat and everyone eats it,” Junior Sam Reeves said. Reeves has a brother who found out he had Celiac disease at the young age of six, and they have been supporting him as a family ever since.

“The only reason everyone doesn’t always eat the same as him is because the stuff [gluten-free food] is really expensive,” Reeves said.

Discovering that someone has a gluten allergy or Celiac disease can be quite a shock and difficult to handle. There are websites, blogs, doctors, and even Miramonte students open to discuss the next move on how to begin a completely new lifestyle.