By Morris Hart
Ignorance is not bliss, especially if you are one of the estimated 200,000 Canadians with celiac disease who have not yet been clinically diagnosed. Medical experts working with the Foundation of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology estimate that only one third of Canadians with celiac disease have been diagnosed and that in many cases the diagnosis may take years. In addition, it is estimated that due to an under-recognition of celiac disease in pediatric patients nearly 30 per cent of Canadian children with celiac disease are initially misdiagnosed.
Some of the reasons for the low and often delayed diagnostic rates for this serious illness are: confusion of the symptoms with other digestive and allergic conditions such as wheat allergies, intestinal bowel disorder and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, as well many myths and confusing theories that are bantered around online.
Celiac disease is a specific digestive disorder of the nutrient absorbing part of the gut called the small intestine. Celiac disease is believed to be a form of food allergy where the immune system reacts against gluten, a protein found in wheat, causing damage to villi and loss of surface area for absorbing nutrients.
A delayed diagnosis of celiac disease could mean that the intestinal villi are currently so scarred that they are not appropriately absorbing essential food nutrients such as calcium, proteins and vitamins. This can lead to hair loss, muscle atrophy, anemia, weakness, headaches, fractured bones, long menstrual periods and worse.
Accurate and rapid diagnosis
If a person is exhibiting any of the above symptoms or experiencing other intestinal or digestive pains or symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps or weakness, or if they have relatives that are gluten intolerant, it is highly advised that they speak to their doctor about properly diagnosing the cause of their symptoms. The only way to definitely diagnose gluten intolerance is with a blood test accompanied by a later intestinal biopsy. The blood test will screen for elevated levels of celiac disease antibodies that indicate that one’s body is identifying the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley as a dangerous foreign body to be eliminated. The small bowel biopsy is a painless procedure done under local anesthesia.
According to Dr. Murray of the Mayo Clinic, only once you have been cleared of gluten intolerance with the above blood and biopsy tests can you then look into the potential that you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In addition, the blood test won’t find a positive result for gluten intolerance if you have already stopped gluten.
Proper diagnosis is also important because some people are self-diagnosing themselves with gluten intolerance when actually they only have a wheat allergy. A person with a wheat allergy can usually eat several types of grains that a gluten intolerant person can’t so the person is imposing upon themselves needless restrictions and stress.
The good news is that there are many support groups and nutritious gluten-free foods out there for the gluten intolerant person. It takes extra effort and organization, but there is no reason that a gluten intolerant person can’t live a happy and healthy life.
Information is power
By focusing on the known basic facts on gluten intolerance presented by the medical community the Canadian food processor will be better prepared to make the right strategic decisions when it comes to catering to this ever growing market.
Morris Hart is an industry food expert working at Altra Foods, a leading Canadian distributor of gluten and gluten-free foods. Contact him at [email protected] or for more information visit www.altrafoods.com