Monthly Archives: January 2013

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Yes, it is “Safe” to Raise Non Celiac Kids Gluten Free

I’ve realized that I have not written for almost a week and I think I am okay with this. When I started this blog two months ago, I anticipated being able to post about once a week, so I think I am on track. Between working full-time, running, and trying to squeeze in some sleep, the main reason  that I have not had time is that I have four small children. I am trying my best to cherish this phase of our family life, as I know that someday I will have four teenagers at once!

None of my kids have Celiac Disease, but I consider them all to be at high risk for its development. Although I was diagnosed when I was 33, I have probably had Celiac Disease since early childhood. My mother also has it, and interestingly enough, was diagnosed after I was. Through conversations with aunts and uncles, it seems there is some “gluten sensitivity” in my deceased dad’s family. Although my husband, Tom, does not have Celiac, we do know that he is HLA-DQ2 positive, as he was tested by his GI doctor.  He has both an aunt and cousin with Celiac Disease as well. If none of my children go on to develop Celiac Disease, I will be truly amazed!

We started off my Celiac journey with a shared kitchen. I read up on this as much as I could after diagnosis, and I had my own “gluten free” cabinet, pasta strainer and pasta pot, cooking utensils, baking dish, etc. I also kept separate GF butter, peanut butter, and other condiments to avoid cross contamination.  I always put my items on a piece of aluminum foil when toasting because I was never able to find the “toaster bags” which people would discuss on the Internet forums. I thought that I was doing everything right and although our GF/non GF set-up did work for a while, I kept on getting sick. In 2012 I developed a peripheral neuropathy, which is persistent numbness and tingling from nerve inflammation, and was evaluated for multiple sclerosis. My neuropathy ended up being Celiac Disease related, as a result of continued exposure to traces of gluten. We made our whole home gluten free in 2012 and I have had minimal problems since then.  My exposure to tiny hands and mouths with gluten crumbs was much more damaging than I could ever have imagined when I was diagnosed in 2010.

Through starting this blog I have been able to interact with a lot of moms with Celiac Disease and/or raising kids with Celiac Disease. Many of us have decided to raise all of our kids gluten free, however, this seems to be controversial.  I have learned that many people are being advised by their doctors that it is not “safe” to raise their non Celiac children gluten free, because they are being told that by doing so that they are depriving their kids of essential vitamins and nutrients.  I have researched this and have not found any evidence that this is the case, as long as gluten free kids are given a wide variety of non-processed, nutrient-rich foods.

Our youngest is now 10 months old and, freakishly enough, has 7 teeth, so she is eating table foods at dinner. We eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, beans, and fish. Our “starches” consist of potatoes, rice and risotto, squash, and sweet potatoes.  Once a week or so we will make a GF pizza of some sort. Lately we have been making a cauliflower pizza crust which I adapted from a recipe I found on Pinterest (I will post it on the “Recipes” page of this blog soon). We occasionally make tacos, enchiladas and other Mexican foods, pasta or lasagna, and Indian dishes, usually a chicken curry of some sort.  For snacks our kids eat fresh fruit, applesauce, popcorn, dried fruits and nuts, yogurt, string cheese, GF crackers and rice cakes.  We always have a few “treats” in our home, usually Annie’s GF Bunny crackers, ice cream, and a tortilla chip of some sort.  I bake a lot of treats for the kids as well. We’ve made delicious chocolate chunk cookies using almond flour 2 or 3 times in the past week (see link). We’ve said goodbye to a lot of convenience foods like chicken nuggets and frozen macaroni and cheese.

I do not see any evidence that my children are nutritionally deprived. They are growing and thriving, are not anemic, and interestingly enough, my two oldest have grown quite a bit since going off of gluten last year.  I give all of them a calcium and vitamin D supplement once a day, but I have done this for years. We live in the midwest, where vitamin D deficiency is rampant in both kids and adults, and a deficiency is associated with the development of autoimmune diseases.  I have not given them any other vitamins or supplements. I am pretty certain that they are getting enough protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and calories for proper growth and development through their diets.

I am not trying to say that what I am doing for my family is right or best for all families. I am sharing my story in hopes that it may help others to make the decision whether or not to make their entire household gluten free. Looking back, I wish that I would have made the transition much earlier in my journey, as it would likely have prevented me from developing neurologic complications from Celiac Disease. Thank you for reading!

 *Also, a quick reminder that this is a blog. I am summarizing medical literature, but also adding in my own thoughts and opinions on what I have read. I am not trying to tell anyone what they should do for their own health, nor am I giving medical advice through this page. Thank you!

 

 

 

What your doctor may possibly be reading about Celiac Disease

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I was at a work function recently and I met a new physician. She noticed that I was not eating any of the food from the dinner buffet and she asked me why. I told her that I have Celiac Disease and she asked me, “What is Celiac Disease?” It took me a minute to respond because I was so taken aback by the question. When I responded that I cannot eat gluten, she asked me, “What foods is gluten found in?”  I went back to the basics in my explanation.

This encounter came about a month or two after I had another doctor ask me questions about my “gluten allergy” and whether or not I ever “cheat” on my diet. He told me that one of his relatives has Celiac Disease, but cheats all of the time.

That encounter came about 6 months after I was told by another M.D. that all Celiacs cheat on the gluten free diet because it is too difficult to follow. He shared with me that he has never met a patient who has been successful at eating gluten-free.

So, although I have not picked up a copy of “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine” since medical school, as I am in a very different field, I marched into the library and began to read the 17th edition. Two of the 2500+ pages were devoted to “Celiac Sprue” (that is what it is called in this book). This is probably the last big, clunky edition of Harrison’s that many MDs have sitting in their offices for reference, as since then it has been widely available online.

Here are some of the things which I read (and what other doctors and practitioners may also be reading):

-Celiac disease is a common cause of malabsorption (true)

-it occurs in up to 1 in 113 people (true)

-although the cause is unknown, it is likely due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune factors (true)

-the hallmark findings are an abnormal small-intestinal biopsy showing villous blunting (photos of biopsies are shown) and response to a gluten-free diet (true)

-it may develop at any time during life (true)

-symptoms can come and go for years and years before diagnosis (true)

-symptoms include diarrhea, fatty stools, weight loss, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, bone disease, and/or iron deficiency anemia (true-but no discussion of all of the other symptoms and problems
which we now know celiac disease is associated with, like infertility, thyroid disease, joint pains, rashes, nerve inflammation, oral ulcers, ataxia, osteoporosis, etc.)

-it is associated with ingestion of gliadin, a protein component of gluten in wheat, rye, and barley (true-but no mention of oats often being a culprit as well due to heavy contamination with gluten)

-patients often have abnormally high levels of certain antibodies, such as IgA antigliadin, IgA endomysial, and IgA anti-TTG (true)

-10% of family members of celiacs may also be affected (true)

-Almost all patients are HLA-DQ2 positive. Absence of HLA-DQ2 excludes Celiac Disease (not true-we now know that about 8% of celiacs are HLA-DQ8 positive, and that a small number may actually not have either of the 2 main celiac genes).

-A small intestinal biopsy is required for diagnosis (this is not always the case anymore, a lot of people are diagnosed based on lab results, family history, and response to the GF diet; diagnostic
criteria are being revised)

-the most common cause of continued symptoms and lack of intestinal healing is continued ingestion of gluten (true, but the role other food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, are not discussed)

-associated diseases include dermatitis herpetiformis, type 1 diabetes, and IgA deficiency (true-but no mention of all of the other problems which I discussed earlier)

-the most important complication is the development of cancers, like lymphoma (true)

Things which I am surprised were not mentioned in this textbook:
-that Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder
-that Celiac Disease can present without any gastrointestinal symptoms or anemia; the concept of “atypical” Celiac Disease
-that patients with Celiac Disease require follow-up testing, nutritional counseling, testing for bone density, vitamin levels, etc.
-that HLA-DQ8 is associated with the disease

This edition in my library was written in 2008. There was a more recent, 18th edition of the textbook, published in 2012, which I was able to access online. I was optimistic that it would
be much more up-to-date, which it was to a degree. There was a discussion of DQ8 as a genetic
marker. It also included the following very important statement:

“A much larger number of individuals have manifestations that are not obviously related to intestinal malabsorption, e.g., anemia, osteopenia, infertility, neurologic symptoms (“atypical celiac disease”); while an even larger group are essentially asymptomatic though with abnormal small intestinal histopathology and serologies and are referred to as “silent’ celiac disease.”

The problem is that this is very new publication, and if MDs are using the 2008 (or older) edition of the textbook, they are not going to be seeing this. A lot of younger physicians are using an online resource called “Up to Date,” which is continually updated and has all of the newer information on Celiac which seemed to be lacking in the textbook.  There is also a wonderful section on Celiac Disease in “Up to Date” for patients and their families, which I hope to share soon.

Reviewing the internal medicine textbook, in conjunction with my recent interactions with other medical providers, reminded me that we all need to work together to continue to educate our families, friends, doctors, nurses, teachers, neighbors, etc. about Celiac Disease. I am trying to do my part. Will you help me?

So it appears that Celiacs are not slowly dying after all…

Happy celiac

I recently came across the question, “Are Celiacs really slowly dying?” on one of the Celiac Disease forums. My first thought was, “Aren’t we all slowly dying?” Then, as I read, I realized that the person who posted it was concerned about research showing that many adult Celiacs do not have complete healing of their intestinal mucosa (tissue) despite being on the gluten free diet. This is called “persistent villous atrophy” in the medical world.

One of the major studies of persistent villous atrophy was published in 2009 (see link). Italian researchers studied a large group (n=465) of Celiacs who were on the gluten free diet. The average follow-up biopsy was performed 16 months after biopsy-confirmed diagnosis of Celiac Disease. At the time of follow-up biopsy, 75% of the patients reported that their symptoms had disappeared and 87% of the subjects experienced normalization of their celiac antibody tests on the gluten free diet. Of the 465 Celiacs on the GF diet, they found the following on repeat biopsy: 8% had completely normal duodenal (small intestinal) tissue, 65% were in remission (intestines looked better than at diagnosis, but there were still an increased number of white blood cells in the intestinal tissues), 26% had no change from diagnosis, and 1% were actually worse than prior to going gluten free.

At the end of the paper, the researchers hypothesize that the lack of intestinal healing and increased white blood cells may be due to the continual activation of the innate immune system by small amounts of gluten in “gluten free” foods. I plan to discuss this soon in another post. The Italian researchers’ findings and discussion at the end of their paper have, unfortunately, led many to believe that the gluten free diet is harmful and/or killing all of us with Celiac Disease.

In February 2013 Dr. Green and colleagues at both the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University and in Sweden will be publishing a paper entitled “Mucosal healing and mortality in celiac disease.” Their teams set out to see if a lack of mucosal healing (persistent villous atrophy) is associated with an increased risk of death for patients with Celiac Disease. Similar to the Italian researchers, > 40% of Celiacs were shown to have persistent villous atrophy on follow-up biopsies. However, the researchers found no association between persistent villous atrophy and an increased risk of death for Celiacs. This is definitely a good thing!

After reading both of these papers, I am left with many questions: Why does it take so long for adult Celiacs’ guts to heal after going gluten free? Should we expect the same for children with Celiac Disease? Is the persistence of white blood cells in the intestines contributing to and/or a “marker” of the “leaky gut” that so many of us seem to be experiencing, or is it a normal part of the slow healing process? How is the innate immune system involved? Are follow-up biopsies for Celiacs going to be necessary in the future now that so many patients are diagnosed on the basis of genetics, symptoms, and abnormal antibody testing alone? Isn’t the fact that symptoms resolve and antibodies normalize much more important than what actually shows up on repeat biopsies?

I’ll definitely be hitting the books and reviewing the innate immune system in upcoming weeks with plans to share what I find with you…

**Also, a quick reminder that this is a blog. I am summarizing medical literature, but also adding in my own thoughts and opinions on what I have read. I am not trying to tell anyone what they should do for their own health, nor am I giving medical advice through this page.

 

The Prevent Celiac Disease Study

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I recently wrote about the best available recommendations for when to introduce gluten to babies who may be at risk of developing Celiac Disease. Although most babies are exposed to small amounts of gluten in breast milk, for my 4th baby (first born after my diagnosis), my breast milk was gluten free. Based on the best available evidence in the medical literature, small amounts of gluten should be given between 4 to 6 months of age, as it seems this is a critical window for the development of the immune system. If gluten is introduced later than this, the consensus is that it is important for breastfeeding to still be taking place during gluten introduction (see references in my previous post for more info).

I understand that this is a controversial area, as many parents feel that they should never introduce gluten to the at-risk child. I believe that, despite our best efforts to shield our children from gluten, they are eventually going to be exposed one way or another.

I did recently discover that the question of the timing of gluten introduction is being explored in Europe right now through the PreventCD study (www.preventCD.com).

This study has been sponsored by the European Union and involves 11 countries. More than 1000 infants were enrolled in the study from 2007 through 2011, and they are now being followed for the development of Celiac Disease from infancy until age 3. Based on the latest newsletter on the study website, the last participant will turn 3 in 2013, and the results will be “unblinded” at this point.

The 1000 infants in the study were all considered to be “at risk” for CD by having a first-degree relative (parent and/sibling) with Celiac Disease and being HLA-DQ2 and/or DQ8 positive. The study “intervention” started at 4 months of age and went for 8 weeks. Half of the babies were given a gluten-containing baby food on a daily basis and half were given a placebo. Breastfeeding was encouraged for both groups during the 8 week period.

The endpoint of the study is to see if there is any difference in frequency of Celiac Disease between the two groups at age 3. As a mom, Celiac, and pediatrician, I am eagerly awaiting these results. I am also intereseted to see if they will have the funding and resources to be able to follow the children into later childhood and adolescence. Either way, the results which they share will be valuable for all of us!

Although the study results will not be published for a while, the researchers have published an interesting review paper on infant feeding and Celiac Disease:

Systematic review: early infant feeding and the prevention of coeliac disease. Szajewska H, Chmielewska A, Pieścik-Lech M, Ivarsson A, Kolacek S, Koletzko S, Mearin ML, Shamir R, Auricchio R, Troncone R; PREVENTCD Study Group.Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2012 Oct;36(7):607-18.

The full details of their study are described in this paper:

The PreventCD Study design: towards new strategies for the prevention of coeliac disease. Hogen Esch CE, Rosén A, Auricchio R, Romanos J, Chmielewska A, Putter H, Ivarsson A, Szajewska H, Koning F, Wijmenga C, Troncone R, Mearin ML; PreventCD Study Group.Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 Dec;22(12):1424-30.

Eosinophilic Esophagitis and Celiac Disease

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Eosinophilic Esophagitis, also known as “EE,” is gastrointestinal disorder that, like Celiac Disease, seems to be increasing in frequency of diagnosis. I first heard of EE disease when I was in my pediatric residency.  I worked with a Pediatric GI specialist who seemed to diagnose all of his infant patients with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) with EE. When I learned about EE I had no idea that my dear husband had the very same problem!

My husband was diagnosed with EE in 2009 after having several episodes of choking and feeling like he had food stuck in his throat. In usual wife fashion I recommended over and over again (looking back, perhaps I nagged a little bit) that he get evaluated for his swallowing problems. He finally saw a GI doc following an ED visit for a choking episode, and had an upper endoscopy with biopsy performed that showed numerous eosinophils in his esophagus.

Eosinophils are white blood cells that are usually involved in allergic reactions. Although doctors are not exactly sure what causes EE, it is believed that food allergies/intolerances play a role. Both adults and children can be affected by EE, but the symptoms are different in these two groups. In adults EE leads to symptoms of difficulty swallowing (feeling like food is stuck in the throat), chest and/or abdominal pain, and heartburn. Infants and small children who are affected may refuse to eat, develop failure to thrive, and suffer from abdominal pain and/or nausea and vomiting. Some babies who are diagnosed and treated for “reflux” by their pediatricians may actually have EE.

Most patients with EE are referred for food allergy testing. If there are food allergies, avoiding the food “triggers” often helps their EE symptoms to improve. Infants and toddlers with EE may need to be put on a hypoallergenic formula, such as Neocate, to avoid allergic triggers. Other treatments for EE include proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are a type of anti-reflux medication, and swallowed inhaled steroids (such as Flovent) to decrease inflammation in the esophagus.

My husband’s GI doctor tested him for Celiac Disease, as, in his experience, he has encountered many patients who have both Celiac Disease and Eosinophilic Esophagitis. Although my husband does not have Celiac Disease, he carries one of the main Celiac genes, and he has found that his EE symptoms have markedly improved since going on a gluten free diet. I find this to be very fascinating as it makes me suspect he may be gluten sensitive to some degree.

Dr. Peter Green from Columbia University, one of the nation’s leading experts in Celiac Disease research, published a study showing a clear link between Celiac Disease and EE in 2012. In his paper (see link), both children and adults with Celiac Disease are at a much higher risk of also having EE. There have been a handful of smaller studies also showing an association between the two disorders, but, like with much research related to Celiac Disease and gluten-related disorders, more work needs to be done.

For additional information I recommend the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) page on Eosinophilic Esophagitis.

Celiac Disease and Pregnancy

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Although I am pretty sure that I had Celiac Disease for more than two decades before my diagnosis, I was not diagnosed until after my 3rd child was born. Looking back, my diet during my first 3 pregnancies was a gluten-filled nightmare. I am actually glad that I have no idea how sky-high my celiac antibodies probably were while I was pregnant with my oldest kids.

There has not been a ton of research on celiac disease and pregnancy, but based on the work that has been done, I have learned that celiac disease has effects on fertility, miscarriage rates, fetal growth, and the ability to carry a pregnancy to term.

Celiac disease is associated with early menopause, endometriosis, irregular menstrual cycles, and amenorrhea (missed periods), similar to what is seen in many other autoimmune diseases.

Between 4 to 8% of unexplained infertility is due to undiagnosed celiac disease. Many celiacs with infertility as their main problem do not have the “classic” digestive symptoms that would normally lead to diagnosis.

Once pregnant, women with undiagnosed celiac disease have between a 2-4x higher risk of miscarriage than women who do not.

During pregnancy, women with untreated celiac disease are at a higher risk of anemia, preterm labor, stillbirth, and having infants with low birth weights (growth restriction). These problems are related to a combination of maternal nutrient deficiencies during pregnancy, as well as effects from the attack of the placenta by maternal auto antibodies (TTG).

As a part of taking care of premature babies, it is important for me to review the medical and obstetric histories of my patients’ mothers. I have come across women more times than I can keep track of who, upon review of their medical records, may have celiac disease (some combination of irritable bowel syndrome, anemia, thyroid disease, depression, infertility, diabetes, and/or asthma). I have a friend who did a small research study during her fellowship in which she evaluated the mothers of low birth weight babies for celiac disease. Through her study, one mother was diagnosed with celiac disease. Similar research has recently been conducted in Italy, with results mirroring my friend’s.

Based on the information on the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website, once a woman is diagnosed with celiac disease and on a strict gluten free diet, fertility should return. Experts have recommended waiting between 6 months to 2 years once being gluten free before trying to conceive, in order to give the body time to heal. It is essential for celiacs to be on appropriate vitamin and mineral supplementation while pregnant.

It is assumed that pregnancy outcomes for women with treated celiac disease are similar to those of women without it. The only exception is that celiacs are still at a higher risk of miscarriage, even when we are gluten free during pregnancy. I have personally experienced this; back in 2011 I miscarried within days of bad “glutening” episode.

In summary, women with unexplained infertility should be screened for celiac disease. Once diagnosed, it is important to remain strictly gluten free and take a good gluten free prenatal vitamin while pregnant. One of the best resources to check the gluten status of a medication is at www.glutenfreedrugs.com. Last of all, try not to worry about the effects of celiac disease on your baby! Treated maternal celiac disease has no association with birth defects, heart problems, cerebral palsy, etc. However, if you are like me, you will worry about your baby throughout your entire pregnancy…this is a totally normal part of being a mom!

For additional reading on celiac disease and pregnancy, I recommend the following links:

1. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ 2009 article “Pregnancy and Celiac Disease.”

2. “Celiac Disease: An underappreciated issue in women’s health” by Shah, S (2010).

Thank you for continuing to read and providing inspiration for posts!

Update September 2013: A group of Italian researchers has discovered that the type 2 tissue transglutaminase (TTG) antibodies seen in Celiac Disease interfere with the development of placental blood vessels. Reference is Simone, et al. Potential New Mechanisms of Placental Damage in Celiac Disease: Anti-Transglutaminase Antibodies Impair Human Endometrial Angiogenesis. Biol Reprod. Sept. 5, 2013. E-pub, ahead of print.

 

 

Carrageenan and Celiac Disease

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Carrageenan is a food additive that is extracted from red seaweed.  It is used as a thickener and emulsifier and is found in dairy products, processed meat, soymilk, toothpaste, and ready to feed infant formulas. I first came across it on an ingredient list early in on my gluten free (and food label reading) life. Once I learned that it is gluten free and “natural,” I assumed it was safe for me to eat as a celiac. However, a few months ago I began developing GI upset every time I ingested it, and I cut it totally out of my diet. Based on what I have now learned, I am glad that carrageenan is out of my life and kitchen.

First of all, the definitive answer to the question, “Is carrageenan safe for celiacs?” is never going to be known in our lifetimes.  No one is going to pay for a randomized controlled trial in which one group of celiacs are fed carrageenan and one group are fed a placebo, and outcomes of the two groups are measured. It’s just not going to happen.

Carrageenan has antiviral properties and stimulates the immune system.  On a quick search through the Pubmed.gov database, carrageenan aids in killing viruses and is being researched as an additive in treatments for HIV, enterovirus, and human papilloma virus.

When rats are given carageenan, they develop inflammation and arthritis-type symptoms.  Many studies of anti-inflammatory medications involve giving the test medications to Carrageenan exposed, and hence, inflamed rats and monitoring for improvement and side effects.

Research has shown that animals given carrageenan in high doses develop polyps, ulcers, tumors, and inflammation of the intestine. Most of the published research on the effects of carrageenan on human cells and tissues is by Dr. J. Tobacman from the University of Illinois, Chicago.  In the past year she has shown that carrageenan leads to enzyme changes and an inflammatory response in human intestinal and mammary cells as well. See link for more information.

There are two types of carrageenan. The first is degraded, or low molecular weight, and is the type which has been shown to cause inflammation in animals and human cells. It is not used in food products and products for human consumption.  The second type is undegraded, or high molecular weight, and is the type which is added to foods and beauty products.  There is an widespread belief that undegraded carrageenan is safe, and according to the Stonyfield farms website:

The scientific literature overwhelmingly concludes that undegraded carrageenan is safe to eat.  Based on this independent review of the literature, along with the Board’s recommendation to continue to allow it in organic production, we feel that carrageenan continues to be a safe ingredient to use.

What we don’t have any information about is whether or not our bodies convert some of the undegraded (“safe”) form to degraded (“unsafe”) form after we have eaten it. There are a few small studies from the 1970s which show that this chemical change occurs in the intestinal tract of rats and guinea pigs.

The European Union has banned the use of carrageenan in infant formulas due to concerns about safety in this population.  I just checked the website of the major U.S. formula makers and it is still present in most ready-to-feed formulas commercially available in the U.S.

Dr. Weil, M.D., one of the nation’s leaders in integrative health, spoke out against carrageenan in October 2012 (see link), stating, “I recommend avoiding regular consumption of foods containing carrageenan. This is especially important advice for persons with inflammatory bowel disease.”

As a Celiac I’ve made my decision and there’s no turning back now….

My First Trip to a Gastroenterologist

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I have been wanting to get this story off of my chest for a while! Alternative titles ideas for this post included, “Why I did not become a Gastroenterologist,” and, for my M.D. friends, “Some females with chronic abdominal pain may actually be suffering from gluten intolerance.”

I saw a gastroenterologist for the first time approximately 16 years ago. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. It is etched in my memory because it was such a horrible experience.

I suffered from a mysterious mono-like illness when I was 18 that started shortly after an episode of food poisoning. Soon after, I began to have episodes of sharp, stabbing, diffuse abdominal pains accompanied by bloating and diarrhea. My symptoms seemed to always get worse in the evenings, shortly after dinnertime. I wondered why I would go from looking “not pregnant” to about 8 months pregnant within minutes. I slept with a heating pad on my abdomen most nights. I also had recurrent pharyngitis, fatigue, oral ulcers, and anemia. I also could eat anything I wanted without gaining any weight (which I admit, I thought was pretty cool at the time).

I was treated over and over again for stomach and duodenal ulcers, but despite treatment, my symptoms continued to worsen. During my freshman year I had an upper GI performed (barium swallow) which was normal. My adolescent medicine doctor referred me to a Gastroenterologist and I met him that following summer. It was a memorable experience…but not in a good way! The GI doctor came into the room and didn’t introduce himself. He never sat down. He did not look me in the eye. He reviewed the results of my upper GI study and told me it was normal. He told me that I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). He asked me if I had ever been sexually abused. After telling him that I had not, he told me that I must have been abused and was repressing it, because, in his experience, most of his female patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome had abdominal symptoms as a result of abusive memories. He recommended that I get psychological counseling and to eat a lot of whole grains. He walked out the room.

I remember this interaction vividly because I was planning on going to medical school and it was one of my first experiences as an adult patient. Although I cannot remember the name of the Gastroenterologist, I know that, if I really wanted to, I could find him, as at the time he was working at a large university hospital in a large mid-western city. I hope to God that he actually evaluates his IBS patients for Celiac Disease now, in lieu of recommending psychological evaluations and whole grains. Actually, I hope for the sake of all that he is no longer practicing medicine!

Perhaps I have shared too much with you, but I know that there are tons of Celiacs who have had similar experiences to mine. The lesson that I learned was that I should have gotten a second opinion (or third, or fourth if needed). And, if you or your loved ones are having symptoms that seem to be dismissed, that you need to seek alternate opinions as necessary.

Also, despite there being bad doctors out here, most of us truly care about our patients and want them to heal! We continually learn from our patients as well. Please ask questions and provide us with information that you think is important and relevant to your care and the care of your family. I have learned a ton from the parents of children with chronic illnesses through the years.

When “Gluten Free” Does Not Mean “Free of Gluten”

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My husband and I recently traveled to Kauai, Hawaii for a conference. We ended up having a peaceful and wonderful time, but, as usual, I was nervous to eat due to concerns about being “glutened” while traveling. I was well prepared for the long flight with fruit, nuts, water, Larabars, and other snacks. Once we arrived at the resort, however, my anxiety set in, despite being assured by the concierge that all of the cafes, restaurants, etc. in the resort had “gluten free” options available.

The first morning of our trip I went down to grab breakfast on the terrace. I had placed an order for a large coffee and a fruit bowl, when I saw a sign stating that gluten free muffins were available. I inquired about where the gluten free muffins were, and the clerk pointed to the glass case with shelves of regular muffins, croissants, and pastries. The gluten free muffins were at the bottom of the case, in the perfect location to have an ongoing shower of crumbs as the higher up regular pastries, croissants, and muffins were removed for customers. I suggested that they move the gluten free muffins to the top row to prevent cross-contamination and I mentioned that someone with Celiac Disease could get very sick from eating one of the muffins.

The next morning I was pleased to see that the gluten free muffins had been moved to the top row, but upon closer inspection, saw that they were “kissing” the gluten containing muffins next to them (see poorly taken photo from my cell phone). Sigh….

I was reminded once again that, as Celiacs, we need to be very careful to confirm that our “gluten free” food is truly gluten free and free of cross-contamination. If a “gluten free” chicken breast is grilled on the same surface as wheat-containing buns, it is not gluten free. If “gluten free” french fries are made in the same fryer as onion rings and mozzarella sticks, they are not gluten free. If “gluten free” muffins are touching gluten-containing muffins, they are not gluten free. We must always watch our muffins and we need our families and loved ones to do the same.

Fortunately, I met a woman named Marie Cassel on the island, and thanks to her 100% gluten free bakery, Sweet Marie’s, in Lihue, I ate muffins to my heart’s delight. I truly regret not eating more of them while I had the opportunity! Now we will definitely have to return to Kauai….