Friday, October 9, 2009

the basics

anyone who knows me knows i have celiac disease.  what many of you don't know is how this affects my life.  it is a constant challenge and juggling act to maintain a state of health.  i go through great lengths to eat the right foods and when i mess up it can set me back a few days and sometimes a week.  celiac disease is a very serious condition and the gluten free diet that is prescribed for it is a challenge and socially isolating.

what is celiac disease?  the statistics state that 1 out of every 133 people have celiac disease and the majority of them are undiagnosed.  gluten is the protein found in wheat, barely and rye.  people with celiac disease have an immunological reaction to gluten.  it is different than an allergy because it does not cause a histaminic reaction.

what happens when i ingest gluten?  on the technical side, the villi in the small intestine flatten.  the villi are little hair-like projections that increase the surface area of the small intestine and allow for the absorption of nutrients.  so, when the villi flatten they no longer absorb the necessary nutrients and the body is affected in many ways.  sometimes people have no noticeably connected symptoms but could still have large amounts of damage to their villi.

what can happen if i continually ingest gluten?  i could have anemia's of many major vitamins and minerals.  i could have early onset of osteoporosis/osteopenia.  i can suffer from gall bladder malfunction, neurological manifestations and nervous system disorders.  i could manifest other autoimmune diseases such as lupus or diabetes.  and, it would put me at great risk for various cancers of my g.i. tract.

what are my symptoms when i eat gluten?  my list of symptoms varies from month to month and there are over 300 symptoms of celiac disease (i haven't found a complete listing yet).  celiac disease affects the whole body and not just the intestines.  here is the run down for me: canker sores, swollen glands, dizziness, low blood pressure, gurgling and movement in my abdomen, intense pain in my abdomen, sever bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation, abrupt weight loss, fatigue and weakness, anemia, joint and bone pain, migraines, anxiety, nightmares, little bump like rashes on my upper arms and thighs, dehydration, lack of desire to eat, cravings for gluten, inability to concentrate, emotional instability, and what i like to call a gluten fog where i can't think correctly and have a hard time doing normal activities.

how did i get celiac disease?  people have to have certain genes to develop celiac disease and if they are present then something has to happen in their life that puts great stress on the immune system.  it can be anything from an emotional upset like a divorce or a death to a physical upset like mono or a hospital stay.  i have my theories about how it was triggered in me but nothing can really be proven.  i could have had it for a very long time and didn't have symptoms for periods of time or it could have only been triggered a few years ago.

what do i do to stay healthy and gluten free?  i cook mostly at home and rarely go out to eat.  i read the label of every product that i put in or on my body.  i avoid kissing my girlfriend after she has consumed anything that contains gluten.  i try to eat fresh foods over processed foods to avoid factory cross-contamination.  i bring snacks with me so that i can have something to eat no matter where i am.  i wash my hands a lot so that i can protect my immune system.  if i'm not sure, then i shouldn't eat it!

thanks for reading and i hope that you've learned something about me and celiac disease.

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