Celiac disease is a life-long autoimmune disorder that is only treatable by following a strict gluten-free diet. Following a gluten-free diet has grown in popularity recently, which is why celiac disease research and support groups advocated for the month of May to raise awareness of celiac disease.
Celiac disease has a strong genetic component, and dietary treatment is needed for a healthful quality of life. It is estimated that 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease, with prevalence growing to nearly 1 in 22 when a first-degree relative has celiac disease. Anyone with a first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, with celiac disease should be tested.
Symptoms for celiac disease are numerous and varied. They can include mild to extreme gastrointestinal discomfort, but many individuals do not experience any symptoms. Untreated celiac disease, meaning when someone has the disease but does not follow a gluten-free diet, will lead to damage to the intestines that can cause health problems including increase chronic disease risk. Celiac disease is manageable, and management of celiac disease will help alleviate symptoms.
I was diagnosed with celiac in 2004, at the same time as my older sister. My sisters and I got tested after our father was diagnosed. Our family has been enjoying gluten-free cuisine for over 13 years! Each of us feels better, including relief from our symptoms. We will not intentionally eat gluten-containing food. It helps that we have seen a dramatic change in the gluten-free landscape over the years. For families like ours, we thrive because of the far-reaching increase in celiac disease awareness and accessibility of gluten-free products.
There are others, like my younger sister, who do not have celiac disease, but experience similar symptoms and may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. As the name implies, the individual experiences discomfort when consuming gluten but does not have celiac disease. There are others who have misinterpreted the health benefits of a gluten-free diet, and follow the diet for non-medical reasons.
For more information
Countless resources are available for advice on following a gluten-free diet, yet individuals who may have celiac disease should see their doctor and a registered dietitian right away to avoid issues later. CSU Extension has several publications to meet your gluten-free diet needs, including two fact sheets: Gluten-Free Baking and Gluten-Free Diet Guide, as well as an entire Gluten-Free Resources section on Colorado Farm to Table, providing recipes and high-altitude baking tips.