Grace Culhane

Common Misconceptions about Celiac Disease

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May is Celiac Awareness Month, and we chose to participate by highlighting some of the most common gaps in knowledge related to the disease. Even though celiac disease is relatively common, it’s also frequently misunderstood–many people lump it in with other gluten-related conditions or haven’t heard of it at all. Raising awareness and spreading accurate information about the disease is crucial in order to build a safer food industry for patients. As more people understand celiac disease and the risks associated with the disease, we hope that our culture will become more empathetic towards people with celiac and more cautious when handling, labeling and serving gluten-free food.

We compiled a list of some of the most-common myths regarding celiac:

Myth #1: Celiac Disease is the same thing as gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are two separate conditions that both affect patients’ ability to digest gluten. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system, causing the body’s immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine, according to UPMC’s Health Beat blog. Meanwhile, doctors haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact cause of gluten sensitivity, with some researchers speculating that it’s related to the highly processed status of modern wheat, and others arguing that it’s the result of a combination of factors. While celiac and gluten sensitivity share many symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea and fatigue, celiac also causes intestinal damage and results in an immune response.

Myth #2: Most people know if they have celiac disease.

According to the Mayo clinic, researchers estimate that only 20% of people with celiac disease receive a diagnosis. Many people experience symptoms of the disease without connecting them to the consumption of gluten.

Myth #3: Celiac disease is extremely rare.

Celiac disease is a lot more common than many people realize. According to Celiac.org, about 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with celiac, or around 1% of the population worldwide. For comparison, less than 2% of the world population is redheaded. A lot of people think that celiac is extremely rare, when in fact about 1 in 141 Americans have celiac, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Myth #4: Celiac disease cannot be diagnosed.

There are two different tests doctors use to determine if their patients have celiac, according to the Mayo clinic. One test involves the analysis of antibodies in the blood, and the other relies on genetic testing. If one of these tests indicates that you may have celiac, your doctor can analyze tissue from your small intestine to see if it’s been damaged by gluten. In order for the test to run effectively, though, the tests must be run before you switch to a gluten free diet, since a gluten-free diet can make your blood appear normal.

Myth #5: Celiac can go away with time.

Celiac has no cure, and it doesn’t go away with time, according to Very Well Health. Someone with a gluten diagnosis will never be able to digest gluten safely. That said, healing can occur for many patients after they completely eliminate gluten from their diet. A gluten-free diet allows the small intestine to heal itself, although full healing may not be possible for some patients.

 

Myth #6: Celiac patients are overly-sensitive.

One of the most insidious myths about celiac is that patients are following a fad diet or exaggerating their symptoms. As anyone who’s struggled with the disease can tell you, the symptoms are extremely uncomfortable and often painful in the short term, and they can have serious long-term health consequences if gone untreated. These health issues range from infertility, bone weakness, and nerve damage to depression. Celiac patients are incredibly tough–before diagnosis, many navigate symptoms of fatigue, bloating, abdominal pain, anemia and a range of other symptoms without understanding why they’re in so much pain, according to an article by Healthline.

 

One way you can participate in Celiac Awareness Month is by providing clarifying information to your friends and acquaintances when you hear one of these myths in conversation. By providing a better understanding of the disease, you’ll be doing a service to the millions of people who struggle with celiac. The more people have an accurate, informed understanding of the disease, the more accommodating we hope they’ll become.

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