May is Celiac Awareness Month

This is the first May that I’ll be joining people around the world marking Celiac Awareness Month.

I only discovered that I suffer from the disease recently, and only because I figured it out for myself. Happily, I have a doctor who encourages his patients to talk openly, so we were able to work together to confirm my diagnosis. (And to be fair, I’m still undergoing tests to be sure that no other problems are also underway.)

The story began after blood tests taken during my five-year physical last October showed a triple whammy of hypothyroidism (it functions too fast), anemia and low ferritin. I also had rather worrying, but mild symptoms that included trouble urinating.

My doctor had a twinkle in his eye when he said it sounded like prostate disease.

Given I’m female, I don’t have a prostrate. (You knew that, right? I’m slow, so it took me a minute to get the joke.)

My doctor immediately prescribed iron pills and began a series of tests. Neither of us knew, however, that my blood tests should have included a test for IgA class endomysial antibodies. The IgA test is the first indicator of celiac disease, something that I’d never really heard of and that he didn’t suspect.

When I googled my symptoms, however, I found a 2002 study linking them to “silent celiac sprue.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1276329/, which I shared with my doctor.

My blood test was very clearly positive and since then, we’re both slowly but surely finding out more about Celiac Disease, as is my dentist who told me that he was concerned about thyroid disease during my last visit. It turns out that several unrelated symptoms, from unusual tooth decay to skin rashes signal that Celiac Disease, which is a genetic auto-immune disease triggered by who knows what, may be underway. My doctor is testing for the disease more often these days and he’s finding that it may be quite common in Montreal.

The only cure to healing this disease is to avoid gluten entirely. Inhaling the protein in wheat, rye, barley, sorghum and any products produced from those grains, like beer, millet and couscous can destroy my intestine and lead to an wide array of problems. The most shocking of these from my point of view is that the disease may lead to lymphoma, which killed my mom two years ago.

Luckily, before all this started, I’d spent the last several years learning how to cook fresh produce for my family. Everything from our pizza dough and bread to cakes, cookies and muffins are homemade. Switching flours was not difficult. I still haven’t found a bread recipe I like, but pizza dough, popovers, muffins and cookies are now just as tasty as they’ve been in the past.

I’m also learning which pastas go best with which sauces—corn elbows go really well with tomato meat sauce, while buckwheat linguini holds up to heavy cream sauces and lemon parmeson. Rice pastas work only for Asian-style recipes as they fall apart with too much mixing.

What is difficult is learning to avoid mustards, mayonnaise, gravy and other sauces that might be contaminated with gluten. I’ve also learned to serve sauces, jams and other jarred products in separate bowls with spoons to avoid contaminating the main supply.

I’ve also had to ask for special treatment in Church, at restaurants and at special events, but those stories are the substance for  upcoming articles.

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Tracey Arial

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Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.

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