Celiac Disease is a condition in which eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, causes damage in your small intestine. People who have celiac disease lack absorption of nutrients from their food, and the condition can lead to complications, such as malnutrition, osteoporosis, infertility, and even cancer. It's May and that means it's celiac awareness month! So in honor of that I thought I'd share some common myths that many still believe about celiac disease.
#1 All People with Celiac Disease Get Sick From The Same Amount Of Gluten
People with celiac disease seem to have dramatically varying degrees of sensitivity to trace levels of gluten. Some people can eat foods manufactured on machinery also used for gluten foods without getting gluten symptoms, while others get symptoms from almost every processed food, especially from grain products, which are at high risk for gluten cross-contamination.
How much actual gluten exposure can cause damage varies but just a tiny bit can make you ill. Studies have found symptoms along with increasing intestinal inflammation in people who consumed just 24 to 30 milligrams of gluten, about 1/145th of a slice of conventional bread (otherwise known as a crumb). (1)
It's been shown that consuming just 1/5th of a slice of regular bread (about 625 milligrams of gluten) one time is enough to cause severe symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting, and increase villous atrophy in your small intestine in almost everyone with celiac disease.
#2 When You Get "Glutened" It's From Something You Just Ate
It's a myth that all people with celiac disease get symptoms when ingesting gluten. For some people even after a diagnosis can accidentally eat gluten and still feel well. Of course this isn't a reason to eat gluten! There will still be damage happening in your intestinal tract. You should still be extremely vigilant or else you are putting yourself as risk serious health conditions in the future.
Although ingesting gluten when you have celiac disease triggers your immune system and leads to damage in your intestine, this isn't instantaneous. For some people is can takes days, weeks or months before damage becomes severe enough to cause symptoms. For others they get symptoms with in a few minutes or hours.
So it really depends on who you are. Some people with celiac disease can eat gluten and not experience symptoms, some have to be exposed over a long period of time and others notice very quickly they've been exposed.
#3 The Rise In Gluten Related Disorders is Due To A Change In Wheat
There are many theories as to why celiac disease is becoming more and more prevalent. One of those theories is that wheat has been bred to contain higher amounts of gluten. That has been proven false. Another theory is that GMO wheat is to blame. This is also false because GMO wheat isn't actually being grown commercially yet. It could be that the consumption of wheat has dramatically increased but no one knows for sure why there was been an increase in Celiac Disease.
#4 Everyone Who Has Diagnosed Celiac Disease Has Digestive Symptoms
In the past it was thought that almost everyone with celiac disease had diarrhea, but that's not true. There are more than 100 potential symptoms of celiac disease (like anemia, depression, joint pain ex.), and most of them don't involve your gastrointestinal tract at all. For example, a recent study in Ireland found that 40% of people listed diarrhea as their main symptom. However, another 34% said they didn't have any digestive symptoms at all. (2) The study also found that women with celiac disease were less likely to have gastrointestinal symptoms than men with the condition.
#5 You'll Feel Better Right Away
Some people with celiac disease feel better quickly, but that's not the case for everyone. Although you should start to feel a little better quickly, it takes most people who were very sick prior to diagnosis a long time, (weeks or months) to feel completely "normal" again. If you continue to see gradual improvement, you're going in the right direction. However, if you don't feel as if you're making enough progress, talk to your doctor about your ongoing symptoms.
#6 Gluten Free Products Are Healthier
Packaged gluten free foods like donuts, pizzas and even "healthy" looking foods like whole grain GF breads and crackers are usually lower in nutrients and higher in salt, sugar and fats. These foods can be seriously lacking in critical nutrients such as fiber, iron, zinc, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, vitamin B12 and phosphorus. Not to mention most people with celiac disease feel better not eating these products. Sticking to a whole foods diet and limiting your gluten free packaged foods it what's best for you health. Plus who wants to spend 7$ on a loaf of bread with a ton of holes (i'm talking to you Udi's).
#7 You Don't Need Gluten Free Skin/ Hair Care
When you have celiac disease your reaction to the gluten is in your digestive tract, not from your skin. Therefore, makeup and skin care products that you use on your skin but don't ingest shouldn't, in theory, be an issue unless you're using them on your lips. That's what many experts on celiac and gluten sensitivity will tell you.
BUT , the problem with this answer is that it's difficult or impossible to apply makeup or other skin care products without risking ingesting a tiny bit, either as you're spreading the product on your face, or later, because you got some on your hands or under your fingernails and didn't wash it off thoroughly enough. It's important to avoid products that have gluten in them for that reason.
Click here for a good list of ingredients that are in skin care that contain gluten
#8 You Can Eat At Friends and Families Homes
When you are at another persons house it's tempting to eat foods prepared in their kitchen that look safe. Unfortunately it should be avoided. Even when people have the best intentions to keep you safe and cook you something gluten free, be wary. It's your call, but cross contamination is likely unless proper measures have been taken or the kitchen is gluten free. The gluten-free diet has too steep a learning curve for anyone to master it in one afternoon. Bring your own food to social events.
#9 Over Weight People Can't Have Celiac Disease
Celiac disease causes malabsorption, meaning nutrients and calories you eat aren't being absorbed in your body. This is why some people are underweight when they have celiac disease. It's a myth that that's everyone, many people with celiac disease are over weight. Why? Because the majority of people with celiac disease are actually absorbing some of the nutrients and calories they are consuming. They often do have some malabsorption but, like many in our society today, are over eating which results in weight gain. Another reason someone can be overweight is that they were substantially overweight before getting celiac disease and have lost weight because of the malabsorbtion but are still carrying around excess weight from before.
#10 Gluten Free Labelled Foods At 100% Gluten Free
Most people assume that something labeled "gluten-free" is completely free of gluten but that's not true. By law depending on your country your gluten free foods have to be kept under 20 parts per million. Most, but not all people with celiac have been shown to be able to ingest that amount and not have any damage or symptoms, but others react even to that tiny amount. In addition, the more of these foods you eat, the more gluten you're consuming and the greater your chance of having a reaction.