Recently parents have been asking me a mouthful of questions about their child having something called celiac disease. Let me see if I can help them, and you, digest some information on gluten and celiac.
Gluten is the term used for a group of proteins found in grains including wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is the second most consumed ingredient in our diet, next to sugar.
An allergic reaction to gluten can damage the small intestine. It can also make it difficult for the body to absorb vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy. This can result in malnutrition, anemia and an increased association with other diseases like thyroid disease and diabetes. The inability of the body to absorb nutrients due to gluten is called celiac disease.
Celiac disease can run in families and affects people of all heritages. It is, however, most common among people of northern European descent. It is estimated that 1 in about 130 people have some form of celiac disease. The difficulty absorbing nutrients can be so mild that many of us never know that we have it.
Poor growth is a common symptom in very young children. As your child gets older, symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss and fatigue. These symptoms also occur with other digestive disorders. If you are worried about celiac disease, talk to your child’s health care professional who can do a blood test. Then they can refer you to a pediatric gastrointestinal specialist who can do further tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment involves a diet free of gluten. Your child’s health care professional, or a dietician, can help you adjust their diet appropriately. While a change in diet can produce great improvements in your child’s health, celiac disease will persist for life. That’s why it’s important to be sure that celiac disease is really the cause for your child’s poor growth.
What if your child is diagnosed with celiac disease? Pay careful attention to food labels to make sure foods they eat are gluten free. There are many gluten-free foods. You will be able to create a healthy diet with all necessary nutrients for your child. Telling restaurants your child is gluten-free is also important, to avoid contamination with foods that do contain gluten.
Hopefully tips like these will seal the deal when it comes to knowing more about gluten and celiac disease.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.