There was a time when Amy Yoder Begley planned her careers around the bathroom.
The problems of the Olympic professional runner began in high school. Begley suffered stomach pains sometimes at random, without any apparent explanation. A particularly brutal pain shot her off the Indiana State track, which cost her an opportunity for the state championship.
His problems persisted during college, where he suffered multiple stress fractures and developed hyperthyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland releases too much of its hormones. He suffered muscle cramps, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, rashes and joint pain. The doctors were unable to find a culprit. "I used the bathroom eight times a day," Begley said. "My body was always in my mind."
It was not until 2006, at age 28, that Begley was finally diagnosed with celiac disease, in which patients are intolerant to gluten - a protein commonly found in wheat, barley and rye. The condition causes damage to the small intestine and malabsorption of nutrients. The medical community has yet to agree on a single cause of the disease, but families with a history of type 1 diabetes and Down syndrome tend to be more susceptible.
After the diagnosis, Begley eliminated gluten from her diet and immediately noticed an improvement. "It made me more normal, it took away my anxiety," Begley said. "I remembered that some of the best careers I've had were after dinners that were low or gluten free. " She no longer felt constantly tired and bloated. I was able to eat meals closer to race time, and best of all, I no longer had to plan routes for accessible toilets.
Begley's long road to diagnosis is a fairly typical story: the average time it takes for a symptomatic person to be diagnosed with celiac disease in the United States. UU It is four years old. According to University of Chicago Celiac Disease Cente, the number of Americans with celiac disease could fill 936 cruises. Passengers of 908 of those ships would not even know they have it. If the problem is not diagnosed, someone who suffers from the disease could face any of the many health problems related to malabsorption of nutrients, including malnutrition, osteoporosis and internal hemorrhage.
A study conducted in 2009 by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, found that in the US. UU Celiac disease is four times more common than it was in the 1950s. And like other food allergies and autism, the prevalence of celiac disease and gluten-related health problems has skyrocketed the last decade.However, the medical community is not clear why. Some believe that celiac disease is not more common, only better diagnosed. Others speculate that it may be due to changes in the way wheat is grown and processed or because of the higher prevalence of gluten in processed foods and medications.
Despite the increasing number of cases, much confusion and uncertainty continues to surround the health problems related to gluten.
The number of Americans with celiac disease could fill 936 cruises. Passengers of 908 of those ships would not even know they have it.
Center for Celiac Disease at the University of Chicago
Celiac disease vs gluten sensitivity
The severity of celiac disease can not be measured on a spectrum - either you have it or you do not. The condition is defined as an autoimmune disorder in which the gluten destroys the lining of the small intestine, making it unable to absorb nutrients and making patients more prone to anemia, infertility and bone disease - which could help explain the Stress fractures that Begley suffered in college. However, the most commonly discussed gluten disorder - and the one least clearly understood by the modern medical community - is actually gluten sensitivity.
Gluten sensitivity causes the same symptoms as celiac disease, but there is no formal procedure for its diagnosis. This is so because unlike celiacs, those who suffer from gluten sensitivity do not undergo any internal damage that medically goes back to gluten. While doctors can usually diagnose a celiac with a blood test or an intestinal biopsy, there is no proof of this type of gluten sensitivity.
"I accept that a patient may experience gluten-related symptoms without being celiac, but I can not give a scientific diagnosis," says Colin Howden, a gastroenterologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Glenn Osten Anderson can talk about it. At age 24, his skin broke, he suffered from severe indigestion and began to lose weight. His family had a history of stomach problems, so he was not at all surprised. Many suggested that to treat the condition, adhere to a diet of soft foods.
"Everyone told me to eat normal bread, as if it were some kind of penicillin," Anderson says. "That only made things worse." For the year 2007, after four years of suffering from stomach pains and other diseases, the doctor suggested that he might have sensitivity to gluten, and recommended that he try to eat gluten-free. Anderson noticed an immediate improvement.
People with gluten sensitivity suffer from symptoms similar to those of celiacs - stomach pains, vomiting, chronic diarrhea, but the severity of the symptoms may vary from person to person.And, unlike celiac disease, there is no real damage to the small intestine.
Finally, if this was not confusing enough, there is another condition that passes itself off as cousins related to gluten: wheat allergies. For those who suffer from wheat allergies, the body can have a reaction to any part of the wheat, not just the gluten protein.
Leaving gluten to lose weight
While the prevalence of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has more people eating gluten-free to be able to function on a day-to-day basis, others have abandoned wheat from their diet with a completely different goal in mind: weight loss.
Some health gurus and food ads trumpet the benefits of a gluten-free diet for those looking to lose extra weight. Howden, however, says that the benefits are probably more correlated than effects of medical causation. Gluten is not intrinsically bad, says Howden. What happens is that it's present in high-calorie foods like pizza, cupcakes and hamburger buns. "
" Gluten has almost become a dirty word, "says Holden." Some patients claim to have Gluten sensitivity may have followed only a poor diet. They stop eating gluten, eat more fish and fresh products, and of course, they feel better. "
Begley accepts that for her, being a celiac opened the door to a healthier life. most of her diet with unprocessed options such as fruits and vegetables. "Quinoa and sweet potatoes are my biggest component," she says. "I could eat sweet potato fries every day."
Anderson, on the other hand, he does not understand those who voluntarily abstain from gluten. "Anyone who decides to live this lifestyle is an idiot," he says. "I like wheat, pasta and pizza as much as others, but I can not eat it".
Whatever the motivation, it has become much easier to maintain a gluten-free lifestyle.Gluten-free food options are popping up everywhere, and sales of gluten-free foods are expected to exceed $ 5 billion in 2015. Most supermarkets have produced gluten-free products in the natural foods section, with a selection ranging from pasta to donuts.
Restaurants have also become more flexible, with points of sale such as Subway and Melting pot with gluten-free options. PF Chang requires his chefs to put on new gloves and use specially labeled pots before cooking a gluten-free dish. But despite these advances, Begley still avoids the gluten-free menu in restaurants. He notes that, in his experience, such procedures are more of an exception than the rule. "Things are much easier," Begley says, "But I still worry about cross-contamination."
If you are having symptoms that you think may be caused by gluten, Howden recommends seeing a gastroenterologist before leaving.This is because it is more difficult to prove celiac disease once the gluten has been expelled from the system. At that time, it is not clear if the patient is in remission or never actually had the disease.
Your best bet? Be honest with your doctor and take the necessary exams.
For more information on celiac disease, check out the book "Real life with celiac disease: solving problems and leaving gluten", published by the American Gastroenterological Association Press.