The aim of this article is to raise awareness on food allergies and intolerances, in particular to the celiac disease. From the 11thto the 19thof May, the AIC association celebrates its 5thedition of the “national celiac week” (“Giornata Nazionale della Celiachia”). This event is based on sensitizing people on this food intolerance. AIC stands for “Associazione Italiana Celiachia” and was founded in 1979 in Italy. This Italian association is there to inform the Italian population and everyone else interested on this topic.
What is the “celiac disease”?
The celiac disease is characterized by a gluten intolerance and therefore an impossibility in digesting any type of food containing gluten. The digestive process of the affected person does not accept gluten, this substance is therefore seen as a poison to the body. In cases where a celiac person ingests gluten, an inflammatory process begins in which the intestine rejects the food. In particular, if the person does not follow a strict gluten-free diet, the intestinal villi, that are of crucial importance to absorb nutrients, become more and more flattened. This then develops into a series of health related problem, because of the malnutrition of the affected person. The villi, once flattened, are not able to absorb nutrients as they normally would do. It takes some months in order to rebuild the damaged villi. The celiac disease has genetic components, this therefore means that if someone close in ones family has this intolerance, one might be more prone in getting it too. It can affect newborns, as also children and adults.
The symbol of gluten free products is the one seen below. This makes it easier to identify suitable foods for celiacs:
What are the typical/atypical symptoms of the celiac disease?
The most obvious symptoms are stomach aches, bloating, diarrhea, nausea and vomit. They usually appear a few hours post ingestion. In children one can usually see a decrease in growth and development and malnutrition. In adults, symptoms might get a little trickier and more ambiguous. Hair thinning, osteoporosis, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, depression are only some of the them.
As we can see they are very vague and can be associated to many other pathologies. This is also one reason why it is so difficult to come up with a proper celiac diagnosis.
What exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a protein complex that is contained in many cereals such as wheat, rye, barley, spelt, oats. And these are only some of them. In fact, it is easier to say which cereals do not contain gluten: corn, rice, buckwheat, amaranth, tapioca, quinoa, millet. These gluten free cereals tend to be more hard to work with while preparing homemade meals. In fact, gluten works as a sort of glue that makes bread or a cake for example be more compact and consistent. This is why gluten free products are usually very friable.
When a person is affected by the celiac disease, he/she must not ingest any type of product containing gluten and therefore live a complete gluten-free lifestyle. This may get hard if the person was used to eat “normally” and then has to drastically change their nutrition. However, during the past decades there has been many improvements in the assortment of gluten free products. Brands such as Schär, Biaglut and even Barilla have started to produce more and more products.
How to make a proper diagnosis?
As every other diagnosis, it should be done by a doctor, in this case by a gastroenterologist specialist that will in the first place ask the patient to eliminate gluten for a while from its diet. From there on, based on the results, he/she may ask to do some blood works in order to see the values of antibodies. As the last option one can also perform a duodenal biopsy.
Gluten-free as a trend: is it as effective as everyone claims it to be?
There are many people that nowadays tend to live a gluten free lifestyle convinced that it is healthier or that it will help them to lose excess weight. Many theories go around this topic, but most of them oppose the thought that gluten is essentially bad for the human being and that a gluten free diet is the key for the future. In fact, gluten based flours contain many more nutrients that flours such as corn or rice. However, it is important to say that a balance between carbs, proteins and other nutrients is essential. In fact, gluten can cause bloating and digestive problems if eaten in excessive ways.
(Images are taken from Pinterest)