You may have heard that gluten is the new carcinogen of the American diet, but in reality, it’s not at all bad for you unless you suffer from Celiac Disease. Many people who make a point to avoid gluten sometimes get mocked for following what is viewed as a “trendy” diet. “Just eat gluten!” memes on the internet cry. But the truth is, some people just can’t. They aren’t eating gluten free crackers and cheese and looking down on the gluten-eating masses. They’re genetically predisposed to a gluten intolerance.
So what is gluten exactly? It is a mixture of two proteins in cereal grains. Gluten is what makes dough elastic. It’s the reason bread is fun to make. The word gluten comes from Latin and literally means “glue.” People who have Celiac Disease are allergic to gluten, meaning that once ingested their bodies carry out an immune response. In the case of Celiac, the immune response attacks the small intestine, which ends up damaging the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Children who live with undiagnosed Celiac often suffer from malnutrition and therefore struggle in school and with developmental delays.
Left untreated, people with Celiac can develop Type I Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and other autoimmune diseases. They can even develop neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines. Living with untreated Celiac also puts you at risk for intestinal cancers.
The only treatment for Celiac Disease at the moment is the strict adherence to a gluten-free lifestyle. Even something as small as eating a few crumbs of bread can cause damage to the small intestine. There is good news, however. There are so many options for gluten-free alternatives to cereal grains. And while Celiac is a hereditary disease, because parents have often dealt with Celiac on their own, their children will often be able to live worry free in a gluten-free household.