Living the Gluten-Free Life

Celiac disease cases skyrocket

"It got so bad that when I was driving the morning car pool, I would be afraid to blink because I would be afraid that my eyes would just stay shut."

Blair Raber was exhausted. Her head hurt. Her body ached. And doctors couldn't figure out why.

"I kept going to the doctor who kept not knowing what to do with me," she said.

She never would have guessed that the cause of her misery was something she was eating. But it was a nutrionist who finally diagnosed her with celiac disease. An inability of the body to process gluten, the binding element in wheat and a substance found in thousands of foods.

Her 16-year-old daughter had it, too, but she was experiencing a completely different set of symptoms.

"I've never really felt anything like that before," said Kate Raber. "They're probably the most painful stomachaches I've ever had."

Doctors say that huge range of symptoms is a major problem when diagnosing celiac disease, which studies show is on the rise, especially in children.

One new study found that young people today are four and a half times more likely to have celiac than those in the 1950's.

One reason could be that people today are eating more processed foods, said pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. John Snyder.

"Over time our diets have changed," he said. "They become more refined, more processed and that may be playing some role, too."

Gluten isn't just in baked goods and breads. It's found in some surprising places, like mayonaise, mustard and even some meats.

"Wheat, rye, oats, barley, spelt, anything made with those products," said Alana Sugar, a nutritionist for Whole Foods Market. "Even deli meats or french fries or anything dusted with flour."

That's why it's important to carefully read the ingredient list, Sugar said.

"The best thing to do always is to become a very savvy label reader, she said. "You want to make sure, even if you're shopping in a store and the shelf tag says 'gluten free,' you still want to pick up the product and read the label. That's critical."

Blair Raber and her daughter Kate said the newer gluten-free products like pizza crusts and cup cakes have made life a little sweeter. And their health? That's improved dramatically.

"It was amazing," Blair said. "Within about a week, I started feeling a lot more energy."

"It was a hard road getting there, but if you got a support group of friends and if you got at least a little bit of knowledge out there, then you can really live a normal life," said Kate.

Sugar said just because something is gluten free doesn't mean it's healthier. These foods can have a lot of extra sugar, so read the nutritional label, too.

Celiac Program At Children's National Medical Center

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