Tanner Barton was diagnosed with celiac disease when he was 10 years old. In order to control it, the Dublin 17-year-old was forced to eliminate all foods with gluten from his diet. Gluten is a protein found in many wheat products: It thickens and holds food like bread together.
“It was really difficult,” said Tanner,” because it went from eating whatever you wanted to looking at all the labels.”
As more Americans, including kids, discover they have either a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, some may not understand what these illnesses are and how they affect the body.
Mary K. Sharrett, a clinical dietician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, explained the similarities and differences between the two. Gluten intolerance, Sharrett said, is a diagnosis of exclusion. In this case, a person has been screened for celiac and tests negative, but still gets sick when they eat gluten. Celiac disease yields a positive antibody test and shows damage to the intestine.
According to Sharrett, symptoms really vary between individuals. However, some of the more common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and even a lack of growth in kids.
Doctors are finding gluten allergies in kids as young as 6 months, and it boils down to our genes. Everyone with celiac has one of two genes — DQ2 or DQ8 — revealed Sharrett.
“Forty percent of the population in the U.S. has one of these two genes, but only 1 percent will develop celiac disease,” she said. “It can be triggered by stressors, abdominal trauma or infection.”
Whether the diagnosis is celiac or gluten intolerance, a gluten-free lifestyle must be adopted.
“Diet is the only treatment at the moment,” said Sharrett, “Although there are some other options that are being researched.”
So how do we know what contains gluten?
“Anything with flour,” explained Sharrett. “Baked goods like cakes, cookies and pies, bread, pasta, sandwiches, subs, pizza and cereal are the big things.”
This is a daunting list, considering most people eat these foods on a daily basis. When Tanner was diagnosed, the area grocery stores didn’t have as expansive of a selection of products. Now, more stores and restaurants have gluten-free products and menus. Tanner has a few places where he enjoys dining gluten-free in the area (including Bonefish Grill and P.F. Changs), along with favorite item brands like Udi’s and Simply Shari’s.
“It was hard going out to eat,” said Tanner. “Now I’m used to talking to cooks and managers at restaurants and explaining I have to eat gluten-free.”