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What Does It Mean To Be Gluten Free?

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May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month.  You may be hearing talk about Celiac Disease or gluten as you move along your way this month.  I often cringe when I hear people talking about going gluten free and how great they feel.  Celebrities talk about this new diet and how it's caused them to lose weight.  Chelsea Clinton had a gluten free wedding cake on her special day.  Everywhere you turn now you can find gluten free options to commonly glutenous foods.  So why do I cringe?  I cringe because I don't believe people really understand what it means to be gluten free for someone with Celiac Disease.

I discovered less than two years ago that I carry the genetic predisposition for Celiac Disease (CD).  I carry the gene commonly called DQ2 which predisposes one to develop the illness.  It is not a guarantee that one will suffer from the pains of CD, but it is very likely to occur, especially if one is exposed to gluten their whole life. My body was showing many of the symptoms and problems associated with CD.

Gluten is a protein found in most grains.  It gets very complicated, because there are different parts of the glutenous grain that one can react to.  But to make it easy for us today, let's just say that any food product that is made with any form of wheat, barley or rye is potentially a problem for those with CD.  Some may even react to other grains that are thought to be gluten free, like corn.

I am VERY sensitive to gluten.  And my symptoms are not just gastrointestinal symptoms.  In fact my experience of CD exhibits neurological symptoms which are very common to those with CD. This can include anxiety, sleeplessness, muscle twitching, vision problems, joint pain, etc.  

Some studies suggest that even a tiny amount of gluten for the gluten sensitive can trigger an autoimmune response in the body for up to six months.  So if I accidentally take in a small amount of gluten, let's say there was a tiny bit of soy sauce in a soup someone shares with me, I will probably feel the results for days to come.  And let me tell you, it is not fun.

Going gluten free is not a program for me.  Nor do I do it to lose weight and look great!  I have to avoid gluten at all cost, unless I want to continue feeling miserable.  Not only that, but eating gluten can potentially shorten my life.  Celiac Disease can progress into cancer, lupus or many other life threatening complications.  I have had to make dramatic changes in my life in order to move on.  

I know there are books out there and spokespersons that claim it's easy to go gluten free.  Yes, there are many more options out there. But unless you made it yourself with your own hands, how can you be certain that it is? What if a utensil that was used to stir a pot of gluten was inadvertently transferred to your gluten free dish?  Yes, it's that serious for some of us.

When you realize how much of our food supply has some form of gluten in it, it can be discouraging.  We literally need facilities  and kitchens that are dedicated gluten free. There are some but they are harder to find.  I've had to resort to cooking from scratch and eating almost all of my meals at home.

So if you're a sufferer out there with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity, please know that you're not alone. I get it! Gluten free is not easy!