Celiac Disease in the Rose City

Why gluten makes some of our neighbors sick, and what to do about it

While some people see gluten-free dining as the latest dieting trend, for some of our neighbors it’s a serious medical necessity. Thousands of Portlanders suffer from celiac disease which can cause serious illness by ingesting just a small amount of gluten protein.

Celiac disease can make meal planning challenging and misinformation about the illness, as well as confusion about the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, can make it very difficult for these local residents to stay healthy. In recognition of National Celiac Awareness Day (September 13), dietitians and medicals experts at The Portland Clinic have pulled together some helpful resources to shed light on celiac disease, gluten sensitivities and how we can help our neighbors enjoy a more healthy lifestyle.

Where does gluten hide?

Gluten is a very sneaky substance. It is found in wheat, rye and barley—and their derivatives, some of which include durum, bulgur, and malt. These ingredients are more commonly used than you may expect. Food items such as soy sauce, salad dressing, gravy, deli meat, meat substitute, pasta, bread, and beverages made from these ingredients typically contain gluten.

While many products are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, oats, rice, fish, poultry, beef, or pork, it is important to review the ingredients of any food that claims to be gluten-free to confirm it has not been grown, manufactured or packaged in the same facility as other products containing gluten and that it has not been seasoned with any ingredient containing gluten. The smallest traces of gluten can prove aggravating to those suffering from celiac disease, and can be present even in foods purported to be gluten-free.

What is celiac disease?

There are three million Americans living with celiac disease, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. The hereditary autoimmune disease attacks the small intestine lining as the patient attempts to digest gluten. As the small intestine lining weakens, the body struggles to absorb key nutrients, leading to possible deficiencies. Oftentimes, the patient suffers from recurring gastrointestinal pain and discomfort. Symptoms of celiac disease range in severity and may include some combination of the following:

  • Inflammation in the small intestinegf_image_resized
  • Gastrointestinal pain, gas and bloating
  • Diarrhea, constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Topical skin rash and inflammation
  • Muscle cramps
  • Malnutrition (if left untreated)
  • Potential growth problems and seizures (in more extreme cases)

The difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac disease

In addition to the three million Americans with celiac disease, another 18 million, many of whom are unaware, suffer with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. While many of the symptoms between the two are similar, gluten sensitivity is seen more as an allergic reaction rather than an autoimmune attack, as is the case in celiac disease. People suffering from a sensitivity may also benefit from working with a dietitian to identify the best foods for optimal health.

What to do if you have celiac disease

The treatment for celiac disease is a life-long gluten-free diet. An appointment with a dietitian can help you navigate food labels, plan healthy, gluten-free meals, and make the transition much smoother.

Concerned you may have celiac disease? The Celiac Disease Foundation has developed a symptoms assessment tool to help determine your level of risk. If it appears likely that you may suffer from celiac disease, it is recommended that you have a panel blood test.

If you believe you might suffer from celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, schedule an exam with your physician. If you would like more information on celiac disease or would like to speak with a dietitian or medical expert about your symptoms, please contact The Portland Clinic for an appointment at 503-223-3113. (Please note, we cannot provide medical advice to non-patients).