When the "staff of life" makes you sick
Gluten products cause a negative gut reaction for celiac-disease sufferers
Bread is called the "staff of life," but for two million Americans with celiac disease (CD), bread is what makes them sick.
Also known as gluten-specific enteropathy or celiac sprue, the immune system reacts adversely to proteins found in certain types of gluten. These glutens can be found in a number of grains, most notably wheat.
Celiac disease is one of the most under-diagnosed common illnesses. It is a multi-systemic disease that manifests itself in a myriad of symptoms, including intestinal gas, diarrhea, joint pain, skin rash and headache. Its many complications include osteoporosis, infertility and autoimmune disorders, along with lymphoma and other malignancies.
Three recent books on celiac disease offer a wealth of information. All are from the United Kingdom, where the disease is even more prevalent than in the United States. Your Guide to Coeliac Disease, by Professor Peter Howdle (Royal Society of Medicine/Hodder Arnold, 2007), is an excellent handbook for those who seek both to understand and manage the condition. The book has several features that make it extremely easy to access pertinent information. There are highlighted sections throughout the text of the book, under the headings of: "Key Terms," "Questions and Answers," "Myths and Facts" and "My Experience."
Howdle starts with the basics, describing how the normal digestive system works and the ways that celiac disease is dysfunctional. Since CD can be diagnosed at any age, Howdle addresses the impact of the disease based on three different age groups: children, teens and adults. Information is included for both caregiver and patient alike. While there are no specific recipes, a significant portion of the book includes information about a gluten-free diet. In just 160 pages, this is a small, but valuable aid to those who must cope with celiac disease.
In Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic (Collins, 2006), authors Peter Green and Rory Jones set out to help people who are suffering from a variety of ailments and are having difficulty being appropriately diagnosed. The authors claim that CD sufferers average 11 years from the onset of symptoms to a diagnosis of the disease. This is a self-help book of sorts, but the authors make special note that this book is not intended to be a self-diagnosis manual. They state: "It is intended to generate informed patients who know what questions to ask of their physicians and how to understand the answers."
The book represents both the viewpoint of the patient and of the doctor. It helps readers understand celiac disease, how it is diagnosed and how it is treated. There is a valuable discussion of the similarities and differences between food allergy, gluten intolerance and food or gluten sensitivity, a confusing set of terms for many people.
Those diagnosed with CD will learn much about the management of related conditions and complications, in addition to excellent tips on living without gluten. One chapter of particular interest discusses gluten in medicine and cosmetics.
The third book, Celiac Disease: A Guide to Living with Gluten Intolerance (Demos, 2007), focuses primarily on living with this disease. The authors, Sylvia Llewelyn Bower, Mary Kay Sharrett and Steve Plogsted, are a nurse, dietitian and clinical pharmacist and well acquainted with the realities of living without gluten. This book, unlike the other two, includes 40 recipes, such as "Easy Flourless Cake," "Sunday Morning Waffles or Pancakes," and "Banana Nut Muffins."
Another singular feature of this book is the chapter, "Tackling the Emotional Side of CD." When living with a series of mysterious symptoms ultimately leads to a delayed but life-altering diagnosis, depression, anxiety and insecurity are common. The authors emphasize the importance of finding support and becoming informed.
In addition to these three books, there are many more resources at the Stanford Health Library. Branches are located at the Stanford Shopping Center near Bloomingdale's, on the third floor of Stanford Hospital, and on the main level of Stanford's Cancer Center. The Health Library can be contacted at 650-725-8400, healthlibrary.stanford.edu and e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.