Girlfriend with Celiac disease

Originally Published: May 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 6, 2012
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Hello Alice,

I have a girlfriend with Celiac disease. Do you know something about it?

-Boyfriend

Dear Boyfriend,

What a better way to show your support than to become educated! Celiac disease leads to malabsorption of nutrients and abnormal immune reactions to gluten (a protein in wheat, rye, and barley). Celiac disease works by damaging or destroying villi when gluten is consumed or used in a product. Celiac disease is genetic, meaning it runs in families. Therefore, people who have Celiac disease in their family may want to get tested. The disease affects approximately 1 out of every 133 people.

The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. In other words, a person with celiac disease should not eat most grains, pasta, cereal, and many processed foods. Gluten is also used in some medications, vitamins, and even lip balm. Therefore, it is important that people with Celiac speak with a pharmacist to see if prescribed medications contain wheat.  Even if a person doesn’t have symptoms, s/he should still completely avoid gluten in order to prevent damage to the intestines and long-term problems.

It is highly important to diagnose this disease because without treatment, people with Celiac can develop complications such as osteoporosis, anemia, and cancer. Although Celiac disease may affect people in different ways, common symptoms of Celiac disease in adults include:

  • Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Bone loss or osteoporosis
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Tingling numbness in the hands and feet
  • Seizures
  • In women, missed menstrual periods, infertility, or recurrent miscarriage
  • Canker sores inside the mouth
  • An itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

So what’s for dinner? A gluten-free diet could include potato, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, or bean flour instead of wheat flour. There are also gluten-free breads, pastas, and other products that are labeled "gluten-free." Corn tortillas, rice cake, popcorn, crackers made of rice or corn, rice, pasta made from rice, flax, quinoa, buckwheat are also fine. While oats may not be harmful for most Celiacs, it is best to avoid oat products as they are frequently contaminated with wheat. Also, most gluten-free grain products aren't supplemented with vitamins, so it is important for Celiacs to take a vitamin supplement. Speaking with a registered dietitian can help you and your lady friend come up with delicious and suitable meals. There are also a variety of cookbooks and blogs that cater to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Creating a supportive environment can definitely make life easier for a person with Celiac disease. Here are some tips for you to help your girlfriend manage her health:

  • Provide emotional support.Being diagnosed as a Celiac may be a difficult, life-changing experience. Eating, grocery shopping, going to restaurants, and traveling may become much more challenging — even overwhelming. Therefore, it is extremely important to be gentle, patient, and understanding.
  • Do your research.Asking Go Ask Alice! was a great first step! Continue to stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of Celiac disease. You can also educate yourself on how to make delicious, gluten-free dinners.
  • Remember, wheat-free doesn’t mean gluten-free.There are a whole bunch of products available that are wheat-free but not gluten-free. While someone with a wheat allergy could potentially eat these products, those with Celiac cannot.
  • Be aware of hidden gluten. You may want to call or email food companies for clarification on a product’s ingredients.
  • Understand that even cross-contamination can be dangerous.For a person with Celiac disease, even the tiniest crumb can cause symptoms. Ideally, a person with Celiac will live in a gluten-free household. This eliminates any chance of accidental contamination. If this isn’t possible, the next best option is to keep foods containing gluten in a separate area of the kitchen, and using different pots, pans, cutting boards and utensils to prepare.

For more information, you may want to check out Celiac Disease Foundation and the related questions below. Here’s to health and happiness — for both of you!

Alice