By Lois Bell | The Sheridan Senior Center
SHERIDAN — Eight years ago, Brooke Holstedt was surprised to find out what was causing him pain.
“I had neck pain and arthritis in my right arm,” said Holstedt. “The neck pain was excruciating.”
His doctor told him to stop eating foods with gluten in them. Within weeks of changing his diet, Holstedt’s neck pain was gone. His arthritis diminished.
Holstedt’s experience is not atypical. Gluten sensitivity — and on the extreme end of the spectrum, celiac disease — manifests in approximately 300 symptoms that differ from person to person. Those who have a close relative with gluten sensitivity have a one in 100 chance of also having the same sensitivity, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. And it can affect people of all age, gender and race.
This was Holstedt’s experience. His daughter discovered her gluten sensitivity prior to Holstedt discovering the condition in himself. Did anyone else in the family have this sensitivity?
“My mother was seeing the same symptoms in me that she saw in my paternal grandmother. We think Grandmother Holstedt was a celiac. She had chronic pain the last 30 years of her life,” said Holstedt.
Holstedt has a cousin who is so sensitive to gluten that he has to carry an epi-pen in the event he should accidentally ingest food with gluten. Two of Holstedt’s grandsons also are gluten intolerant.
Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are hereditary autoimmune diseases that run in families. When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten — proteins found in rye, wheat and barley — their body attacks the small intestine leading to damage to the villi, small fingerlike projections that line the small intestine that are crucial to nutrient absorption. This can lead to malnutrition and other serious autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid conditions, and some cancers.
Identifying gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is not simple. It is estimated that 83 percent of people with celiac disease are left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed according to the BeyondCeliac organization. Both the Celiac Foundation and BeyondCeliac organizations recommend seeing a physician for testing.
The only way it can be confirmed is if a person tests negative for all celiac markers (including an endoscope) as well as all wheat allergy markers, but has symptoms that significantly improve on a low gluten diet.
“According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), the most common symptoms of gluten sensitivity are foggy brain and unexplained headaches, tingling or numbness, gut issues such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (‘heartburn’), gastroparesis, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and autoimmune disorders such as fibromyalgia or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Like celiac, it is not uncommon to present in a way that has no gut symptoms,” said Georgia Boley, registered dietitian who reviews the nutritional content of the Senior Center’s lunches before the menus are published and meals prepared.
March is National Nutrition Month. The 2017 theme is “Putting Your Best Fork Forward.” But how can you do this when living with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease?
For those with gluten sensitivity, a reduction in consuming foods with gluten is advised. The only treatment currently for celiac disease is a strict, gluten-free diet.
After his diagnosis, Holstedt bought a two-volume book about eating gluten-free.
“The second book came with recipes,” said Holstedt, who substituted wheat flour with almond and rice flours. “I look at food labels. I don’t buy anything with wheat, barley, or rye in it. I was surprised to find that soy sauce has wheat in it. I love Japanese and Chinese foods,” said Holstedt.
Holstedt now buys soy sauce without the wheat extenders.
“To reduce the risk of gluten sensitivity, eat lots of various plants, keep your sugar to less than 10 percent of your calories, and reduce stress,” said Boley.
“I was glad when my doctor discovered what it was (that was making him ill),” said Holstedt. “It gave me a new lease on life. At least I knew what I could eat safely.”