Celiac disease controls lives of most severe sufferers

For some people gluten-free eating is a trend. For people like Clifton resident Angela Wetzel, it’s a life-saver.

Wetzel, 36, was diagnosed with celiac disease nearly three years ago, three months after her father received the same diagnosis. The autoimmune disorder can run in families and makes those with celiac ill if they ingest gluten, a protein composite found in foods processed with wheat and related grains.

Wetzel said more people are learning what celiac is, but she hopes even more people will learn the details of the disease during May, which is Celiac Awareness Month.

“You can’t take a pill. You have to change your way of living,” she said.

Celiac disease comes in many forms. Some people can’t have any contact with gluten and have celiac sprue. Others have a less-severe gluten sensitivity, which means they can’t have copious amounts of gluten, but may be able to eat small amounts of wheat products or at least be able to cook items in the same pan someone else has used to cook a gluten-filled item.

Dr. Brent Prosser, a gastroenterologist at Grand Junction Gastroenterology, 1035 Wellington Ave., said symptoms can range from anemia to a list of problems, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, dry skin, and dry hair. He has diagnosed everyone from young women to men in their 80s with celiac through blood tests and/or endoscopic procedures. A person with just a gluten sensitivity may not be diagnosed through these methods, but can try a gluten-free diet to see if it makes them feel better.

Prosser said he’s not sure if more people are being diagnosed with celiac these days because more people know about it or because more people have it. But he believes diagnoses have gone from the figure he learned in medical school, 1 in 10,000 people, to 1 in 133 people because more doctors know to look for symptoms and test people for the disease.

“The 50 and under crowd definitely know what gluten sensitivity and celiac sprue are. The majority of those under age 30 know what it is and may have tried a gluten-free diet,” Prosser said.

Wetzel said she and her father feel much better since going on gluten-free diets. Her mother has found many gluten-free recipes online, and Wetzel said she is often able to find gluten-free menus or labeled menus at restaurants. Gluten-free items are often labeled at grocery stores, too. Wetzel said gluten-free can still cost more, but she’s happy more stores and restaurants are offering gluten-free options.

“It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be,” she said.


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