Journey Forth #2 : The Dietary Needs of Celiac Disease Along with Skin Challenges
For anyone who doesn't cook... or cannot afford fresh and unprocessed food, the challenge has just begun because an individual who tries to navigate the waters of grocery shopping can become seriously depressed. Fresh food is great and healthy, but pretty expensive. Processed gluten free foods are becoming easy to get, but there is not a lot of choice (most of it is desserts, bread or mixes) and they are also expensive- sometimes several times more money than the 'regular' product. (An example would be bread... the average price of wheat bread is around $2 or less... a gluten free loaf is usually at least $5.) And gluten is in everything else... it's in soups, spices, drinks, dairy products, snack foods, and almost anything you can buy to eat. It's also in almost all personal care products, medicines, and cleaners too. To add a little more difficulty, gluten-free food is usually not fortified with extra vitamins and minerals so it is more crucial that balanced and appropriate foods are consumed. So, for the most mildly affected, they need only navigate the complicated food maze of shopping and cooking and only worry about personal care products that can accidentally be ingested such as lip balm, medicines, mouthwash... some basics that some people do not use anyway. But for the more challenged, the more sensitive... for those whose immune systems are completely 'wacked out', they are in serious trouble. (I will admit that I made up that scientific term :)
For most celiacs, the skin is a great barrier not only for protection from many disease, dehydration and from gluten. Holding a pile of flour in their hand is nothing if they wash carefully and wandering into a bakery with the air full of the smells of fresh bread and wheat is only a tease to a person who cannot taste. To those, the majority of celiacs, I am a bit jealous. I have found that sometimes I do not even have the luxury of recognizing the 'smell' of the baking and the gluten that has been atomized in the air before I am struggling to breathe and heaving... bent over and sometimes vomiting with a strength and a lack of control I didn't know I possessed. There are many places I will not go due to this extreme reaction that my body and my mind can not seem to control. If I go into a place and start to not feel well or suspect that there is very little chance of being able to avoid exposure or illness, I leave. I may be angry, sad, frustrated... but I leave anyway. It's just too terrible to contemplate the pain and distress of an exposure... the pain and vomiting that lasts for weeks, the shaking, twitching, itching, headaches... no church activity, no community activity is worth it to me. I've tried too many times and suffered for sometimes months afterward to really risk that much again. One challenge that I have is that my skin is not a good barrier; while it does protect me from many diseases and most dehydration, it is an unloaded shield against gluten.
Skin conditions that can go hand in hand with celiac disease range from the 'simple' to the more complex. Only two conditions – that of hives and of Dermatitis Herpetiformis- can be clearly labeled a cause/effect of the disease. These others are still under study by researchers and medical professionals to determine which came first... the celiac or the skin disorder. It is unknown why some of these disorders occur together so frequently; wether they share common genetic roots or that gluten may be a common trigger. where aren't too many so I'll give some basic information on them with the formerly mentioned first. :)
I am extremely lucky. While I have challenges with dry skin often and hives occasionally, my health has not been affected by any of these skin disorders. As research continues on into the causes and needs of all of these disorders, I am hopeful that many of them will become more rare and less challenging for those who have to live with them. Are you or anyone you know affected by any of these skin disorders? If so, do you have any experience with any of the potential links above? Have you been tested for antibodies or attempted the gluten free diet for symptom relief? If you have followed a gluten free diet for a while, will you share your thoughts on it and how it has helped (or not helped) you and your health? Any tips for those navigating the beginnings of gluten elimination in the diet. Please share!