Celiac Disease Awareness Month / by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

I watched a recent Daily Show where John was poking fun at Former President George W. Bush for painting his feet in the bathtub.  "Hey," I thought, "there's nothing wrong with that. I've done that as a study too." Not all art has to have some deep philosophical statement.  Artist need to practice their craft to get better.  In fact, I like "Every Day Life" images, or as we called them at Brooks: EDLs.  From what I have seen online of the Former President’s artwork, I've actually been impressed by his painterly use of the materials.  Although Bush doesn't seem like a very deep person, I'm sure there is probably some sort of reason he chose to do the bathroom study.  I'm almost curious why he chose to paint his feet as well. For me it was a combination of reasons for picking the subject:

  1. Some people may find this hard to believe because I’m incredibly outspoken today, but I used to be extremely introverted.  My feet were a place I was constantly retreated to in uncomfortable situations
  2. I think the quote from Forrest Gump about being able to tell a lot about a person by their shoes is very true
  3. At the time that I had done this study, I'd had problems with my legs and joints for as long as I could remember.

Gluten Free Freed Me

Gluten free may be a fad for some people, but it is a hard reality for others.  Today, I thankfully do not suffer from the same kind of joint problems I use to after going gluten free 2 1/2 years ago. For over 20 years my parents kept the knowledge that I had an autoimmune disorder from me.  I knew I had certain issues and that there was something wrong with me, but after 3 years of testing (5 to 8 years old), I was ok with accepting that, ”this was my normal.”  I didn't want to be a lab rat and have to repeatedly go back for painful, scary, and inconclusive blood tests. Medical advances with new blood tests were thankfully available right in time for when I started putting more Whole Wheat in my diet.  My health plummeted and I finally diagnosed with having celiac disease.

I feel great now and even feel like a completely new person.  I try to educate people as much as I can about it without coming across as too annoying.  It’s important because so many people are suffering from the disease in the US because it is a hard disease to diagnose.  It is a common problem in Scotland and the Scandinavian countries.  Judging by their stats and applying those to how many people with that heritage are in the US, we can get a pretty good idea that there are 3 million people in the US who have it.  Unfortunately, only 14% of those 3 million have been diagnosed.

People often ask me what the symptoms are because they have one problem or another, but then after learning the extent of the diet change and not wanting to deal with it, they say, "Well... I don't have all of those problems.  I just one." They decided that they would rather not get the $10 blood test to find out because it would mean committing to a diet and lifestyle they didn't want to deal with.  This amazes me that people would rather live in pain than learn to live without gluten if that might be their problem.  It is possible to only show one of the symptoms.  I've met an old man who only suffers from arthritis like joint pain in his hands.  He occasionally sneak in a Reuben sandwich because he just can't help himself.  He then puts up with the fact he can’t move his hands for days.  When Celiacs do this to themselves, they get grouped into the statistic that makes them patients with an increased risk for getting lymphoma.  It's simple when you're sick, your lymph nodes swell and regularly abusing this increases the chances that those cells will mutate later.

I will never be able to occasionally sneak a Reuben sandwich in my case because of my low tolerance level to gluten- but it is for the best, because I don’t want lymphoma.  I think the confusing thing is that some people are more sensitive than others.  My theory is that those who don’t seem as sensitive actually haven’t cut 100% of the gluten out of their diet; so when they do get gluten contamination, their bodies are not releasing as much of the antibodies at one time since there is already some present.  At a surface level, you would think- well don’t go 100% gluten free and you won’t get as severely sick.  But then you have to remember that you will be probably still have one or more of the following problems:

  • Abdominal bloating

  • Anemia

  • Canker sores

  • Diarrhea

  • Fatigue

  • Growth problems in children

  • Headaches

  • Inflammation

  • Joint pain

  • Miscarriages

  • Seizures

  • Tingling in legs from nerve damage

If that wasn't enough, a celiac who does not follow their diet also increases their risk for other autoimmune disease, including: Thyroid disease, Type 1 diabetes, Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren's syndrome.  See more information on WebMD, the Celiac Awareness page, and Celiac Support page.