Williamson Valley woman raises awareness of celiac disease
Once thought to be uncommon, celiac disease - a hereditary intolerance of wheat and gluten - may affect 1 percent of Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Many people don't realize they have the condition and, until recently, some doctors failed to recognize it. That's what happened to Diane Jacobs. Jacobs, 59, who lives in Williamson Valley with her husband, Jeff, had various symptoms for years until she finally learned she had celiac disease in 2003.
"It was horrible," she said. "I'd end up in the ER and they'd give me antacids and send me home. I lost 20 pounds in one month. It was a nightmare when they were attempting to diagnose me. I was sick as a dog."
Symptoms of celiac disease vary among sufferers and can include abdominal bloating, pain, gas, diarrhea, pale stools and weight loss. Other problems include a severe skin rash, anemia, muscle and bone pain, nerve damage, seizures and, in children, failure to thrive.
Doctors diagnose celiac disease through blood tests and use an endoscope to view the small intestine. Doctors check for damage to the villi that help absorb nutrients from food. An autoimmune disease triggered by wheat and gluten, celiac disease damages those villi.
Jacobs recommends against eliminating wheat and gluten from your diet in an attempt to self-diagnose as that could lead to false negative results when tested.
Once a little-known affliction, celiac disease was highlighted by Oprah Winfrey on her television show, and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz also spoke about the problem on TV.
While at one time celiac sufferers had few options, many stores now carry foods without wheat and gluten. But labels must be closely scrutinized, as seemingly innocuous-sounding items like "modified food starch" or "hydrolyzed fillers" contain gluten, Jacobs said.
More restaurants now provide gluten-free food options as well, Jacobs said.
A former social worker and salesperson for Xerox, Jacobs now devotes herself full-time to the celiac disease cause.
Jacobs started a website to disseminate information about celiac disease -www.celiacdiseaseinfo.org - and that endeavor led to an e-book, which led to a cookbook: "The Very Best of Gluten-Free & Wheat-Free Cooking" that's available through her website and Amazon for $13.95.
Jacob's cookbook highlights a full range of recipes and tips for cooking without wheat and gluten - everything from appetizers to desserts.
Jacobs also blogs about food without gluten at http://glutenfreefoodieheaven.blogspot.com.