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Tue, Sept. 17

BATTLING CELIAC DISEASE: Gluten allergy can cause severe symptoms

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The word "gluten" conjures up a mysterious malaise in certain people who ingest food that contains it.

The culprit is wheat, and those who have discovered it is their enemy have driven it from their lives.

Linda Cook is one of these people. She suffers from celiac disease, but didn't know that for years. All the Dewey resident knew was that she had ongoing, varied symptoms of illness, and the cause was difficult to pin down. Medical diagnoses included heart problems, thyroid issues and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). She suffered chronic digestive distress, and even dizziness, she said.

She knew that her granddaughter, Sarah, had been diagnosed with celiac disease about five years before. Meanwhile, Cook was "getting sicker and sicker," she said.

"After one gluten-filled meal, I became extremely sick," she said, "and it dawned on me that I had celiac disease like my granddaughter."

Celiac disease, as Cook defined it, is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system is exacerbated by eating gluten in any form.

The morning after her sick spell, Cook took herself off all foods containing gluten. "Within a week, I felt better, and within a month I was off most of my medications," she said. After five years of a gluten-free diet, Cook says she "feels great."

There are people who do not have celiac disease, Cook said, but they do have a sensitivity to gluten. However, Cook said she "diagnosed" herself a year before she was tested. When she was tested, a genetic marker for celiac disease showed up in the results. Six members of her family are affected - three have celiac disease and three are sensitive to gluten. Cook said she has discovered that celiac disease is hereditary, with familial connections.

Cook said her research indicates that 1.8 million people in the United States have celiac disease, and another 18 million are sensitive to gluten.

"As a whole, we are all gluten-sensitive, but a very small portion of us have a genetic marker for celiac disease," she said.

For people who suspect they have celiac disease, she recommends they read "Wheat Belly," by William Davis, M.D.

She happened to be reading the book, when she thought of a friend in Prescott who was exhibiting many of the symptoms that Davis described as "gluten ataxia." At Cook's suggestion, her friend read the book, "went gluten-free and within two weeks, she felt better," Cook said. After a couple of months her symptoms were gone, and she was able to resume a normal life, even though she thoughts she had faced sufficient disability to require moving to an assisted living facility.

Cook now prepares meals with gluten-free products, and no one can tell that her pasta dishes, for instance, are not made with the traditional ingredients.

Because wheat is used in many food products - not just breads and pastas, for example, Cook urges sufferers to read labels very carefully.

"Read every single label and know all the forms gluten can take."

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