Celiac Awareness Month (and Gluten-Free Beer)

May is Celiac Awareness Month, and to light of that we’d like talk about Celiac Disease and how it relates to gluten-free beer. Many of you reading are probably already aware of Celiac disease, but in case you’re not, let’s dive right in.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to react negatively to gluten. Specifically, when the intestines come in contact with gluten, the immune system reacts by attacking the villi, or hair-like lining of the intestines. This not only causes a slew of short-term systems, like pain and digestive problems, but can have serious long-term health effects, increasing cancer rates and eventually, if left untreated, potentially leading to death. It also leads to malnourishment, as the villi are necessary for absorbing essential nutrients.

Celiac disease is a genetic disorder but requires a trigger to activate the gene. This means that many people may carry the gene and experience no symptoms. It also explains why  It is estimated that 1 in 133 people in the United States have Celiac disease, though the number of people actually diagnosed is much lower, currently estimated around 5-10%.

Identifying the Symptoms

One of the most challenging things about celiac disease is the wide variety of symptoms that come with it. One person may feel almost nothing, with others experience immediate digestive or physiological responses. And because Celiac disease causes malnourishment, it can also lead to a slew of other medical issues. This is why diagnosing celiac disease is often a challenge.

Though symptoms can be far ranging, there are also some classic signs to look out for. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, these symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramping, intestinal gas
  • Distention and bloating of the stomach
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation (or both)
  • Steatorrhea – fatty stools
  • Anemia – unexplained, due to folic acid, B12 or iron deficiency (or all)
  • Unexplained weight loss with large appetite or weight gain

Diagnosing the Disease

If you think you might have celiac disease, the first thing you should do it talk to your doctor or another medical expert. Though doctors have in the past overlooked celiac disease, awareness is spreading. You can also request to be tested for it.

In order to test for celiac disease, a person must be on a diet that contains gluten for at least four weeks. This is why it is recommended to be tested before trying to eliminate gluten from your diet. The first step in testing is a blood test, which looks for specific antibodies that may indicate celiac disease.

If the tests come back positive, doctors then will recommend a small bowel biopsy. As small section of the intestine is removed endoscopically and examined under a microscope to determine whether the villi have been damaged. If this test comes back positive, the person has celiac disease and must switch to an entirely gluten-free diet. That means avoiding all foods that contain wheat, rye, or barley, or ingredients derived from those grains.

Celiac Disease and Gluten-free beer

So, if you have Celiac Disease, can you drink beer?

Sort of.

Regular beer is almost always brewed with either barley, wheat, or rye, all of which contain gluten. However, there are an increasing number of celiac-friendly gluten-free beers on the market. For a slightly dated list, check out our previous post on gluten-free beers currently available on the market (there’s already beer a few new beers released in this space). But our favorite, of course, is the Aurochs White Ale (soon to be available in Pittsburgh). So, if you were recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, fear not: you can have your beer and drink it to.

Other Resources

But seriously, if you actually were recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, there are a lot of great gluten-free resources, from meetup groups to organizations to blogs. Below is a short list of some of the good stuff that’s out there. And, of course, you can always check out our other posts on our blog “Track the Aurochs” for more info:

What other resources do you find helpful? Let us know by posting a comment below.