By Shawn Kirkpatrick
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system. More than half of people in America with celiac disease are women, and they are diagnosed two to three times more than men, according to WomensHealth.com.
“I always had stomach issues growing up, and it progressively got worse during college and after college,” said Leigh Krehling, community relations officer for the city of Opelika. “Eight or nine years ago I told my doctor I was constantly taking stomach medicine, acid reflux medicine, and nothing was helping. Then I started having this weird rash.”
That’s when Krehling said she began doing her own research. “I went to my doctor and said, ‘I think I have this (celiac disease).’ He did blood work and it came back, and the numbers were off for celiac. So, he did a biopsy of my intestines, and that confirmed it. He told me it (celiac disease) is totally controlled by your diet. There’s no pill to take. You’ll have it forever, it is genetic.”
The next step for Krehling was finding out what she could and couldn’t eat. “You are supposed to totally cut out anything with gluten in it. It was hard at first because I am a bread person, but the more you study recipes, and don’t eat processed food, you can do it. I’ve found gluten-free products I like. It’s just trial and error and playing with foods.”
Krehling said when she “falls off the wagon” and eats something she isn’t supposed to eat, she pays for it.
“It causes a lot of inflammation in my body. I get a stomach ache and a rash on my elbows. I’m in a couple of celiac groups online with people from across the country. They say the same thing. Some people say they get deathly ill, in the bed for three days, throwing up. Mine is not that severe.”
There are some foods that Krehling says she really misses and eats sometimes. “The things I miss the most (are) biscuits on Sunday morning and white bread for sandwiches, good old tomato sandwiches in the summer.”
Krehling adds that eating out is getting easier. She said there are many restaurants in our area that have gluten-free menus. “I just find the restaurants that I trust and eat there, but I’d like for restaurants to be more aware and teach their employees about celiac, that it is different than just being gluten intolerant. There are a couple of pizza places here that are really good about it. They ask if it is an allergy or a preference. If you say allergy, then they wipe the counters down and change their gloves.”
Krehling said it is disappointing that some people think eating gluten-free is a fad.
“It’s a disease. It’s frustrating when you have it and you hear people just blow it off,” Krehling said.
Krehling’s advice is to be your own advocate and to get tested. “If you think you have it, don’t stop eating bread before you go to the doctor, because you have to be eating a gluten diet to test for celiac. So, if you test for celiac, it won’t show up if it’s not in your system anymore.”
To learn more about celiac disease, visit celiac.org.