Posted by Claudia Grazioso on April 23, 2012
Years ago, I was at a one-year-old’s birthday party, and I heard a particularly health-conscious mom asking whether the cake was sugar-free. I have to admit, I had never heard of a sugar-free cake at a child’s birthday party, so I was a bit surprised. Now, a few years into motherhood myself, I am very familiar with the food issues that come along with childhood. Sugar-free desserts don’t give me pause anymore. But in the last few years, more and more kids seem to be requiring gluten-free cakes; in fact, we have several friends whose children have full-on Celiac Disease. When parents would explain their child’s condition to me, I would nod vaguely. No gluten… got it. But what exactly is this condition that seems to be affecting more and more children?
When a child with Celiac Disease eats something with gluten in it (and gluten is in a lot of stuff), their body’s immune system kicks into gear and starts attacking tiny little things that live in the small intestine called villi. Villi are basically responsible for absorbing nutrients into your body. So if they are attacked, they can’t do their job and the result is that not a lot of nutrients can be absorbed. This, of course, is a big problem for growing children.
Kids who have Celiac Disease can display a range of symptoms. Many of them are gastrointestinal: diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating and weight loss. Some kids seem to suffer from fatigue, slowed growth and even problems with tooth discoloration. Additionally, some kids even develop skin conditions like rashes. If a child has undiagnosed Celiac Disease for a while, they can even suffer from frail bones due to a lack of absorption of Vitamin D, as well as anemia. And the problem is that this condition can be hard to identify, as sometimes the symptoms seem to come and go; they flare up and then recede. The current estimate is that 1 out of about 133 people in the United States has Celiac Disease, but some people feel that, due to lack of awareness of this condition, the number could be even higher.
If your child has shown any of these symptoms for a prolonged period, or has had bouts of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about the possibility of Celiac Disease, especially if another member of your family has this condition. Though this is a chronic condition, it can be managed just by diet and carefully avoiding gluten. And, thankfully, that is a lot easier to do today as awareness of Celiac Disease grows.