Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by the intake of gluten in genetically predisposed individuals. It is estimated that 1% of the population have Celiac Disease (or more than 3 million), but the vast majority remain undiagnosed. Canadian prevalence is estimated
to be the same.

Gluten is the protein that is found in wheat, barley and rye. When someone with Celiac Disease consumes gluten, the immune system responds by attacking the small intestine, which affects the absorption of nutrients.

There are over 300 symptoms associated with the disease ranging from weight loss and constipation to depression and anemia. One of the many symptoms of Celiac Disease is called Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH), which manifests itself as a chronic, itchy skin rash.

Currently, the only known treatment for Celiac Disease is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet for life. Following a gluten-free diet heals existing intestinal damage, prevents further damage, and returns the intestinal barrier (villi) to a healthy state for as long as the diet is followed.

Celiac Disease is diagnosed by an antibody (blood) test, specifically anti-tissue transglutaminase or anti-endomysial antibodies. If an individual’s blood tests are positive and symptoms suggest Celiac Disease, the physician needs to confirm the diagnosis via an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine.

The terms gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably. Celiac Disease is a genetic auto-immune condition that can be serious if left undiagnosed. Gluten intolerance/sensitivity is an adverse food-induced reaction that does not involve the immune system. The reaction occurs in the digestive tract causing gastrointestinal symptoms and is largely misunderstood. A wheat allergy does involve an immune-response, but that is time-limited and does not involve lasting damage to the body, as is the case with Celiac Disease.

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A food allergy (FA) occurs when the body’s immune system produces an antibody (IgE) in response to the protein contained in a specific food(s). In a food allergic person, exposure to a trigger food (even in trace amounts) can produce symptoms ranging from discomfort (itching, eczema, stomach upset, headache, congestion) to life threatening (swelling of the mouth, throat or tongue, hives, difficulty breathing). Symptoms may appear immediately or may be delayed by minutes or hours.

In the U.S. (according to the FDA), there are eight foods that account for 90% of all food allergic reactions– wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts (i.e. almond, cashew, walnut), egg, soy, fish and shellfish (i.e. crustaceans such as crab, lobster, shrimp). In Canada, there are eleven common allergens—the eight from the U.S. plus sesame seeds, sulphites (food additives) and mustard (new).

An FA is typically diagnosed by allergy specialists using food elimination diets, skin and/or blood tests (RAST) to identify the specific “trigger foods” that cause an FA reaction. Many children will outgrow their foodrelated allergies; however, an FA can also develop over time, even into adulthood.

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While there is limited scientific evidence to date, anecdotal evidence from parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) points to the potential benefits some may gain from following a GFCF diet.

Gluten is the protein that is found in wheat, barley, rye and foods derived from these grains; casein is a protein found in milk and other dairy-based products such as cheese, butter, yogurt, and ice cream. According to one theory, some people with ASDs cannot properly digest gluten and casein; consumption of these proteins causes the formation of substances that act like opiates in their bodies. These opiate-like substances can, in turn, alter the person’s behavior, perceptions and responses to his/ her environment. When gluten and casein are eliminated from the diet, some people experience an improvement in alertness, sensory perception, behavior management and overall digestive health.

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A food intolerance (FI) is a food reaction that is triggered when certain foods are consumed in varying quantities; while it may cause discomfort, it is not life-threatening. FI may cause a negative physiological response (gastrointestinal distress, headaches, fatigue) but the immune system is not involved. FI is usually caused by an inability to digest or absorb certain foods. For example, lactose intolerance occurs in people who lack an enzyme called lactase that is needed to digest lactose (the sugar in milk).

FI can be difficult to diagnose, as symptoms are varied and may take up to three days to appear. Elimination diets and specialty tests are the most commonly used methods for diagnosis.

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