CREATED Apr. 30, 2013
Omaha, NE -- Grocery store aisles are stocked, packed with gluten free food. That's a good thing for the estimated two million Americans living with celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder. People who have it can't tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Kellie Ward has the disease. "It was really just all of sudden I got really sick," said Ward. "I thought it was just a stomach virus or stomach flu."
Ward always thought she had acid reflux and when those flu like symptoms stayed around, doctors knew something was up. In January 2010 her phone rang. Doctors had the diagnosis. "I was initially mad. Food is a big part life." Ward knew her life had to change. "I think that's why I was so shocked and kind of mad at the diagnosis," said Ward. "I went my whole life, really - eating anything that I wanted and then I had this drastic diet change and lifestyle change."
Ward had to figure out what worked with her body including odd items. Things like, Cool Ranch Doritos. They're easy on her system but there's a dusting on regular Doritos that makes her sick. "For me, if I don't take gluten out of my diet and out of my daily life, then it'll have long term effects on my health."
It can even affect spiritual life when some can't take communion. Father Barnard Starman is the pastor at Assumption Catholic Church. "The tradition of the church has always been that at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, 'Do this is memory of me'. And the presumption has always been, as part of the tradition, that it was some form of some unleavened wheat bread."
Even gluten free communion wafers have a trace amount of wheat to keep with church tradition. "You know that your diet is changing and you know that the way that you cook is going to have to change, where you eat out is going to have to change but now all of a sudden there's the realization that even going to church is going to change," said Starman.
Father Starman says parishioners are counseled to make a spiritual act of communion if they can't tolerate the minute trace of wheat. Still he's seen parishioners agonize over being left out. "To be in a position of not being able to do that must be awful."
There are more than 200 symptoms of celiac disease ranging from fatigue, depression and digestive problems. Rebecca Beaudoin is a registered dietician. She points her clients to fruits, vegetables and meats - items naturally gluten free. It can be a healthy diet but certainly not for everyone. "It is a trendy diet," said Beaudoin. "I see a lot of people trying to lose weight and so they go on a gluten free diet. Not necessarily the case because some gluten free products are actually higher in sugar and fat to make them taste good for what's missing, the gluten."
Ward doesn't miss the gluten anymore. She's adjusted her life just like everyone with celiac disease where the only cure is the diet.