Angela Wetzel
Free Press Health Columnist

Health Column: A spotlight on celiac disease

May is National Celiac Awareness Month.

Although it’s my goal to bring awareness to this disease all year long, this month holds a special place in my heart because it is THE month that we put a spotlight on it.

I write mostly on topics highlighting gluten-free diets because I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I eat gluten-free meals to manage an autoimmune disorder, not just because it’s a fad I support.


1. One in every 133 people have celiac disease, but most of those people don’t know it. To put it into perspective, there are 59,899 people that live in Grand Junction (2012 census survey). This means that 599 people have this disease within the city alone. Figure in the rest of the valley and that number nearly doubles. It is assumed that up to 83 percent of the people who have celiac disease remain undiagnosed.

2. If an immediate family member has celiac disease, the chance that you have or will get celiac disease goes to 5-22 percent. In our family, two of us have celiac disease, which means my brother has a huge chance of eventually getting it.

3. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, not an allergy. We do not puff up, get hives or any other allergic reaction. Celiac disease damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.

4. There are over 300 symptoms associated with celiac disease, which makes it terribly difficult to diagnose and why it typically takes six to 10 years for a correct diagnosis.

5. Celiac disease can lead to many other disorders including infertility, loss of bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers (most are intestinal cancers), and other autoimmune diseases. It seems that autoimmune diseases flock together so if you have one, you are more likely to have others at some point. Right now the cause for that hasn’t been discovered.

6. There is currently no cure for celiac disease and the only way to treat it is to eat gluten free.

Because celiac disease is so hard to diagnose, I believe that it’s better to educate people (our family had never heard of this disease before my dad was diagnosed).

Celiac Awareness has a light green ribbon as its symbol. Some of us around the community will be wearing them to draw attention to the cause. I hope you will join us in this effort.

GJ Free Press health columnist Angela Wetzel has celiac disease and is president of Gluten Free Grand Valley, a support group for those with celiac disease and wheat allergies. Contact her at or visit Gluten Free Grand Valley on Facebook.

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The Post Independent Updated May 8, 2014 01:13PM Published May 13, 2014 03:04PM Copyright 2014 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.