For people with celiac disease, avoiding foods that contain gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye) is not always enough. From the places you store your gluten-free foods to the pots you use to cook them, careful steps must be taken to ensure you or do not get “glutened.”
If your child has celiac disease, even the smallest particle of gluten can cause a host of painful reactions. You may wonder whether you really need to use a different toaster for your child’s food or separate food storage containers. Is it really necessary to take these extra steps? Isn’t a gluten-free diet enough? How much can a minuscule amount of gluten affect a person with celiac disease?
What Can Happen When Gluten is Ingested
When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, his immune system responds by triggering an attack that damages the small intestine. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. People do not always have the same symptoms every time they come into contact with gluten. Symptoms in one individual can also be mild after eating gluten one time yet severe another.
It important to note that the symptoms a person with celiac disease may experience after eating gluten can vary. For the average person, an immediate reaction begins when gluten is consumed. Feelings of becoming flushed and a drop in blood pressure may be experienced initially. A while later, reflux, stomach pains and intense fatigue may rear their ugly heads along with bloating and gas. Insomnia, gut pain and cramping and frequent (loose or runny) bowel movements may persist. Anxiety, moodiness, difficulty thinking and irritability are not uncommon, nor are joint pain and itchy rashes. These symptoms may stick around for two to three days before they clear up.
It Only Takes a Crumb
Researchers suggest that the consumption of gluten should be kept below 50 milligrams per day. To put this into perspective, a slice of bread typically weighs 50 grams or 50,000 milligrams. This means literally a crumb can cause an adverse reaction in individuals with celiac disease.
Cumulative Effects of Gluten
It is not only the amount of gluten that is concerning to people with celiac disease. The negative effects of gluten can be cumulative.
The damage to the small intestine may be minor at first and may go unnoticed in some. Damage to the villi within the small intestine can be done in as little as three hours after exposure to gluten. Over time, however, the villi are more and more damaged, eventually flattening out completely. This can lead to a very serious condition known as villous atrophy.
A study by the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research suggests that people who consume more than 50 milligrams per day of gluten may develop villous atrophy after only 90 days.
How to Prevent Cross-Contamination
Because as little as a crumb can cause a reaction in you or your child with celiac disease, it is important that you take every measure possible to prevent cross-contamination. Even if your child does not exhibit negative symptoms after eating gluten (in cases like silent celiac disease), damage is still being done to the villi. Here are some practical tips to keep gluten from your child’s diet:
- Use separate cutting boards and knives for food gluten-free food prep.
- Store gluten-free items above items that contain gluten in your pantry and refrigerator. This helps to eliminate particles from falling into gluten-free foods.
- Use a separate toaster for gluten-free breads.
- Thoroughly clean all pots, pans, utensils and dishes between uses or consider using different items designated for gluten-free use only.
- Have separate sets of condiments for gluten-free eaters in your home.