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The good news is that if celiac disease is caught before the child becomes an adult, the effects should completely reverse. “If the patient goes on a gluten-free diet, everything goes back to normal,” Guandalini says. Over half of children with celiac disease, even those who show few-to-no symptoms, have low bone density. Within a year on the gluten-free diet, Guandalini says that density will be normal in almost all of them. Unfortunately, recently diagnosed adults will not see such a quick improvement.
While children with celiac can exhibit depression and even psychosis, Guandalini stresses that the often-cited link between disorders such as autism and attention deficit disorder and celiac disease is unproven. “Many parents expect the gluten-free diet to help [those]. It doesn’t.”
But fortunately, having celiac in childhood is not likely to have a long-term effect on brain function if the gluten-free diet is followed. Guandalini says that’s because the most crucial time for brain development is before birth, and in the first six to eight months of life.
Celiac doesn’t occur until a few months after being on a gluten-containing diet, and most infants won’t be fed such food until after six months of age. Still, it’s impossible to be certain that slowed development, such as delayed speech, isn’t because of the disease.
Once considered quite rare, celiac is now estimated to occur in one out of every 133 people in North America. As awareness increases, more children are being diagnosed, and that’s a welcome change. Janet Smith runs the Toronto chapter of a support group called R.O.C.K., or Raising our Celiac Kids.
The organization was founded in the United States 16 years ago, and today has more than 65 U.S. chapters. The group allows parents to voice concerns, share ideas and learn about living with celiac. Smith adopts a positive tone as a leader, and reminds parents that there are worse things in life.
“I think the main frustration for all the parents is that the doctors didn’t diagnose it,” she says. Although being a parent of a celiac child is challenging – the expense of gluten-free food as well as the continuous task of explaining to teachers, relatives and friends what your child cannot eat – it does not have to be daunting. After all, nothing can be worse than knowing your child was suffering needlessly, sometimes for years.
Diagnosing the Child
If you suspect your child has celiac disease, ask your doctor to perform an anti-tissue transglutaminase (TTG) blood test, the most sensitive test available. Almost all children (over the age of 2) with celiac will test positive. That means if the test is negative, celiac can be ruled out with almost 100 per cent certainty, Guandalini says.
If this test is positive, then a gastroenterologist must do an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. This can be done at any age.
It’s very important NOT to begin a gluten-free diet without a proper diagnosis, as it will interfere with the test results. Furthermore, a child who was put on a gluten-free diet without proof of the disease is unlikely to stick with it.
Did you know?
Researchers have discovered that children with celiac disease tend to have very long eyelashes.
- Allergic Living’s celiac-friendly recipe collection
- The Gluten-free Girl on bringing up gluten-free baby
- Dietitian Shelley Case on gluten-free Breakfast Solutions
First published in Allergic Living magazine. To subscribe or order a single issue, click here.
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