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Raising Celiac Disease Awareness

Mia Stenger | Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dear Notre Dame community,

Here is food for thought: there is a group of your fellow students who undergo a radically different dining hall experience. Because any small amount of food with traces of gluten, even a tiny crumb, can make them extremely ill, they must diligently avoid certain types of foods and vigilantly watch other students as they get food, so as to avoid cross-contamination. You may see them emerging from the back of North Dining Hall holding a tray of self-prepared food, or entering the kitchen for a carefully prepared gluten free meal. We are students with celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that wholly affects both body and mind. Many conditions, from depression to fatigue to chronic diarrhea can be caused by or linked to celiac disease. These symptoms are caused by the immune system’s reaction to the body’s interaction with gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and oats. The immune system attacks the small intestine, damaging the villi that line it, and also prohibiting the absorption of important nutrients.

One can also be asymptomatic and experience none of these symptoms but still have the disease. The only cure for a celiac patient is to follow a life-long gluten free diet. Failure to strictly adhere to the diet, even if the celiac patient alleges they are “unaffected” by gluten, is extremely dangerous to one’s future health. Additionally, it is a genetic disease. As a parent, child or sibling, the risk of disease is 1 in 22. To put its prevalence into perspective, three million Americans have celiac disease. Approximately two million Americans have Alzheimer’s Disease.

Though having celiac disease can hamper one’s ability to dine at a restaurant or enjoy conventional foods, there are equally tasty and even healthier alternatives for those living gluten free. Notre Dame students with celiac disease have found strength in this year’s newly formed club “Gluten Free ND.”

The members of Gluten Free ND invite the Notre Dame community to our Open Meeting this Sunday, April 18 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Ryan Hall 24-hour space. Come learn more about celiac disease, the gluten free lifestyle and Gluten Free ND, all while enjoying delicious gluten free food. If you can’t make it to the meeting, we ask that you please consider this as food for thought, and try to be more cognizant of those around you who are affected by both celiac disease and food allergies alike. It will be appreciated more than you know.

We look forward to seeing you there,
Mia Stenger, Gluten Free ND

Mia Stenger
Breen Phillips Hall
April 14