“Hi Suzanne. How’ve you been feeling?”
This is a routine check up for Suzanne Attic-Weiss. The 70 year-old from Cobb County spent a lifetime with severe stomach pain.
“I’ll have an episode occasionally if I get into something I’m not aware of,” Attic-Weiss says.
After years of incorrect diagnoses, two years ago her gastroenterologist told her she had celiac disease.
Attic-Weiss says, “I mean, when he came in and told me I had celiac, I am like, ‘I can’t even say it, what is it?’ Celiac sprues [sic]. This sounds so off the wall.”
Celiac disease, also known as celiac sprue, is an inherited autoimmune disorder that affects 1 in 133 Americans, or about 2.8 million people. For someone with celiac disease, eating gluten, which is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley, sets off an immune response. Antibodies attack the intestine. It not only damages the intestinal lining, it interferes with the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients.
“In normal appearing intestine you should have what looks like under the microscope what looks like a bunch of little fingers poking out from the lining of your intestine. These are called villi,” says Gastroenterologist Dr. Charles Fox, with Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates.
Fox says for people with celiac disease like Attic-Weiss, those villi become blunted and flatten out. He says we’re hearing more about celiac disease now because doctors have recognized and can properly diagnose the disorder.
And it’s not to be confused with a wheat allergy, says allergist Dr. Kevin Schaffer, with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic:
“True wheat allergy is actually fairly rare. The most recent study I read showed that only .2% of the adult human population has a true wheat allergy," says Schaffer.
There’s no prescription or operation to get rid of celiac disease or a wheat allergy. The only "cure" is to cut out all foods with gluten like pasta, pastries and bread. The growing number of people opting for a gluten-free lifestyle is creating opportunities for businesses.
Pure Knead is a gluten-free bakery in Decatur with loyal customers like Beth Hagberg. “I wanted to order my usual weekly order; there are some chocolate chip cookies I wanted to get,” Hagberg says.
Owner Michelle Kelly launched her bakery three years ago after her son was diagnosed with celiac disease.
“Now I might have accepted it for myself, but I would never accept it for my child. So I said, that’s it! I bake at home, we have to do this, so I started my business, I rented a commercial kitchen, I didn’t have a single customer, says Kelly.”
Steaming plump blueberry muffins are stacked on racks just out of the oven, while a baker scoops the batter for a new batch, replacing regular flour with gluten-free thickeners like sorghum, coconut and tapioca.
In the U.S., gluten-free product sales reached 1.2 billion dollars last year. Gluten-free items are now readily available in grocery chains like Whole Foods where Suzanne Attic-Weiss does all of her weekly shopping, making sure to check every label.
“Actually I start backwards on the label, because the things I can’t have are towards the end, so I just scan through it to see,” says Attic-Weiss.
Because for Attic-Weiss nothing tastes quite as good as living gluten free feels.
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