Monday, May 19, 2014

7 Ways to Support Celiac Disease Awareness

Celiac Awareness Month is in full swing, and yet all I've heard reported in the news is one small study with 37 participants that suggests that gluten may not always be to blame in people who feel better when removing gluten from their diets, which is actually not new news. There have been past studies that show that in some patients it's actually a wheat allergy, in others it may be something else, and in some it's gluten that causes the various symptoms reported by patients.  Somehow the mainstream media has jumped on this and decided that Gluten Sensitivity doesn't exist. I didn't realize a study with 37 participants was sufficient to completely erase a recognized medical condition, but somehow I'm not surprised that this is how the study has been interpreted.

Still, a disease that affects roughly 3 million people in the United States has gotten lost in all the hype. No one is talking about Celiac disease, which is a shame. Rather than shouting into the void for the remainder of the month, I've come up with a few ways to support Celiac disease awareness in your community.

1- Bring it up. Talk to your local grocer, the server in the restaurant, the other parent at a birthday party. When the gluten free diet comes up (and it usually does these days), don't be afraid to talk about why you or one of your loved ones must eat gluten free.

2- Know the facts. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center has a great PDF fact sheet. Among some of the information that stands out: 
a) Celiac Disease affects roughly the same number of people as Type 1 diabetes in the United States, and 6% of those with Type 1 diabetes have Celiac disease.
b) 350 000 people in the United States are living with Down Syndrome. 12% have Celiac disease.
c) Although Celiac disease affects more people than some other chronic illnesses, it receives much less recognition. For example, in the U.S., Epilepsy affects 2.7 million, Cystic Fibrosis affects 30, 000, Crohn's affects 500 000, and Parkinson's affects 1 million. Celiac disease affects 3 million.

3- Attend an event: There are many events being run on both a small and large scale. There are awareness nights at large sporting events, fundraisers, and other Celiac Awareness activities happening all across North America. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness in the United States, and the Canadian Celiac Association have information on events and local chapters.

4- Change your social media status: Add a green ribbon or other symbol of Celiac disease awareness month to your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media network to get the conversation started.

5- Make a cash donation: There are many reputable charities working to raise awareness for Celiac disease. They can't do this effectively without money. Every little bit counts.

6- Make a food donation: How does donating gluten free food raise awareness? Many people on gluten free diets have a difficult time finding appropriate items at food banks. Put together a small bag of non-perishable items and drop it off at the food bank with a brochure or spend a few moments speaking with staff.

7- Wear a ribbon: There are many places online to buy Celiac-themed t-shirts, hats, etc. and I recommend supporting those who sell them. However, simply sporting a green ribbon, much in the way that people wear red ribbons for HIV/AIDS awareness or pink ones for Breast Cancer awareness, will certainly invite inquiries and provide you with the opportunity to spread awareness.

While the focus lately has been on the food, and the ongoing debate over whether a recognized medical condition actually exists (it does, but that's besides the point), this month is about awareness, and many, many people have no idea what Celiac disease actually is. Let's work together to change that. 

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