The Truth Behind Celiacs

The Truth Behind Celiacs

Most pastas contain gluten. (Provided/

Students at the University of Central Oklahoma may not know that they are getting sick off of a mixture of proteins called gluten.

The common term for most students with this sensitivity is an allergy called gluten-intolerance. However, some students suffer from celiac disease.

Celiac disease makes your immune system tissues attack your healthy cells in your small intestine thinking they are foreign. It is triggered by dietary gluten peptides found in wheat and related grains. There is no formal classification of celiac disease, however, it can be divided into common subgroups:

  • Classic celiac disease
  • Atypical celiac disease
  • Silent celiac disease
  • Non-responsive celiac disease
  • Refractory celiac disease

There are differences between celiac disease and gluten-intolerance, and gluten-intolerance bodies react differently than those with celiac disease. However, the symptoms are similar.

Jose Medina, MHS, PA-C, a clinical associate professor and director for Clinical Outreach, confirms that common symptoms for gluten-intolerance are diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain and discomfort, and weight loss.

The most common symptoms for celiac disease includes: IgA deficiency, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain and discomfort, anemia, failure to thrive, low bone density, fatigue and weight loss.

Celiac disease can cause malnutrition and low bone density. In rare cases, it can lead to cancer.

Medina confirmed the gluten does not cause the damage directly. The immune system’s reaction to the gluten protein makes the white blood cells mistakenly attack the small intestinal lining.

Over time, the reaction damages the small intestinal lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients. It can also affect growth and development in children. Medina confirmed that celiac disease may present at any age. Symptoms change per person and are usually recurring in nature.

The testing process for celiac disease involves getting blood drawn to measure antibodies. It must be confirmed by duodenal biopsy, which is a biopsy of the small intestine.

The only current therapy is a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet, along with treatment of any underlying disease it may cause or make the problem worse.

Gluten cannot be absorbed through the skin.

Kenzie Sandberg, a junior at UCO, took his celiac test this year. He did not suspect he had a gluten-intolerance. His parents got him checked since both his mother and sister had the allergy.

Sandberg lives in Sand Springs and went to St. Johns Clinic Urgent Care to get blood tested. The results came back high, which told Sandberg he had celiac disease.

The biggest change for Sandberg was his eating habits. He was no longer able to eat his favorite foods.

“I shop at Wal-Mart for gluten-free products and tend to eat at home”, Sandberg says. Since diagnosed, Sandberg has not gone out to eat.

After going on the gluten-free diet, Sandberg says that he has felt better.

Amilia Carpenter, a senior at UCO, was 17 and in tenth grade when she found out about her gluten-intolerance.

Carpenter said the hardest part about the change was the beginning and the self-control. She turned cold turkey and had to relearn what she could and couldn’t eat. She said she began to look at the ingredients and learn what to look for.

“You don’t have to just rely on Wal-Mart’s gluten-free section,” Carpenter said. “It’s a good place for beginners who have no idea what to look for, but there’s more gluten-free stuff than what Wal-Mart labels as.” She said that shopping became easier once she knew what gluten was called on the ingredients label.

Carpenter said, “I miss desserts. Pastry desserts are hard to replicate.” She also said she missed the taste of regular bread.

Since tenth grade, Carpenter said that there are more gluten-free products available in stores and in restaurants.

Gluten-free products are apparent on UCO campus. Buddy’s and the Market both have options for gluten-intolerant students.

Buddy’s currently has a small section in their buffet area where students can find gluten-free products. They also have gluten-free products such as pizza crusts, bread and meats.

Gianna Deutch, director of residential dinning, said that there are gluten-free products in Buddy’s pantry. “There are cookies, crackers, chips and other available items in our pantry.” Deutch said students are welcomed to come and check out the gluten-free products.

Deutch said that Buddy’s is planning on rearranging to make a designated gluten-free area. “We are planning on adding a toaster, microwave and fridge specifically for gluten-free food”. There will be tongs and other utensils designated for the gluten-free food so that there won’t be any cross-contamination.

Even though students should be aware of the food they eat, Deutch said that themed nights like Barbecue and Asian nights usually are less gluten-free friendly.

The majority of the chefs in Buddy’s are able to answer any question students may have about the gluten-free foods.

Charles Liddel, director of retail, said that in the Market, formally called Outtakes, the fruit, salads and parfaits are all gluten-free. “The salads are made at Buddy’s in an area that is away from gluten,” said Liddel.

The Market will always be accommodating to students and for “the students to feel comfortable coming to the directors.” It is harder to get gluten-free products since the Market is retail, but Liddel said he is always open to what students have to say.

Students are welcomed to find Liddel and asked to be taken to the back of the food court to look at all of the ingredients in their foods.

There are also off-campus choices for students with gluten-intolerance at UCO. 

Flatire, Chik-fil-a, Hideaway and McAlister’s are just a few of the places off-campus that serve gluten-free food. Students can always call to places and ask about gluten-free products when being served at a restaurant. These places claim to switch gloves when making the food but inform that they cannot guarantee that there won’t be cross-contamination.

Both Flatire and Chik-fil-A offer gluten free buns. Flatire will make the food in the kitchen, while Chik-fil-A will hand a bun that is packaged for students to make themselves. Grilled chicken is recommended when ordering these sandwiches.

Hideaway has gluten-free pizza that they make separately from the rest of their pizzas. Meatballs are the only meats that are gluten-free. The vegetables and sauces are also gluten-free.

McAlister’s offers gluten-free bread, salads, soups and potatoes.

Both Sandberg and Carpenter said that asking for the chefs to change their gloves and utensils is one of the best ways to eliminate as much cross-contamination as possible. They warn students with higher sensitivity to still be aware of what they eat.

“You can usually find something to eat no matter where you go,” Carpenter said. “We can still eat good food”.

“Take it seriously,” Sandberg said. “It can complicate other things, later.” He said Google is his best friend when it comes to finding foods that are gluten-free.

Some apps that are available for both Androids and Apple are called Find Me Gluten Free, and Gluten Free Scanner.

Find Me Gluten Free is owned by Yelp and shows reviews of places from other gluten-intolerant or celiac people and how gluten-friendly the place really is.

Gluten Free Scanner uses bar-codes to find out which products are gluten-free.

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