STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. In Your Health this morning, ailments you can treat at home. First, though most don't even realize they have it, one in a hundred Americans suffers from celiac disease. And it's a disease you can treat by eliminating one type of protein from your diet. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.
ALLISON AUBREY: That one protein is called gluten. It's in wheat, barley and rye and makes its way into lots of processed foods. But keeping a kitchen gluten-free is not as hard as it used to be. In fact, last year, it was the fastest growing niche in the food industry, which is helpful to Robin and Jay Rosenblum.
Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: So this is the quinoa. It's absorbed all the water. It has the peppers and beans and onion. And it's going to be ready in just a minute. Just trying to boil off a little bit of the water. And then I'll put a little more cilantro in it and some feta.
AUBREY: Jay says his family had never tried this grain quinoa before last year. It cooks just like rice. But his son Jacob, who's in eighth grade, says it's got a funny taste and texture.
Mr. JACOB ROSENBLUM: It's more tough and - I don't know. It has more of a bitter flavor. But it's still good.
AUBREY: The reason it's become so popular in this kitchen?
Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: This is not wheat-based, and it's a good staple.
AUBREY: As they set the table, the conversation turns to genes. Jay says he feels guilty that he passed along the genes that made his son susceptible to celiac disease, a fact he learned only recently. But, heck, he says he can also take credit for some of Jacob's good genes.
Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: I gave you your hair, so we're even.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROBIN ROSENBLUM: Yeah, he has nice thick hair.
(Soundbite of laughter)
AUBREY: Jay's wife Robin says they can joke like this now, but last spring, they weren't laughing. Jacob was suffering terrible attacks of abdominal pain during sports practices and tests. It was happening a lot, and they had no idea the symptoms were triggered by gluten.
Mr. JACOB ROSENBLUM: It got to the point where I had to miss sports practices and games because I was feeling so sick. Like I would have to like lie down on my stomach for hours, because like the pressure kind of helped it. It was really painful.
AUBREY: Robin says over the years, Jacob had bouts with his stomach. At one point, she'd suspected maybe he was lactose intolerant, but the symptoms always seemed to pass. This time it was different, so she took him to see the pediatrician.
Ms. ROSENBLUM: I was nervous when we went, because I thought there could be something seriously wrong. And so I did a little research, and celiac was on my list of possible things. It was in the back of my mind. I mentioned it to the doctor.
AUBREY: At the time, Robin didn't know that her husband carried the genes for the disease, so when Jacob's blood tests came back positive, she was surprised. The day of the diagnosis, she says she got a little teary in the grocery store aisle, realizing how many foods contain gluten - not just breads and baked goods, but also soy sauces, salad dressings and many other processed foods. It stressed her out, but she says she realized pretty quickly how lucky they were.
Ms. ROSENBLUM: When we got the diagnosis and I knew all the other scary things are ruled out, I was elated. Oh, it's celiac. We know exactly what to do. There's no medicine. There's no horrible treatment. There's no surgery. He can just do it with his diet.
AUBREY: Jacob's turnaround was quick. Once he gave up his PB&J on whole wheat, his breakfast cereals and pasta...
Mr. JACOB ROSENBLUM: Within like one or two weeks of going gluten-free, I didn't have any of the symptoms that I had before.
AUBREY: Dan Leffler directs celiac research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He says this kind of quick recovery is typical.
Dr. DAN LEFFLER (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center): Really in about 90 percent of patients, they get almost complete relief of whatever symptom they came in with - be it, you know, anything from hair loss to fatigue to diarrhea. With diet alone, the symptoms can really be almost completely ameliorated.
AUBREY: The trouble is most people suffer with the disease for a decade before they're diagnosed. The symptoms overlap with many other conditions and they come and go. Leffler says oftentimes it's stress that makes the symptoms bad enough to be worried about. Jacob Rosenblum thinks that might've been true for him. His dad Jay says thankfully, it's completely under control now.
Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: Looks pretty good, right?
Ms. ROSENBLUM: Yeah, it looks good.
Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: Ok. It's cooked.
AUBREY: Jay says in learning to avoid gluten, they've become a little more adventurous in the kitchen.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jacob Rosenblum has celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that keeps his body from processing foods with wheat gluten. Even though he can't eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat bread anymore, or most cereals, his family is finding new ways to cook gluten-free and keep him healthy.
Going Gluten-Free At Age 13
This quinoa, black bean and cilantro dish is a protein-rich, gluten-free meal. "It's tough and has more of a bitter flavor," Jacob says. "But it's still good."
Going Gluten-Free At Age 13
Jacob Rosenblum, 13, used to take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat bread to school for lunch. Then he learned that the gluten in the bread was making him sick. Last fall, he was diagnosed with celiac disease — an autoimmune condition that afflicts about 1 percent of Americans. Experts say it is likely that a few million people have the disease but don't know it.
Bloating and abdominal pain are common symptoms of celiac disease. And, while it's normal to pass gas, experts say that people with celiac disease often have a lot of smelly gas. Increasingly, experts have identified a broad range of additional symptoms that include hair loss, fatigue, canker sores, itchy skin rashes, and tingling in the hands and feet. See the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness for a complete checklist. A blood test is used to diagnose the condition.
Expanding Options In Gluten-Free Cooking
Since Jacob was diagnosed in the fall of 2008, the Rosenblums have restocked their pantry. Jules Gluten-Free Flour has replaced Bisquick, and they use it to make the traditional Toll House chocolate chip cookies.
The Rosenblums have tried lots of new recipes. Recently, they've been turned onto red quinoa — a nutritious, protein-rich grain that is gluten-free. Jacob's father, Jay, tried a new black bean, cilantro and quinoa recipe from Bon Appetit recently. Jacob says the grain is similar to rice, but it has a funny texture and flavor.
"It's more tough, and it has a more of a bitter flavor," he says. "But it's still good." He says he eats a lot of corn- and potato-based foods.
"Utz chips are gluten-free," he says, as he points to the labeling on the bag. For lunch, his mom, Robin, reheats leftovers and packs them in a thermos. If they're in a rush, Jacob says, pocket sandwiches by the organic food company Amy's are easy to take and heat up.
Diagnosis Is The First Step To A Solution
Jacob used to have excruciating stomach pains. During seventh grade, he remembers dashing off to the bathroom during tests. "Then I had less time to take the test." And after sports practices, he'd come home doubled over in pain.
At the time, his family had no idea the pain was triggered by eating gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley and rye grains.
"It got to the point where I had to miss sports practices and games because I was so sick," Jacob recalls. "It was really painful."
His mom says that, in hindsight, she recalls Jacob having bouts of stomach problems. At one point, she'd suspected he was lactose intolerant, but the symptoms always seemed to pass. When she took him to the pediatrician, she was nervous.
"I thought there was something seriously wrong," she says. She had read about celiac disease on the Internet after searching around for clues. "It was in the back of my mind, so I mentioned it to the doctor."
At the time Jacob was being tested, she didn't know her husband carried the genes for the disease. When Jacob's blood tests came back positive for celiac, she was surprised.
The day after Jacob's diagnosis, she got a little teary in a grocery-story aisle after realizing how many foods contain gluten. It's not just breads and baked goods: The list includes soy sauces, salad dressings and many other processed foods. It stressed her out, but she says she realized pretty quickly how lucky they were.
"I was elated," says Robin. "There's no medicine, no surgery." She said it was such a relief to know he could get better by changing his diet.
Diagnosis And Diet Changes Lead To A Quick Recovery
Jacob's turnaround was quick. Once he gave up his peanut butter and jellies on whole wheat, along with his breakfast cereals and pasta, he says he got almost immediate relief.
"Within like one or two weeks of going gluten-free, I didn't have any symptoms I had before," Jacob says.
Experts say this quick recovery is typical.
"In about 90 percent of patients, they get almost complete relief of whatever symptom they came in with — anything from hair loss to fatigue to diarrhea," says Dr. Daniel Leffler, who directs celiac research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
"With diet alone, the symptoms can really be almost completely ameliorated."
The symptoms of celiac disease overlap with many other conditions, and the symptoms come and go. In many instances, stress brings on an episode of intense symptoms. These factors help explain why people with celiac disease endure an average of 10 years of symptoms before getting the right diagnosis, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.
The Consequences Of Not Treating Celiac Disease
People with celiac disease have a hard time absorbing nutrients, and they are often fatigued due to anemia. The disease damages part of the small intestine called villi, which are absorptive, finger-shaped projections that line the intestine. Damage to the villi can put untreated celiac sufferers at higher risk of osteoporosis, diabetes and the onset of other autoimmune diseases, according to the celiac foundation. There is also evidence that untreated celiac disease may increase the risk of some cancers.