Is a Gluten-Free Diet Healthy For My Child?
March is National Nutrition Month and to spread awareness about the importance of eating right, iTriage is hosting a series of guest blogs throughout the month. Hear from Mary Sharrett, a clinical dietician in Nutritional Support Services at Nationwide Children’s, who talks about whether or not gluten-free diets are healthy for children.
Celiac disease is a chronic condition mainly affecting the small intestine. It is a permanent sensitivity to gluten, a protein from wheat, rye and barley. In affected individuals, eating food containing gluten leads to damage to the fingerlike projections (villi) lining the small intestine. Other names include celiac sprue and gluten sensitive enteropathy. Celiac disease is considered an auto-immune disorder, in which the body attacks itself.
Symptoms may begin at any age after gluten is introduced in the diet. Intestinal symptoms include chronic diarrhea or constipation, bloating and gas, irritability, and poor weight gain. Patients may have growth and pubertal delay, iron deficiency anemia, fractures or thin bones, abnormal liver tests, and a chronic itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. Celiac disease may also occur without symptoms.
Celiac disease may go undiagnosed for years. Blood tests are widely used to test for celiac disease. Both the anti-tissue transglutaminase antibody (tTG) and the anti-endomysial antibody (EMA) tests are highly accurate and reliable but are insufficient to make a diagnosis. Celiac disease must be confirmed by finding certain changes to the villi which line the small intestine. To see these changes, a tissue sample from the small intestine is obtained, using a procedure called an endoscopy with biopsy. (A flexible tube-like instrument is placed through the mouth, down the throat, past the stomach and into the small intestine to obtain small tissue samples).
Treatment consists of life-long avoidance of gluten-containing foods (such as bread, cereal, cakes, pizza, and other food products or additives containing wheat, rye, and barley). Medications and over the counter products may also contain gluten. Once gluten is removed from the diet, complete healing is expected. Although a total gluten-free diet seems overwhelming at first, families have been very successful with the diet. Dietitians and support groups can help families adjust to this life-altering diet, yet it may take several months to get used to the gluten-free diet.
Information adapted with permission from Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation (CDHNF). www.celiachealth.org