Celiac Disease Awareness Month: Talking with Alice Bast, Founder of Beyond Celiac

By Susan Dewhirst in Healthy Feeling

Woman smiles and drinking

Gluten free diets are a hot topic in the Tom’s of Maine office. Since May is Celiac Awareness Month, we reached out to expert Alice Bast, a mom with celiac disease, and founder of Beyond Celiac. Beyond Celiac is a non-profit dedicated to awareness, diagnosis, and management of the disease. Alice explains how the disease works, why this month is important, and surprising places gluten can be found.

What is celiac disease and what are the triggers?

It’s estimated 3 million Americans have this serious autoimmune disease triggered by consuming gluten, a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but they easily come in contact with gluten-containing grains, making them unsafe for people with celiac disease. Be sure to use oats that are “pure, uncontaminated,” “gluten-free,” or “certified gluten-free”. When people with the disease eat foods containing gluten, their immune system responds by damaging the finger-like villi of the small intestine. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Left untreated, people afflicted are at-risk for serious health consequences, like other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and even certain cancers.

Why is Celiac Awareness month important?

This month is a chance to spread the word about the seriousness of the disease. While the gluten free diet is the most visible part of celiac disease, few people know just how common it is (1 in 133 people have it) or how disruptive it can be to someone’s life (depression, infertility, brain fog and anxiety are all common symptoms and effects of the disease).

How is it different from a gluten sensitivity?

About 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity—6 times the number of Americans who have the disease. People with gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and experience similar non-gastrointestinal symptoms as those with the disease, like headaches, brain fog and joint pain.

Lots of people know gluten is found in bread, where else is it found?

While bread is the most obvious example there are many other foods you may not realize contain gluten: Canned soups, soy sauce, lunch meats, beer, ice cream and barbecue sauce. Gluten is also found in medications and body products and some other products you may inadvertently ingest because they’re used in or close to your mouth, such as some toothpastes and lipsticks.

Some say this is a trendy issue; can you explain why it’s become so topical?

The simple answer is we know more about celiac disease now than we ever have before. The symptoms are wide-ranging, so it’s often confused with other conditions. But now doctors and patients alike have better access to the facts about the disease, the diagnostic tests have become more specific and sensitive, and new medical research is giving us a better picture of the disease.

About Beyond Celiac

Beyond Celiac, a leading advocacy organization, unites with patients and partners to drive diagnosis, advance research and accelerate the discovery of new treatments and a cure for celiac disease. For more information, please visit www.beyondceliac.org. Beyond Celiac is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Learn More about Tom’s of Maine’s gluten free toothpastes:

Luminous White Clean Mint

Tom’s of Maine’s Gluten Free Luminous White Toothpaste

Kids Toothpaste

Tom’s of Maine’s Gluten Free Toddler Toothpaste

Why It’s Good

May is Celiac Awareness month and gluten is an increasingly popular topic for people working to live a healthy lifestyle. Many people are adopting gluten free diets either because they have a gluten sensitivity or have been diagnosed with celiac disease. We reached out to the experts at Beyond Celiac to learn how the disease works, surprising places gluten can be found and tips on managing our gluten-laden society.