6 Celiac Disease Myths You Shouldn't Believe

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Don't believe everything you read or hear about celiac disease. While awareness of the condition has grown quite a lot in recent years — both among doctors and among the general public — there's still plenty of misinformation out there.

Some of these myths appear below, along with some detail on the actual facts. Follow the links for more information on each subject.

Myth #1: You can outgrow celiac disease.

Fact: You can't "outgrow" celiac disease — even though doctors once thought you could. If you're an adult who "had celiac disease as a child," you still have it now, even if the obvious symptoms have gone away. If your child is diagnosed with celiac disease, she'll need to follow the gluten-free diet for life. That's why it's important to get an accurate diagnosis in the first place — celiac disease is something you'll live with forever.

Myth #2: People with celiac disease are "allergic" to wheat.

Fact: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, not an allergy. Yes, celiac is triggered by wheat (along with barley and rye), and it's possible to be allergic to wheat, too. But the reaction in your body from celiac is completely different than an allergy. That being said, lots of people refer to celiac as an allergy, in part to make it easier for others (especially servers in restaurants) to understand — most everyone gets what it means to be allergic to something, while not everyone understands what it means to have an autoimmune disease.

Myth #3: People with celiac disease are always thin.

Fact: Although doctors once thought that people with celiac disease were always very thin, now they're realizing that lots of people with celiac disease actually are overweight. One study showed that nearly 40% of celiacs were overweight when they were diagnosed.

So it's possible to be underweight, overweight or even at the perfect weight and still have celiac disease.

Myth #4: It's okay to have a 'cheat day' once in a while.

Fact: No, it's not okay. In fact, it's a very bad idea to cheat on the gluten-free diet, even if you only do it occasionally. You risk some major health complications if you cheat — for one, you raise your risk of some forms of cancer. There's also a pretty good chance that you'll feel awful afterward. So don't listen to anyone — including a few well-intentioned but ill-informed doctors — who tell you a little cheating on the diet is fine. It's not. 

Myth #5: You'll feel better as soon as you stop eating gluten.

Fact: The amount of time it takes to feel better after going gluten-free is different for everyone. Some people much feel better right away, but others need weeks or months to start feeling more like themselves again. You may find that some symptoms — like your digestive symptoms — are much better within a few days of starting the diet, but that other issues — like fatigue — just take longer to clear up.

Don't worry, this is normal.

Myth #6: If you have celiac disease, all you need to worry about is avoiding gluten.

Fact: Even once you're following the gluten-free diet, you'll still need to make sure you're getting enough of certain vitamins (here are nine nutrients you'll need to boost gluten-free). You'll also risk coming up short on fiber, since so many people depend on wheat for their fiber intake (read here about how to get enough fiber when you can't eat gluten). So merely eating gluten-free doesn't exempt you from watching everything else about your diet — you should still strive to eat healthy.

(Edited by Jane Anderson)

Sources:

Green PHR et al. Medical Progress: Celiac Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2007;357:1731-1743.

Dickey W, Kearney N. Overweight in celiac disease: prevalence, clinical characteristics, and effect of a gluten-free diet. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2006;101:2356-9.

Green PHR, Stavropoulos SN, Panagi SG; et al. Characteristics of adult celiac disease in the USA: results of a national survey. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2001;96:126-131.

Grzegorz Telega, MD; Tess Rivera Bennet, MD; Steven Werlin, MD Emerging new clinical patterns in the presentation of celiac disease. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2008;162:164-168.

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