If you or a loved one is affected by celiac disease, you probably know that May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. If not, you might have had no idea — like myself until I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2001. Back then it was a bit overwhelming. It suddenly seemed like I was alone in a world where no one knew about this illness. However, I was far from alone.
According to Beyond Celiac, 1% of the American population has celiac disease. With around 10 million residents in Michigan, that makes for an estimated 100,000 people with celiac disease in our little mitten alone. Fortunately for those of us in that group, our state happens to be heavily involved with attempts to understand and manage the disease.
Here are five ways that Michigan organizations and businesses are making a difference during Celiac Disease Awareness Month and all year long.
1. Sparrow Takes Action to Improve Celiac Diagnosis Rates
Right now you might be scratching your head, wondering “What IS celiac disease?” Put simply, it’s a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the lining of the intestinal wall.
The first step to diagnosis is a panel of blood tests. This can only be done accurately if someone is eating gluten, which is a protein in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten is what triggers the autoimmune reaction, and the blood tests are searching for the antibodies created during this reaction. This is why it is imperative for someone to get tested for celiac disease first instead of simply choosing to go on a gluten-free diet.
Sparrow Health System, a Lansing-area hospital, is taking proactive steps toward diagnosing celiac disease. Some doctors may not know what tests to order or could be hesitant to run the labs, so in 2015 Sparrow started to offer FREE celiac disease screening yearly at the Lansing Gluten Free Fair.
In their first year, they tested over 300 people in the span of four hours! As results are not immediate, they followed-up with those tested to guide them to their next steps. If antibody levels come back as being suspicious for celiac disease, patients will need to follow up with a gastroenterologist for an endoscopy. As Beyond Celiac reports, 83% of those with celiac disease go undiagnosed. This free screening may greatly improve the rate of diagnosis for generations to come.
2. Neogen Gives those with Celiac Disease Peace of Mind when Purchasing Products
Once someone is diagnosed with celiac disease, they must adhere to a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet. As there is no medicine or pill that someone with celiac disease can take, diet is the only “prescription”. There is no room for sneaking a doughnut from Sandy’s or a beer from One Dock Brewery. And it’s not just the obvious sources of gluten that individuals with celiac disease need to heed. We also need to be careful about how gluten-free foods are made. If products are not made in a dedicated gluten-free facility, product manufacturing lines could be dusted with gluten-containing grains. This is an issue as as even 1/64th of a teaspoon of wheat flour could make someone with celiac disease very sick.
One Michigan based business is helping to bring piece of mind to those that need to eat gluten-free. Neogen Corporation started as a small business focused on food and animal safety in Lansing in 1982. They have since grown into an international company, with branches in over 100 countries. Their mission is to “protect the world food supply from farm gate to dinner plate,” and they’re an important supporter of the celiac disease community.
Neogen’s food-allergy testing kit can detect gluten on manufacturing lines as well as in finished products. This helps to make sure food is truly gluten-free. Neogen Corporation is one of only a few companies whose testing supplies are trusted by celiac disease awareness organizations including Gluten Intolerance Group and the Celiac Support Association.
3. Michigan Support Groups Provide Care Beyond the Medical Office
People diagnosed with celiac disease can have many questions. Doctors are always a good place to start, but they don’t live with the daily emotional and social implications that come with this diagnosis. This is where support groups play a vital role.
Michigan has a great list of interconnected support groups across the state. These groups help those who are newly diagnosed and promote celiac disease awareness in their own communities. They also sponsor large events, such as the Celiac Disease Kids Camp at the YMCA Camp Manitou-Lin. It can be especially hard for children with celiac disease to follow the strict diet. However, this camp allows them to come from across the country for a week of fun and friendship, without having to worry about what they are eating. Camp Manitou-Lin allows volunteers from celiac disease support groups to prepare all meals in their own dedicated space, preventing the possibility of cross-contact of allergens. This camp is a huge blessing to have in Michigan, as it is only one of two dozen across the entire country.
4. Michigan’s Food and Restaurant Industry Accommodates Celiac Disease Needs
There are so many businesses across the Michigan that have great products for those who need to eat gluten-free. For example, Marshall and Elliott Rader started The Gluten Free Bar in 2010 after dealing with their own experience living with a celiac disease diagnosis. This Grand Rapids business makes sustainable, certified gluten-free and non-GMO protein snacks. Their products are sold throughout the country and even in Europe. Marshall and Elliott promote celiac disease awareness through their Gluten-Free Blog by highlighting gluten-free products and Celiac Disease topics. Products like theirs make eating gluten-free on-the-go so much easier.
Michigan also has many restaurants across the state that take preparing gluten-free meals very seriously. Some of them utilize decals and pictures — like those made by Kemnitz Family Kitchen — to highlight that a dish is gluten-free. Some even go as far as not allowing anything with gluten into their establishment. There are awesome bakeries that do this as well, including at least 20 great bakeries that make everything from bread to cookies to wedding cakes in dedicated gluten-free facilities.
5. University of Michigan Fosters Celiac Disease Awareness through Nationwide Partnership
Last year, University of Michigan was selected as one of only ten schools nationwide by the Food Allergy Research and Education organization to participate in a new initiative. FARE’s new program wanted to develop guidelines for safe food-allergy practices in college dining halls, and U-M will work with the other schools to develop these guidelines for dining commons across the country. Some changes U-M made include better signage at food stations and a dedicated gluten-free pantry. They also updated their My Nutrition website so students can filter menu options by their allergens.
There are organizations and individuals helping to spread information during Celiac Disease Awareness month. As with any disease, when we educate ourselves and work together, we can have a huge impact.
Want to learn more about this disease while having some fun? Take this short 15 question quiz and share your results on social media!