If you've been hearing a lot about gluten-intolerance and celiac disease (which, by the way, are not the same thing), but aren't sure what they are, here's a list of symptoms that can help you figure it out. Remember, a simple blood test from your doctor can tell you if your child has celiac disease. If you opt to go that route, don't change their diet before the test, as it can affect the results.

What Is Celiac Disease? Celiac disease is an auto-immune disease, which means your body starts attacking itself and its organs. For example, many undiagnosed cases have led to people getting their gall bladders and spleens removed because the doctor thought those organs were malfunctioning, when in reality, they were being attacked. The good news is, it is the only auto-immune disease with a cure. The only known cure? A drastic dietary change.

The simple breakdown of celiac disease works like this:

Picture a private party at the Villi residence, and they hire their close friend and partner, Zonulin to be the bouncer. Gluten pays off the bouncer so all his toxic friends can come inside. Before you know it, the cops are called and it's just a bad situation all around.

The villi (finger-like things that increase the surface area of the small intestine and aid in food absorption), line your small intestines and allow the good food to get through to your bloodstream, while keeping out the bad (toxins).

When gluten is introduced to the process in a person with celiac disease, the zonulin, which controls what the villi lets in or out, basically leave the door open so everything can come inside and be absorbed. Pretty soon, the toxins that are allowed past the zonulin get through the villi and enter the bloodstream.

Then the body goes into defense mode, because it smells a rat (the toxin). Problem is, instead of just attacking the bad stuff, the body starts attacking good things like muscle tissue, pretty, pink organs, and everything else. This is why bones and organs are affected in those suffering from celiac disease. The immune system of the body is working double-time, but against itself. This is why it's so important to cut out all gluten in celiacs.

Symptoms for Gluten-Intolerance in Children** Gluten-intolerant kids can develop a number of symptoms, including gastrointenstinal problems such as:

  • Abdominal pain and distension
  • Acid Reflux
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas and flatulence
  • Greasy, foul smelling, floating stools
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss or weight gain

Other, non-gastrointestinal symptoms include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • ADD/ADHD or autistic-behaviors
  • Failure to thrive (in infants and toddlers)
  • Short stature or delayed growth
  • Delayed onset of puberty
  • Weak bones bone pain
  • Nosebleeds

Things to be aware of if your child is gluten intolerant:

  • Even the smallest, and I mean smallest, amount of gluten in something can affect their bodies. Even if they don't show symptoms, their intestines take the gluten in, as microscopic as it may be, and release it into the bloodstream, where the body attacks it as a toxin.
     
  • No french fries in restaurants. If anything breaded has been fried in the same oil, it will contaminate the fries.
     
  • Always provide caregivers with snacks and strict instructions to keep food away from your child unless it's his own. Explain it's an allergy.

This is truly a brave new world, and if you find yourself thrown into it, as I did, just know that there are people who have blazed the trail so to make your transition less frightening and better tasting. You can read my series on how to live gluten-free on a budget if you're concerned about what this all will mean for their college savings.

Most households find that it's best for the entire family to go gluten-free since contamination is such a problem. Remember to focus on the positive, the things you can have versus the things you have to skip. Think about the crème brulee and the flourless chocolate cake instead of the chocolate croissant. In the long run, if your kids have a gluten allergy, you'll be glad you made the change.

**Living Gluten-Free for Dummies, by Danna Korn, (founder of R.O.C.K., Raising our Celiac Kids). 2006 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana.