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Celebrate Health with Celiac Awareness

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Alice is the founder and president of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA). NFCA’s mission is to raise awareness of celiac disease and gluten intolerance and improve the quality of life for those living with these conditions.May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. How aware of celiac disease are you? Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that can cause serious problems if even the smallest amount of gluten – a protein found in wheat, rye and barley - is digested. Millions of people struggle with the symptoms of celiac disease before being properly diagnosed. In fact, one in 100 Americans has celiac disease, and 95% of those are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) is the product of my own personal experience with celiac disease. Before I was diagnosed, I suffered a host of health problems: my teeth were cracking, my hair was falling out, I had multiple miscarriages and stillbirths and yet I had been told by 22 physicians that I “looked fine.” Some actually suggested that I consult a psychiatrist. At last, the 23rd doctor diagnosed a “rare” autoimmune disease called celiac sprue. I learned that there are no pharmaceutical cures for celiac disease, and a 100% gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment.What a sense of relief knowing what was happening to my body. Then came the panic of wondering how I was going to deal with it!  What foods can I eat? Am I going to spend the majority of my time in the kitchen trying to prepare them? Where do I turn for food that is safe? That’s when I discovered that Whole Foods Market has an extensive selection of delicious, nutritious, easy-to-prepare, gluten-free products. What’s more, they make it easy to locate these products with gluten-free product lists and in-aisle labeling!With education and awareness of celiac disease and gluten intolerance on the rise, the number of great-tasting, gluten-free products available to consumers also has increased.  In fact, the gluten-free marketplace is expected to reach $2.6 billion by 2012, thanks to new vendors manufacturing better tasting and more affordable products.

In 2006, roughly three years after I founded NFCA, I was approached by Anheuser-Busch to talk with them about gluten-free food production as they were working on the development of Redbridge, the first nationally available gluten-free beer.I was even invited to fly out to St. Louis and play beermaster for a day — it was fantastic!  The Anheuser-Busch team was dedicated to producing a fine-tasting, high quality gluten-free product that would appeal to all Americans, especially those embracing the gluten-free lifestyle.When Anheuser-Busch turned to producing a gluten-free product, I knew that the gluten-free market had reached a tipping point and general recognition of the need for these kind of products would expand rapidly. And, it worked. Redbridge is available across the U.S. (including in Whole Foods Market stores that carry beer!) and you’ll be able to find it in most major sports stadiums as you go to the ball game this summer.I encourage you to visit our website, www.CeliacCentral.org for information about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet. We aim to bring even more awareness, faster diagnoses and greater understanding to celiac disease, as well as offer solutions to those who are newly diagnosed, so that they may restore their health and regain their lives through a gluten-free lifestyle!

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