The draining condition “silent celiac disease” goes undiagnosed in up to 80 percent of women, according to Mayo Clinic research. It occurs when the immune system launches a response to gluten that damages villi, structures in the intestines that are crucial for absorption of energizing nutrients. And while experts once thought GI distress was a hallmark of the disease, British findings reveal that up to 45 percent of sufferers don’t experience GI symptoms.
“Rather than bloat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, it often produces symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and joint pain,” says Akil Palinasamy, MD. “And since these signs are often attributed to stress and other conditions, women can suffer for years before receiving a diagnosis.”
Complicating matters: Italian findings reveal that women are 250 percent more likely than men to suffer from celiac disease, including its silent form. Doctors can ID silent celiac disease with blood tests. Home screening tests (like the one at imaware.health) are helpful too, says Dr. Palinasamy, since you can take the results to your doctor to prompt further investigation.
If you think you might have celiac disease, you might want to try giving up gluten for a period of time; avoiding it entirely can ease symptoms in two weeks. Here’s how: Avoid food and drinks with wheat (including durum, spelt, semolina, faro, and kamut) and rye and barley. Instead, opt for gluten-free options like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, arrowroot, and buckwheat. To avoid stealth sources of gluten, download the free Gluten Free Scanner app, and for gluten-free recipes, surf to BeyondCeliac.org.
Another way to help ease symptoms of celiac disease? Cook with coconut oil. “It’s rich in lauric acid, which helps rebalance gut bacteria and speed gut healing,” says Dr. Palinasamy. He advises enjoying one to two tablespoons daily.
Here’s to feeling better, however we get there!
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.