Being a college student can be hard: balancing your school work, job, extracurriculars, and other responsibilities can get difficult. Being a student with a chronic illness can make all those hurdles even higher – having to monitor your health, take medications, and having to watch what you can add to your already full *plate* of things you have to take care of. Celiac Disease is a chronic illness that affects five to ten percent of college students across the United States, according to Dr. Alessio Fasanowho is the director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment in Boston.
Celiac Disease is a multi-system disorder that causes the body’s immune system to respond to the protein in certain grains. The immune system builds antibodies against these proteins and attacks the intestinal lining, mucosa, causing inflammation and damage to the villi, as defined in “Celiac Disease: A Guide to Living with Gluten Intolerance,” a book by Sylvia Llewelyn Bower, RN, Mary Kay Sharrett, MS, RD, LD, CNSD, and Steve Plogsted, PharmD. Even a single crumb containing gluten can cause a gastrointestinal reaction and could cause extreme discomfort and pain, along with other symptoms, and lead students suffering from this disease to miss classes, meetings, and social events.
When you have CDs, you have to avoid many different foods and grains, including wheat, couscous, udon, orzo, oats, and many other food products. These ingredients are super hard to avoid, especially on a college campus. No Chick-fil-a nuggets, no Subway sandwiches, and no bagels from Einstein in the morning. You also need to be aware of your drinks, as if you get certain syrups and drizzles in your Starbucks drink, you can become “glutened” – the colloquial term people with CD use when they ingest a gluten product that affects their intestines and immune- response.
There are plenty of ways to be gluten-free at college, as CD is recognized under the Americans with Disability Act and colleges are required to reasonably make accommodations for students with disabilities. This can include having specific gluten-free kitchens and dining halls at universities like Vanderbilt, Kent, Cornell, and many more, having pre-ordered meals, or having an accessible kitchen for the student to cook at. Speaking to university personnel and kitchen staff is the only way to guarantee a gluten-free environment, especially in communal areas.
According to Fasano in 2016, five to 10% of college students in the United States have Celiac Disease or another gluten-related allergy, and according to the National Center for Educational Statisticsthere were around 19.4 million students in the United States in 2020. If we use the statistics from 2016 and apply them to the 2020 numbers, around 970,000 – 1,940,000 students have some form of gluten allergy, and it is important to understand this allergy that is being discovered as being more and more common so college and university students can have a great time in school without having to worry about what they’re eating.
Angelo State University, San Angelo, Celiac Disease, Column, Opinion