May 13, 2008

Recent studies suggest as many as 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats. Yet many go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years.

“Celiac disease is very prevalent in Lexington, as it is all over the world - 1 in about 133 people, but probably even worse than that,” said Jan Falwell, founder and president of Gluten Free Lexington. “If you include being gluten intolerant … it's probably 1 in about 50 people.”

When someone with celiac disease consumes foods containing gluten, such as most breads, pastas, pastries, etc., their immune system responds by damaging the fingerlike villi of the small intestine. When the villi become damaged, the body is unable to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, which can lead to malnourishment.

As a part of Celiac Awareness Month, the Fayette County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is collaborating with UK HealthCare and Gluten Free Lexington, a chapter of the Celiac Disease Foundation, to offer an evening of education and awareness, including a gluten-free meal and desserts from a gluten-free bakery in Cincinnati.

The gluten-free life does not have to be void of all familiar fare. Falwell will demonstrate how easy it is to make gluten-free breads using one basic recipe.

“It can be modified to make buns for sandwiches/burgers, tortilla wraps, pizza crusts, flatbread (great in omelets, etc.), dumplings, and even crackers and chips,” she said. “The demonstration will include whipping up samples of the tortilla wraps and buns, and it can be done from start to finish in less than one hour.”

Participants will also have an opportunity to sample treats such as brownies, blondies and cheesecakes from Moondance Heavenly Desserts in Cincinnati. Falwell said these products will soon be available at Whole Foods stores in Louisville and Lexington.

After participants have satisfied their food cravings, the focus will turn to UK Gastroenterologist Dr. Razven Arsenescu. Arsenescu specializes in celiac disease and he will share the most recent research from a gastroenterology conference he is attending in San Diego. He will give updates including recent results of trial treatments for gluten ingestion. Dr. Arsenescu will also field questions on any aspect of celiac disease and the damage that gluten can do to all parts of the body, Falwell said.

The May 29 meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Fayette County Cooperative Extension office at 1140 Red Mile Place in Lexington.

UK Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent Diana Doggett said the collaboration seemed like a natural fit.

“With so many people potentially suffering from celiac disease and gluten intolerance in Fayette County, we recognized that this event was an opportunity to participate in community education, and Celiac Awareness Month was a good time to do it,” she said. “Extension is here to meet the needs of the people, and this is an important concern. We hope we can continue this partnership in the future.”

Falwell said increasing awareness of gluten-related disorders is what Gluten Free Lexington is all about.

“Celiac disease is one of the most underdiagnosed diseases in the world, partly because symptoms are not always gastrointestinal in nature,” she said. “If you know someone who has unexplained symptoms of fatigue, depression or irritability, abdominal pain, gas/bloating, weight loss, diarrhea or constipation, heartburn, nausea/vomiting, headaches, seizures, muscle, joint or bone pain, confusion or memory loss, skin rash, osteoporosis, or any of the other symptoms that can result from celiac disease, encourage them to join us or visit our Web site at

Falwell emphasized the event is designed for those with celiac disease/dermatitis herpetiformis, gluten intolerance, or anyone else interested in a gluten-free diet. Those interested in attending should RSVP by contacting Falwell at 502-863-9870 or via e-mail to

In addition, as a fundraiser for Gluten Free Lexington, Falwell will prepare a full meal for a minimum $10 donation per plate. She said it will include healthy portions of meat, vegetables, a baked potato, salad, bread, dessert and iced tea or water. Falwell will place food in take-out containers, for easy transport if someone wants to order more than one meal. For directions to the Fayette County Cooperative Extension office, contact Doggett at 859-257-5585.

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