by Bradford Pearson | Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Like most 9-year-olds, Abe Kuhn loves cake. But unlike most 9-year-olds, Kuhn can’t eat most cakes because they contain gluten.
Gluten is a mixture of proteins that allows dough to rise and gives it its chewiness. But it can also wreak havoc on the intestinal system of someone allergic to it.
When he was 3, Kuhn was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that can only be treated by eliminating gluten from his diet. The only way he can enjoy cake without getting sick is when it is gluten-free.
‘‘Gluten-free cake is my favorite food,” Kuhn said. ‘‘When my friends try it they actually say it’s pretty good, too.”
Kuhn, along with more than 300 other celiac disease sufferers and their friends and family, came together on Friday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bethesda for the Gluten-Free Cooking Spree, a gluten-free cooking competition. The event was hosted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), and its main goal, according to NFCA Director of Outreach and Programming Vanessa Maltin, was education.
‘‘We want to make sure that the doctors and chefs involved in the event are educating the community, and themselves, about celiac,” Maltin said.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the intestines, causing diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. The disease is genetic, and is spurred by an allergy to gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
Friday night’s event teamed chefs with health professionals and media representatives in an attempt to create gluten-free meals and raise awareness among three professions regarding the dangers of celiac disease.
Jack Stubbs, who is the executive chef at the Hyatt Regency, said that celiac disease is an issue that needs attention.
‘‘The disease has been around for long time, but a lot of chefs didn’t know what it was,” Stubbs said. ‘‘We all look at it seriously now.”
According to the NFCA, celiac disease affects one in 133 Americans, yet nearly 97 percent of all cases are undiagnosed. Often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac can cause irreparable damage to the body’s digestive tract, as well as damage throughout the rest of the body.
Alice Bast, executive director and founder of NFCA, experienced reproductive problems due to celiac.
‘‘I had a full-term stillbirth, three miscarriages, and my one child was born at three pounds,” Bast said.
Celiac can be especially taxing on children, as the disease can slow, or even eliminate, the absorption of nutrients.
Dr. Dana Kornfeld, a pediatrician who works at the Pediatric Care Center in Bethesda, was Kuhn’s doctor at the time of his diagnosis.
‘‘Abe came in for a check-up, but he hadn’t grown in the year since his last check-up,” Kornfeld said. ‘‘He had a protuberant abdomen, and he was pale and anemic. His mother has said that she never wants to see the look on my face at that moment again.”
Adam Kuhn, who attended Friday’s event with his wife Harriet and their two sons, Abe and Jacob, said that while the cost of food goes up when your child has celiac, it is outweighed by many other factors.
‘‘The first six months after Abe was diagnosed we spent a lot of money getting new foods in the house,” Adam Kuhn said. ‘‘But when you think about the money that people used to spend on medications for diseases they were misdiagnosed as having, and the health benefits of a gluten-free lifestyle, it balances itself out.”
While Maltin charged the audience to ‘‘tell five people about celiac tomorrow,” the disease’s most famous spokesperson has already begun to do that. CNN ‘‘Newsroom” anchor Heidi Collins, who has celiac disease, has taken advantage of her on-air status.
‘‘I take the opportunity to mention gluten and celiac every chance I get on-air,” Collins said. ‘‘Even if we are talking about trans fats, I say something about gluten. They haven’t fired me yet.”