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Gluten-Free Set This Boy Free

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- At 3 years of age, Pablo Douros was a sick little boy.

He had quit growing. He also had frequent severe constipation, so much so that he suffered a rectal prolapse from straining, said his mother, Andrea Levario of Alexandria, Va.

Because of the prolapse, a condition in which the lower end of the colon protrudes from the body, doctors worried that the boy, who is now 13, had cystic fibrosis.

Pablo's father thought differently. He had been scouring the Internet for information on his son's condition and came across a page on celiac disease.

"Say there were 20 symptoms on the page," Levario said of her now ex-husband. "He himself had 17, and the page said it was genetic." So at Pablo's next appointment, Levario insisted over her doctor's objections that her son be tested for celiac disease. The test came back positive, and a biopsy of the boy's small bowel confirmed the diagnosis.

The family now knew what it needed to do. "The only course of treatment for celiac disease is going on a gluten-free diet," Levario said. And because both father and son seemed to have the disease, the whole family went gluten-free. "It was easier for us to convert the whole house, and the house remains that way to this day," she said.

That doesn't mean, though, that going gluten-free was easy. Pablo was diagnosed in the days before gluten-free foods became widely available. "General Mills didn't have gluten-free Chex," Levario said. "There was no gluten-free Bisquick in stores. We mail-ordered for many of our products."

Levario noticed an immediate change in her son once the family went gluten-free. Pablo had been foggy-minded and irritable much of the time and had trouble concentrating. That all went away when his diet changed, she said, enough so that even people outside the family noticed.

"His teacher commented, 'Has something happened, because all of a sudden he's a lot more focused in class?'" Levario recalled.

Pablo's physical health also improved. He put on 14 pounds and grew 7 inches in the first year, after almost no growth for a year and a half. "All of a sudden he caught up with himself," his mother said. "It was absolutely amazing to see that transformation."

Food has become easier to buy with the advent of the gluten-free craze, but in some ways it has made things a bit more difficult, Levario said.

For one thing, people tend to roll their eyes at restaurants and grocery stores when Levario or Pablo asks for gluten-free food, assuming that they are chasing the latest food trend. "They don't understand there are 3 million people for whom this is their only course of medical treatment," she said.

Also, there still are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines regarding the packaging of foods that claim to be gluten-free. Levario said that many companies jumping on the bandwagon are either knowingly or innocently selling products as gluten-free that either contain gluten or have been cross-contaminated with gluten during processing.

"They're not testing the products," she said. "They're probably not well-versed in cross-contamination."

As for Pablo: He's now taller than his mom, who describes him as a healthy and active teenager. "He's adapted, and he's done very well with it," his mother said. "He doesn't consider himself a 'sufferer.' There's not a meal you can't reproduce gluten-free."

SOURCE: Andrea Levario, Alexandria, Va.

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