This review was written by my assistant Christina.
Dr. Alessio Fasano is a world-renowned expert on Celiac disease and other gluten-related health disorders. He is the founder of the Center for Celiac Research and his work has been responsible for increased understanding and awareness of Celiac disease in North America. His medical expertise in the field is fueled by his passion to help patients receive the best treatment available and make the best decisions for their families to reduce the risk of gluten-related diseases and improve the quality of life of those who already have them. His book Gluten Freedom discusses the latest in research, diagnosis, and treatment not only for Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity but for the many other health problems that have been associated with them, including autism and depression. It is an all-in-one guide to living with gluten-related disease for anyone who is at risk, who has recently been diagnosed, or whose family has been affected by gluten-related disease.
Gluten is the complex protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and their byproducts. Symptoms of gluten-related disorders can range from gastrointestinal distress and an allergic response to neurological issues and behavioral problems to just about anything in between. In laying out the history of gluten-related disease, the modern science, and the future of gluten-related disease research, Dr. Fasano answers pretty much every question one could have about gluten-related disease, busts myths, and provides patients and their families with the knowledge they need to successfully get diagnosed and live gluten-free. With information on food allergies, autism, schizophrenia, depression, and they many other disorders that have been associated with gluten, Gluten Freedom is an extremely well-rounded resource.
In the first few chapters, Dr. Fasano explains the difference between Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy and how to correctly diagnose these conditions, including “the five pillars” needed to diagnose Celiac disease (symptoms, genetic testing, antibody testing, biopsy, and feeling better on a gluten-free diet) and why diagnosing it can be so difficult: Celiac disease is “a clinical chameleon” that can present with a huge variety of symptoms and it can’t be found unless you go looking for it. This is the kind of information I wish I had had on my own quest to have my myriad health problems identified, in the ten years between when my symptoms began and when I was finally correctly diagnosed with Celiac disease. And in the many patient stories in Gluten Freedom, there are dozens of stories like mine and many far worse. It is infuriating to know there was and still is so much needless suffering out there, but empowering to know that we are not alone, we are not crazy, and now, with work like Dr. Fasano’s, we are not beyond hope.
Dr. Fasano emphasizes that not everyone needs to avoid gluten. But for those who have a diagnosed, suspected, or are at risk for one of the gluten-related diseases discussed in Gluten Freedom, eliminating it can make a world of difference. He provides practical information for making the transition. From stocking your kitchen and reading labels to avoiding gluten when you’re out and about and making your own food at home (although his recipes aren’t Paleo, they are great transitional tools for someone looking to just go gluten free), Gluten Freedom has you covered. He advises finding substitutes for the gluten-containing foods you’d miss the most to make the transition easier, contacting customer service if you are unclear if a food is gluten-free, clearing your kitchen of gluten and re-stocking your pantry with safe foods, and even shares tips for eating gluten-free at hotels or on a cruise. He also discusses staying gluten-free during pregnancy and breastfeeding, whether or not to introduce gluten into your child’s diet, and how to raise gluten-free children and navigate staying gluten-free at school (whether that means bringing a packed lunch or qualifying for the school to provide “reasonable accommodations” for gluten-free options in the lunch line). There are chapters on being gluten-free in college and gluten-free in your golden years (Did you know that Celiac disease was once thought to be a temporary condition in children that they outgrew in adulthood? Dr. Fasano shares tragic accounts of Celiacs diagnosed as children in the 1920s spending the rest of their adult lives eating gluten, and you can almost feel his indignation through the page).
There are also resources for preventing gluten-related disorders in at-risk individuals and for navigating the psychological and sociological implications of being diagnosed. Didn’t I say this was an all-in-one resource? I meant it! This book is a wonderful book for patients, family members, and practitioners alike. Like Sarah, Dr. Fasano has a knack for making even the most incomprehensible science accessible and engaging. His passion pervades the pages of Gluten Freedom, and you will feel his enthusiasm, compassion, and outrage in equal measure. Gluten Freedom is the engaging story of the past, present, and future of gluten-related disease, and for those of us suffering from these conditions, Dr. Fasano is the hero, championing our cause, celebrating the advances in the field, and empowering us to take control of our own health.