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When Christine Lintz’s 4-year-old daughter, Gianna, attends birthday parties with friends, she always asks one question: “Does the cake have gluten?”

When Gianna was almost two years old, she began experiencing bad stomach aches and other gastrointestinal problems. Doctors were baffled — until she was diagnosed with a severe gluten allergy.

Gianna’s diagnosis came shortly after Lintz discovered that she herself had celiac disease, a condition that harms the small intestine as a reaction to eating gluten.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. For celiac sufferers, the damage gluten causes to the small intestine makes it hard for the body to absorb nutrients. The resulting malnutrition can lead to a wide variety of symptoms and conditions — including gastrointestinal issues, osteoporosis and growth problems in children, according to the North Bay Celiacs, a program that works to educate the community and offer support to those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease is one of the most common genetic conditions worldwide, yet 97 percent of Americans who have the disease are undiagnosed, according to the North Bay Celiacs.

Lintz, 40, received her diagnosis about two years ago after eating a cinnamon streusel and ending up at her doctor’s office with extreme stomach pain. The doctor, whose wife was a celiac sufferer, suspected Lintz had celiac or a severe gluten allergy.

Celiac disease is diagnosed by a blood test. Those who test positive often undergo a biopsy of their small intestine to confirm the diagnosis.

The treatment for celiac disease is having a strict, gluten-free diet, which helps heal the small intestine. Most foods are gluten-free in their natural state — including fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, according to the North Bay Celiacs.

Lintz said she had suffered symptoms for a long time before the cinnamon streusel incident. But in the past — when she experienced a sick stomach, headaches, numbness and tingling — she didn’t think of the “big picture” and assumed everyone suffered these symptoms from time to time.

“I had never heard of celiac before, and I didn’t know what gluten was,” she said.

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Lintz said the foods she misses most are pizza and baguettes. Fortunately, Lintz said she’s discovered a brand of gluten-free pizza at Whole Foods — called BOLD Organics — which has the zesty sauce and crispy crust she missed the most. The problem with other gluten-free pizzas she said is they’re flat and not very flavorful. She still hasn’t found a replacement for baguettes.

Lintz’s daughter, Gianna, does not have celiac disease but she will probably get the condition at some point in her life. To help delay the development of celiac, Lintz said Gianna has a “99 percent” gluten-free diet. Once or twice a week she’s allowed to have a couple Goldfish crackers, but she can’t have a full serving, Lintz said.

To help Gianna’s “cake problem” at birthday parties, Lintz said she’ll often bring her own gluten-free desserts. One of Gianna’s favorite activities is to go to Kara’s Cupcakes at the Oxbow to pick out her own gluten-free cupcake.

“She thinks it’s fun,” Lintz said.

Several other merchants at the Oxbow — including The Model Bakery and Ca’ Momi — also provide gluten-free options. The Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, which specializes in Venezuelan cuisine, is entirely gluten-free.


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