Freedom in every bite, solidarity in every step for celiac awareness!

13 June 202410 min reading

“Celiac disease currently has no developed medication. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet. To turn this disease into a lifestyle, it’s crucial to offer gluten-free meals in all areas of life—universities, dormitories, groceries, markets, restaurants, schools, workplaces—in short, in every area we interact with society, to ensure that individuals with celiac disease can stay healthy and maintain their diets.”

Celiac disease is an immune system disorder that causes damage to the intestines when gluten is consumed. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Products containing gluten are quite common in Turkish cuisine and are found in many traditional dishes. For example, bread, bulgur, pasta, pastries, and various desserts all contain gluten.

When people with celiac disease are exposed to gluten, inflammation and damage occur in their intestines, leading to digestive problems and impaired nutrient absorption. There is currently no medication to treat celiac disease. The only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet.

The symptoms of celiac disease vary from person to person, making diagnosis difficult. While some people show symptoms with growth retardation, others have anemia, or recurrent diarrhea or constipation.

Undiagnosed celiac disease causes numerous complaints and individuals who are unaware they have celiac disease often visit multiple doctors and hospitals for their symptoms. If not diagnosed, the disease can progress to intestinal cancer. However, when celiac disease is diagnosed and a gluten-free lifestyle begins, almost all negative symptoms disappear. As awareness of celiac disease increases among healthcare workers, teachers, parents, and the general public, early recognition and diagnosis of the disease will improve. Diagnosing celiac disease not only improves individuals’ health but also helps reduce the demand on healthcare services and the burden on the state.

Globally and in Turkey, the prevalence of celiac disease is estimated to be around 1%. There has been an increase in the diagnosis of celiac disease in recent years. It is estimated that there are approximately 1 million people with celiac disease in Turkey.

Unfortunately, despite making up a significant portion of the population, celiac patients are not widely recognized in society, and the importance of gluten-free diets is often overlooked in many areas.

Nutrition is a basic human need, and access to nutrition is one of the most fundamental rights. Nutrition is not a luxury but a necessity. Today, people with celiac disease face significant difficulties in accessing gluten-free foods. From school canteens and cafeterias to restaurants and cafes, universities, dormitories, workplaces’ cafeterias, and markets, ensuring gluten-free food is crucial for people with celiac disease and other conditions requiring a gluten-free diet to maintain their health.

My journey with celiac disease began with my daughter. After her diagnosis, I noticed two critical issues. Firstly, gluten-free food and products were scarce and not widely available. Despite living in a major metropolis like Istanbul, we struggled to find gluten-free food. We were afraid of going hungry whenever we stepped out of our home, and we couldn’t even attend hospital appointments without preparation. In a vast city, I could only find two or three gluten-free bakeries and cafes after extensive research. While we faced such challenges in a city like Istanbul, I couldn’t even imagine how difficult it must be for those living in other parts of Turkey, especially in small rural areas, to live with celiac disease and find gluten-free products.

Secondly, these gluten-free products were significantly more expensive than those for people without celiac disease, making it particularly challenging for families with limited purchasing power to live with celiac disease.

This journey with my child led me to create a foundation aimed at raising awareness about celiac disease and promoting gluten-free diets in Turkey. In April 2023, the Celiac Foundation (Çölyak Vakfı) was established. Based on the deficiencies we experienced and the experiences we gained, our foundation conducts work across Turkey for individuals with celiac disease and other conditions requiring a gluten-free diet. The primary goal of our foundation is to spread gluten-free diets and raise awareness of celiac disease in Turkey. Additionally, our foundation aims to provide scholarships, financial and in-kind assistance, housing, nutrition, and other needs for individuals with celiac disease.

Since our foundation’s establishment, we have fought in various areas to find solutions to the challenges faced by people with celiac disease. Even within a year, we have carried out valuable work, including important meetings addressing the issues of individuals with celiac disease. The efforts we have made are starting to make a difference for those with celiac disease.

Our foundation is working with various ministries, the Higher Education Council (YÖK), and municipalities to promote gluten-free diets.

As a result of our meetings with the Higher Education Council, YÖK sent an official letter to all universities to serve gluten-free meals in their cafeterias and offer gluten-free snacks in their canteens. Following this letter, many universities began to serve gluten-free meals. We announce universities offering gluten-free menu services through our foundation’s accounts. We eagerly await the completion of the process of serving gluten-free meals at all universities. We extend our gratitude to the Higher Education Council’s valuable administrators for their efforts following our requests.