May 16th, 2022

// 400,000 Canadians Could Have Celiac Disease Without Knowing It

400,000 Canadians Could Have Celiac Disease Without Knowing It

May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month in Canada – May 16th is International Celiac Awareness Day

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario, May 16, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- On Celiac Disease Awareness Day, the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) says as many as 400,000 Canadians could be living with the auto-immune condition, undiagnosed.

“I’ve got this brain fog …”

“Why am I so tired all the time?”

“My whole body aches – but my doctor can’t say why. I’m so frustrated!”

These are the kinds of situations being endured by possibly thousands of Canadians. The question that should be asked more often: “Could it be celiac?”

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune condition where your body sees gluten as an invader, causing your immune system to fight back to destroy the gluten protein found in foods containing wheat, barley or rye. Over time, this immune reaction damages the lining of the small intestine, preventing nutrients from being properly absorbed into your body. This can lead to a wide variety of complications and symptoms, and even serious long-term illness.

“We call celiac the ‘chameleon disease,’ because it can manifest itself in so many different ways, causing symptoms which might seem completely unconnected to the digestive system,” said Melissa Secord, National Executive Director of the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA).

Because of its wide range of symptoms, people with celiac disease might not even consider it as the cause of their ailments, and it’s often not top-of-mind for physicians trying to diagnose the problem. It’s estimated that 85 per cent of Canadians who have celiac disease have not been diagnosed – representing more than 400,0001 people – even though a simple blood test could identify it.

“Too many people are suffering and frustrated, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Secord says. “More people need to ask their doctor, ‘Could it be celiac?’”


Canadian speed skater Christine Nesbitt is an eight-time World Champion the winner of two Olympic medals. As a high-performance athlete, she spent her career under the watchful eyes of coaches, doctors and nutrition specialists. Yet she endured pain and discomfort caused by celiac disease for five years before anyone spotted it.

“As an elite athlete, I was always physically and mentally pushing myself. I experienced a lot of digestive, nutritional and skin issues, but they were always thought to be from the fatigue and rigour of training, and the stress of racing,” Nesbitt said.

“I thought, ‘my iron is low because I train so much and I need to eat more iron-rich foods,’ or ‘I'm fatigued and maybe I'm not eating well enough’ or ‘I pushed myself too hard in some of my training sessions.’ Being tested for celiac disease wasn’t on anyone's radar for years and years.”

For Sonia Pereira, a Vancouver writer and content creator, celiac disease impacted her neurologically. She had episodes of not being able to speak properly or being unable to read her computer screen. It also affected her balance and coordination. Sonia saw a multitude of specialists, trying to identify what was wrong.

“I was mis-diagnosed as having had a stroke. It almost went from ‘you’ve had a stroke’ to ‘we have no idea’ and ‘maybe it’s something like migraines,’” she says.

It took more than four years and 30 doctors to finally diagnose Pereira with celiac disease. “Even the doctor that figured out my disease, that wasn’t his number one, it was number three on his list of three things … that’s why, for anyone who’s on the ‘what’s wrong with me spectrum,’ get them to run the (blood) test.”

Pereira says within two weeks of removing gluten from her diet, she was “back to being myself.”

If you think you might possibly have celiac disease, visit the CCA website at and use the online diagnostic tool. The information it provides can help facilitate a more informed discussion with your doctor. The blood test to screen for celiac disease is covered under all public health insurance plans in all provinces except for Ontario where it is temporarily covered under a pilot program until March 31, 2023.

While there is no cure for celiac disease, it can be effectively managed by eliminating gluten from the diet. The Canadian Celiac Association has partnered with Promise Gluten Free to help promote options for people with celiac disease.

“Going gluten-free isn’t the end of the world anymore,” says Mohamed Safieddine, Commercial Director, Canada for Promise Gluten Free. “There are great tasting, fibre-rich breads, tortillas, pitas and more out there to help you eat well and stay healthy.” Promise Gluten Free is the official sponsor for Celiac Awareness Month.

On Monday, May 16th iconic buildings all over the world will be lit up in green to raise awareness for International Celiac Disease Awareness Day. Canadian sites that will be bathed in green light are:

City Hall – Dieppe, NB (all of May)
City Hall – Charlottetown, PEI
Ottawa Sign (ByWard Market), Shaw Centre – Ottawa (May 16-20)
Toronto Sign, CN Tower – Toronto 
Niagara Falls (10 p.m. May 16)
Cambridge Sign – Cambridge, ON
Winnipeg Sign (Forks), Manitoba Legislature - Winnipeg
High Level Bridge, Hotel McDonald, Epcor Tower – Edmonton
Sherwood Park Community Centre & Festival Place – Sherwood Park, AB
Calgary Tower – Calgary
BC Place, Science World, Burrard Bridge, City Hall - Vancouver

About the Canadian Celiac Association
The Canadian Celiac Association’s vision is to see every Canadian with celiac disease is diagnosed and empowered. Since 1973, the CCA has been increasing awareness of the disease, investing in research and providing programs to support people with gluten disorders with help from local chapters across Canada in most major cities.

About Promise Gluten Free
Promise Gluten Free offers an irresistible range of gluten free breads, crafted using a unique bread-making technique that delivers excellent taste and quality. From Soft White Loaf to its tantalising Brioche Loaf Promise Gluten Free offers the finest, delicious, nutrient-rich, baked goods that everyone will love.

All produced from the Promise Gluten Free family-run, dedicated gluten free bakery which has over 50 years of craft baking expertise and are available in Canada Nationwide via our online shop, Real Canadian Superstore; Avril; IGA; Saskatoon CO OP; Farm Boy; Food Basics; Thrifty Foods; Sobeys Urban; Safeway; Freshco; Foodland and some Metro’s and Wholefoods.
To find out more details please check out our website

  1. It is conservatively estimated that 1% of the population has celiac disease, or 386,815 Canadians. Of them, only 15% (58,002 people) are diagnosed, leaving 328,793 Canadians who likely have celiac disease but are not yet diagnosed.

Bob Reid
Canadian Celiac Association

Photos accompanying this announcement are available at:


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