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When Your Child Can't Digest Bread

Some kids can't digest wheat, barley, rye, and other grains  -- born with a genetic condition called celiac sprue, they're unable to break down the gluten protein in such grains. Now, research reveals that much of what was once widely believed about this condition is wrong:

It's rare. Far from it: As many as 1 in 100 has it. That's about 30 times more common than has been previously thought.

Babies outgrow it. Not true, though many doctors are only just recognizing this as a myth. Often, it first appears when babies start on cereals. Classic symptoms  -- cramping, gas, and diarrhea  -- may subside, but if the disease goes untreated, it can be very harmful.

It only causes an allergic reaction. Because a child with celiac sprue can't absorb nutrients properly, her growth may suffer, puberty can be delayed, and neurological problems can surface. (If undiagnosed until adulthood, it can lead to anemia, even infertility.)

It's incurable. True, but it's quite treatable. A gluten-free diet makes symptoms disappear, usually within a few weeks, and often allows the body to repair itself.

It's hard to eat that way. Yes, it's tough to skip regular pasta, pizza, and bread, but gluten-free alternatives are available in health-food stores and supermarkets and on the Internet  -- and rice is fine.

If your child is smaller than average or is losing weight even though she's eating normally, talk to your pediatrician about testing her for celiac sprue. New diagnostic tools make pinpointing it easier than ever. If the test is positive, you should be checked too  -- celiac sprue runs in the family and can be silent for decades.