Sniffing out gluten

By: Ryan Wright

The biggest question most people tend to ask is “what should I eat,” but what people with celiac disease might ask is “what can I eat?” This is a question Raechel Medak might ask herself, otherwise there can be serious health related issues if gluten is consumed. That’s where man’s best friend comes in, there are service dogs that can help detect gluten in foods that their owner might not be aware of. Raechel Medak doesn’t have a service dog of her own but trains dogs to help those with the same disease.

Medak is a graduate student from Northern Arizona University. During her time at NAU, she started a company called K9 Caretaker to train dogs to help others with disabilities. One of the disabilities these dogs get trained on is detecting gluten in foods. This way, people with celiac disease won’t eat hidden gluten in their meal that can make them sick. Medak, who has celiac, knows first-hand how sneaky gluten can unknowingly end up on one’s plate.

“It just becomes a problem when I go out and I order a salad with no croutons on it. [Then] they put croutons on it and take them off. I know they aren’t really on there but the crumbs are on their which is really dangerous for me because I get an allergic reaction,” said Medak.

This is where a service dog that is trained to detect gluten comes into play. According to a post on the Celiac Disease Foundation website, trained dogs can help people by letting them know what they can’t eat. Studies have shown that “Willow,” a more well-known service dog can “detect gluten with 95 to 98 percent accuracy but [trainers] continue to work with her.”

“There are dogs that literally detect the gluten in anything [like] in a box of cereal [or] food that gets brought to you from restaurants,” said Medak.

The importance of training these dogs is to make sure the person diagnosed with celiac disease is eating the right things. “The only treatment for celiac disease is following a strict gluten-free diet. Even ingesting trace amounts through cross contamination can lead to an attack”, according to a report on the Celiac Disease Foundation website.
Raechel Medak is doing her part to make celiac patients’ lives easier by training these service dogs to detect gluten in food.

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