A gluten-free food fair, intended to help people afflicted with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, is being held May 9 in Tucson.

It includes the offer of 200 free screenings for people who may have the condition and ailment.

The event is Saturday, May 9, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 7801 E. Kenyon Drive, off 22nd Street and Broadway Boulevard. It is free and open to the public.

"The main thing we want to do is educate people," said Patricia Hirsch, a Northwest resident who has celiac disease.

Guests can discover "all the delicious new foods that are coming out" without wheat, rye, barley and oats. Vendors, medical advisers, gluten-free food products, representatives of the "cel-kids" group of young people with celiac disease, and a silent auction are part of the day.

Southern Arizona Celiac Support is offering free screening to 200 applicants who must pre-register through the Web site, www.southernarizonaceliacsupport.org.

"Malabsorption of nutrients caused by gluten in all forms of wheat, rye, barley and most oats is devastating to those with the disease," Hirsch said. Gluten disables the immune system in patients by damaging the small intestine. It is often hidden in processed foods.  Meat, fresh vegetables and fruits are naturally gluten free.

Celiac disease has many symptoms. "It's so hard to diagnose," Hirsch said. "That's the reason it takes usually 11 years for a proper diagnosis. It is so hard to unmask the actual illness … that diagnosis is really hard to pinpoint."

There is no cure. But a gluten-free diet allows the intestine to heal, and leads to a more normal life.

 "I have never felt better in the three years I've been on the diet," Hirsch said.

Hirsch may be reached at patriciahirsch1@aol.com.

'Smile with a Reptile' April 25 at Audubon site

People of all ages can learn about reptiles on Saturday, April 25, when the Tucson Audubon Society holds a free, hands-on session at its Northwest Tucson facility.

"Smile with a Reptile Day" runs from 9 a.m. to noon at the Mason Center, located at the southwest corner of Thornydale and Hardy roads.

"Reptiles are some of our closest and most helpful desert neighbors," a release said. "So don't run from them in fear. Spend a morning learning, touching and holding them."

This is the Tucson Audubon Society's first Smile with a Reptile Day.

For more information, visit tucsonaudubon.org/masoncenter, or call 520-971-6238, or 744-0004.

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