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Faculty of Arts undergrad is committed to helping people with celiac disease

Markin undergrad research program to showcase Karen Tang's research at mini-symposium April 7

Faculty of Arts and Markin Undergraduate Student Research studentship recipient Karen Tang combines her interests of psychology and self-compassion with her desire to help chronic disease populations. Photo by Stephanie Vahaaho

By Stephanie Vahaaho

Receiving a celiac disease diagnosis can bring on a flood of emotions. It can evoke a sense of relief from finally knowing what is happening in your body but it can also leave you feeling anxious and stressed because now you are faced with a significant lifestyle change.

The Canadian Celiac Association defines celiac disease as the chronic inflammation of the absorptive surface of the small intestine initiated by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The result is damage to the lining of the small intestine and the inability of the body to absorb proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. While there is no cure for celiac disease, it can be treated and controlled through strict adherence to a gluten-free diet.

Stratgegies such as self-compassion can help people with celiac disease manage their illness

Faculty of Arts undergraduate student and Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) participant Karen Tang has spent the fall and winter committed to helping individuals with celiac disease effectively manage their illness, to enhance their health and their quality of life. For many, a strict lifestyle change comes with its own set of problems and challenges. Research indicates that approximately less than 42 per cent of individuals with celiac disease adhere strictly to a gluten free diet.

Tang says, "The purpose of this research is to help individuals to effectively self-manage celiac disease and follow a strict gluten-free diet, by teaching people strategies such as self-compassion and self-regulation."

As an aspiring health and exercise psychologist, Tang has been heavily involved in the pilot POWER-C (Promotion of Optimal Well-Being, Education and Regulation for Celiac Disease) study, where she helped facilitate the focus groups. POWER-C is the first program specifically designed to teach individuals skills for coping with celiac disease: self-compassion and self-regulation to help them effectively manage their illness.

Through facilitating focus groups, Tang witnessed first-hand the impact and invaluable effects this study has had on individuals coping with the disease. Through her participation in the Markin USRP, Tang hopes she can continue to see how the project matures and thrives while exploring her own personal research interests.

Markin USRP provides undergrad the opportunity to conduct research in two disciplines

“I am thankful that the Markin USRP allows you to branch out of your faculty and interact with other individuals and faculty members that you may never have met, had you stayed in the confines of what you’re most familiar with. The Markin USRP allows you to conduct research in a different faculty from yours, and that, in itself, is a valuable experience. You discover things you are passionate for that you might not have known about, and learn various things that can be applicable to your own discipline’s research” says Tang.

“I absolutely love that the Markin USRP gives me the flexibility I need to conduct research in two disciplines that I am thoroughly interested in: psychology and kinesiology. I am not only learning things that I would not have if I stayed in my faculty, such as implementing an online intervention for chronic disease populations, but am also able to tie in my psychology interests such as self-compassion.”

The POWER-C study is a free, online, evidence-based program for people newly diagnosed and/or struggling with celiac disease. All North American adults diagnosed with celiac disease (blood test and/or biopsy) are eligible to participate.

Mini-symposium of student research slated for April 7

For more information please email Karen Tang at or join us on Friday, April 7 from 2-3:30 pm at the Rozsa Centre for the Markin Undergraduate Student Research Mini-Symposium, where Tang will present her research. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Tang’s work in the area of celiac disease and to ask any questions you may have about the POWER-C pilot study.