Celiac disease probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think about pageant contestants.

But the former Mrs. Alaska and current Mrs. Northwest International, Brandy Wendler, will be in Tucson Saturday to help raise awareness about the disorder.

Wendler, an acute-care nurse practitioner in Anchorage, was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition four years ago.

She will speak about her experience in a free talk titled "Living Heart Healthy with Celiac Disease."

The disease is triggered by foods such as wheat, barley and rye that contain gluten and can prevent the body from properly absorbing nutrients.

Celiac disease is often misdiagnosed and is underdiagnosed, said Patricia Hirsch, a member of the Southern Arizona Celiac Support Group, the organization sponsoring Wendler's talk.

"It has not been understood until we started cracking the human genetics mapping, but people have been suffering from celiac disease for 10,000 years because protein molecules in wheat, rye and barley are too large for the human blood cells to break down completely - even if you don't have the disease or the gene or the symptoms," Hirsch said.

There will be a reception with gluten-free snacks before Wendler's talk.

Anyone interested in learning more about celiac disease or gluten intolerance is invited, Hirsch said.

If you go

• What: Talk by Brandy Wendler about celiac disease.

• When: Saturday; sign-in is at 9:30 a.m. and the presentation starts at 10:15 a.m.

• Where: Pima Community College District Office, 4905 E. Broadway.

• Cost: Free.

• Info: Go online to southernarizonaceliacsupport.org for information about this or other Southern Arizona Celiac Support Group events.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4224.