Thanks to an increase in demand for gluten-free products, coeliac disease has been in the media spotlight lately. However, there is still some misunderstanding about what it actually is and what living with this condition can mean for people.
What is Coeliac Disease?
It’s important to understand that coeliac disease is not an allergy or intolerance, rather an autoimmune condition that affects the small intestine. It is caused by the immune system’s reaction to gluten, which is why people suffering this condition have to follow a strict gluten free diet for life.
When someone is suffering from coeliac disease, their immune system will mistake certain substances found in gluten as a threat and start attacking it. This response inflames and damages the lining of the gut, which in turn affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Coeliac Disease Symptoms
The cause of coeliac disease is currently unknown, however experts suspect that people are more susceptible if they had an infection of the digestive system as a baby, or have other health issues such as Type 1 Diabetes or a thyroid condition. It is also believed that there could be a genetic predisposition to the disease, and so it’s recommended that people get tested if their parent, sibling, child, or parent is diagnosed with it.
Current figures show that three times more women are affected than men, and while symptoms can develop at any time, they are most likely to develop in children between 8 – 12 months old, or in adults between 40 – 60 years old. Because coeliac disease is a disease of the digestive system, symptoms include indigestion, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea or constipation. As nutrient absorption is also an issue, other symptoms can include fatigue, malnutrition, and weight loss.
If you suspect you have coeliac disease, it’s important to speak to your GP about it. This way you can be tested and diagnosed properly.
Gluten Containing Foods
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This means that any products made with these cereals are unsuitable for people suffering from coeliac disease. The most common foods that contain gluten include bread, pasta, cakes, breakfast cereal, sauces, beer, and ready meals.
Oats are naturally gluten free, however they do contain a similar protein called ‘avenin’. Many people with coeliac disease can eat avenin without issue, although a small percentage of people cannot. The main issue with oats, however, is that they are often at high risk of gluten contamination due to their manufacture and processing. For this reason it’s important to look for oats specifically labelled ‘gluten free’.
Because some people suffer more adverse effects from gluten than others, a lot of care should be taken when preparing meals. People have reported having a reaction from airborne flour particles contaminating otherwise gluten-free food, or hospitality workers using the same gloves for preparing bread products and then gluten-free food.