Coeliac Disease, also called ‘gluten-sensitive enteropathy’ or ‘coeliac sprue’ is a serious and surprisingly common condition that occurs when gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye reacts with the small intestine causing the immune system to attack, inflame and eventually destroy the delicate lining of the bowel thereby reducing the ability of the gut to absorb necessary nutrients from food. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 100 people suffer the condition and if left untreated, as well as causing great discomfort, can cause anaemia, bone disease and even some forms of cancer. People with insulin dependent diabetes, thyroid problems and ulcerative colitis have an increased chance of developing coeliac disease and in 2004 a study carried out by Bristol University reported that as many as 1 in 100 children may have Coeliac disease. Symptoms can include irritability, tiredness, depression, anaemia, diarrhea, bloating, bone pain, mouth ulcers or itchy skin rash (dermitiis herpetiformis) particularly around the elbows, buttocks or knees and hair loss.
The good news is that the disease can be diagnosed with a simple blood test from you GP and then controlled by avoiding eating gluten – even a tiny trace of wheat or gluten can cause serious illness. A true gluten free diet reduces all complications and can lead to a complete recovery of the damaged small intestine. Suitable foods for a gluten free diet are rice, corn (maize), tapioca, buckwheat, potato, quinoa, arrowroot, soya, millet, amaranth and rapeseed oil (canola). Once diagnosed it is essential that your doctor refers you to a State Registered Dietician to discuss your dietary needs, especially as the undiagnosed ceoliac has a poor absorption of nutrients causing a deficit in important vitamins and minerals.