What is Coeliac Disease?

By / 17th February, 2014 / Information / Off

Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, and other similar proteins found in rye, barley and oats. These proteins damage the small protrusions called villi, line the small intestine and play an important role in food digestion. If damaged the villi are unable to absorb food properly, which can in turn cause diarrhoea and malnutrition.

One of the most common symptoms is diarrhoea. In children growth can be affected and they struggle to gain weight. In adulthood you may encounter weight loss, and you can also become tired and lethargic due to anaemia caused in turn by iron deficiency. You can also encounter stomach pains, sickness and mouth ulcers. Dermatitis herpetiformis in the form of a rash on extremities such as elbows and knees may form.

In the United Kingdom it is thought that one in a hundred people have Coeliac Disease. More people are being diagnosed with Coeliac Disease as a awareness grows and the condition can run in families. It is more prevalent in individuals that have type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes,osteoporosis, autoimmune thyroid disease, epilepsy and ulcerative colitis. Rather unusually people from the west cost of Ireland are more affected than any where else in Europe.

How do I find out if I’m Gluten Intolerant?

A simple blood test will assist in determining whether you have Coeliac Disease, which can be followed by a biopsy taken from the intestine. Doctors and Dieticians can identify which foods/ingredients should be avoided. The Coeliac UK charity website is an excellent source for information and help with coeliac disease, and living with a gluten free diet.

Is there a cure for Coeliac Disease?

There’s no cure for coeliac disease, but it can be controlled by following a gluten-free diet for life. This allows the damaged villi to recover and nutrients can then be absorbed normally again and symptoms disappear. Essentially, the risk of developing bowel cancer is understood to be no more than that of someone who doesn’t have coeliac disease, provided they adhere to a gluten-free diet.
It’s essential to consult a dietician to understand which foods are gluten-free (fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, fish, cheese, eggs, and milk) and which contain wheat, barley and rye, and should be avoided or replaced with products such as rice or corn flour.

Regular tests are recommended to check for osteoporosis, so that appropriate treatment can be given if necessary. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and regular weight-bearing exercise are essential to help prevent osteoporosis from developing.

Useful Links for Coeliacs and other food intolerances

Allergy UK
The Leading medical Charity for people with allergy and chemical sensitivity.

The Coeliac Society
Coeliac Disease Information. Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, etc..

CORE – the Digestive Disorders Foundation
Food intolerance information, support and other resources for the UK. The information has been checked by doctors to ensure it is correct and appropriate for UK patients.

Foods Matter
The UK’s leading magazine for anyone with a food allergy, food intolerance, food sensitivity, or subject to a restricted diet.

The Vegetarian Society diet factsheet
Diet information sheet for people with food allergies.

National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease
The National Association for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease (NACC) brings together people of all ages who have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, their families and the health professionals involved in their care.

Other Links

Ashburton Cookery School in Devon
Voted best cookery school for skills in the BBC Good Food Magazine (Jan 2006 issue). Now running gluten free cookery courses.

Cookery Circle
Information on how to set up and run your own cookery club.