Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back to basics – The truth about Coeliac Disease

Did you know 1 in 100 people in Australia have Coeliac Disease? However only 1 in 5 of these are diagnosed! Could this be society’s lack of understanding of the disease? Quite possibly!

Gluten free is popping up everywhere. It seems to be the latest trend. But for somebody with Coeliac Disease, it’s an important day-to-day task to avoid the evil gluten lurking in our food. For those who don’t understand might think it’s just a passing fad, or that it will go away over time. Unfortunately it’s a life long disease and the only cure is to eat a gluten free diet.

What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, oats and malt. In simple terms, it is the substance that makes dough sticky and elastic when made from wheat flour.

What is Coeliac Disease?
People with Coeliac Disease are allergic to these proteins causing inflammation of the small intestines, resulting in poor absorption of nutrients.

The Symptoms
There are many symptoms associated with Coeliac Disease. It is impossible to limit these to a single list. Some people will have one or two symptoms, whereas others may have a lot more. For this reason, it is such an under-diagnosed disease. Some of these symptoms may include but are not limited to:

• Lack of iron (including Anaemia)
• Fatigue
• Gastrointestinal distress (gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, and vomiting)
• Weight loss or weight gain
• Headaches
• Vitamin or mineral deficiencies
• Joint/bone pain
• Depression and mood disorders
• Inability to concentrate
• Infertility
• Mouth ulcers or swelling of the tongue
• Respiratory problems

More severe problems may include:
• Attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADD/ADHD)
• Autism
• Schizophrenia and other mood disorders

Getting Tested
The initial test for Coeliac Disease is a simple blood test. Remember it is important to keep gluten in your diet before the test. Eliminating gluten before you go for your blood test may cause a false reading in your results. If the test results come back positive the next step will be an intestinal biopsy.

This is done through an endoscopy. A tube is inserted down your throat, through your stomach, and then to the small intestine, where samples of the lining are taken for examination. You are given a light sedation so you can sleep through the short procedure, and you won’t remember a thing! Trust me, I remember waking up and thinking will they just get on with this thing! I soon found out it was well over and done with.

A healthy persons small intestine will be lined with millions of hairlike structures, called ‘villi’. These are used to absorb all the nutrients and minerals and act as a defence for all the bad toxins, blocking and rejecting these from entering the body. People who have developed Coeliac Disease will have blunt ‘villi’ making the body unable to absorb nutrients and fight toxins. The biopsy will determine how blunt these ‘villi’ are.

Like the blood test, you should keep gluten in your diet beforehand for true results.

Remember Coeliac Disease is a genetic condition, so if you or one of your family members are tested positive, it is important for the entire family to get tested.

Managing Coeliac Disease
If you have been tested positive for Coeliac Disease you should eliminate gluten immediately from your diet! Avoid the obvious foods such as bread, pasta, pizza, cakes, biscuits and cereals. However be aware of hidden suspects of gluten! Gluten can be lurking in sauces, lollies, ice cream, chips, beer and many other processed foods. Make it a habit to read ingredient labels. If you’re not sure consult the “Ingredient List” booklet available from the Coeliac Society of Australia or download the app, available for iPhone and android phones.

There are many fresh food produce, which are naturally gluten free, such as fruit and vegetables, fresh meat, poultry and seafood, rice, legumes and dairy products. There are also many gluten free food varieties now available in supermarkets and health food stores. If you are newly diagnosed, count yourself lucky. Had it been 10-15 years ago this would be a different story. Gluten free was unheard of and there were not many products available at all!

The great thing about the human body is it will start healing from day 1! The villi will re-grow and you will start to feel better. Some people feel the difference in a matter of days, others in a matter of months. Sometimes people will say they didn’t realise how sick they were until they went gluten free – I know I didn’t!

If left untreated, severe symptoms could include cancer (especially intestinal lymphoma). But managed properly you can continue to live a happy and healthy life!

If you suspect you have symptoms now is the time to consult your GP for a proper diagnosis.

Reference: Living Gluten-Free for Dummies (Australian Edition) by Danna Korn and Margaret Clough

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