What is Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac disease (pronounced ‘see-lee-ak’; spelled celiac in North America) is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages from middle infancy onward.
For Coeliacs eating foods containing gluten can trigger a range of symptoms, such as:
- Diarrhoea – which may be particularly unpleasant smelling
- Bloating and flatulence (passing wind)
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss or failure to gain weight in young children
- Feeling tired all the time – as a result of malnutrition (not getting enough nutrients from food)
- Persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting
- Anaemia (tiredness, breathlessness and an irregular heartbeat, caused by a lack of iron in the blood)
- Tingling and numbness in your hands and feet
- Alopecia (loss of hair) usually only affects adults
- Muscle spasms
Do many people have Coeliac Disease?
According to the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK the condition affects approximately 1 in every 100 people in the UK. In the United States the condition is thought to affect between 1 in 1,750 and 1 in 105 people. There is general agreement however that because of a lack of awareness and a lack of screening for the disease that these figures are on the low side and that in reality a higher proportion of the population suffer with Coeliac Disease but have as yet been undiagnosed.
What causes Coeliac Disease?
Coeliac disease is what is known as an autoimmune condition. This is where the immune system – the body’s defence against infection – mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Coeliac disease isn’t an allergy or an intolerance to gluten. In cases of coeliac disease, the immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. This damages the surface of the small bowel (intestines), disrupting the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Exactly what causes the immune system to act in this way is still not entirely clear, although a combination of a person’s genetic make-up and the environment appear to play a part. To find out more about the causes of Coeliac Disease visit: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Coeliac-disease/Pages/Causes.aspx
What is Gluten?
Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain/cereal species, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. Gluten is found in any food that contains the above grains, including:
- Cakes, pastries, tarts
- Breakfast cereals
- Most types of bread
- Many types of sauces
- Most types of ready meals
- Most beers are made from barley
Treating coeliac disease
There is no cure for coeliac disease. Currently, the only effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. No medication exists that will prevent damage or prevent the body from attacking the gut when gluten is present. However, switching to a gluten-free diet should help control symptoms and prevent long term consequences of the disease.
Even if symptoms are mild or non-existent it is still recommended to change your diet, as continuing to eat gluten can lead to serious complications. See more here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Coeliac-disease/Pages/Complications.aspx
It is important to make sure your gluten-free diet is healthy and balanced. An increase in the range of available gluten-free foods in recent years has made it possible to eat both a healthy and varied gluten-free diet.
Here at Gluten Free Worldwide we hope we have gone a little way towards helping you maintain a healthy and balanced gluten-free diet at home with our recipes and cooking videos and while abroad with our worldwide listings of gluten-free restaurants, bakeries and shops.
Read more about the treatment of coeliac disease here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Coeliac-disease/Pages/Treatment.aspx
For the full Wikipedia entry for Coeliac Disease visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coeliac_disease
For the full Wikipedia entry for Gluten-free Diet visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten-free_diet