Coeliac is a common digestive disorder that affects 1 in 100 people. It is most common in people aged between 40 and 50 but it can affect people of all ages. Coeliac disease is characterised by a negative reaction to gluten, a protein which is commonly found in foods that contain rye, wheat and barley, such as bread and pasta.
Causes of coeliac disease
The exact cause of coeliac disease is unknown. The condition is result of a reaction in the body which is triggered by gluten; when a person that suffers from celiac disease eats something containing gluten, their immune system mistakes it for a harmful substance and starts to produce antibodies to fight it off. When the antibodies are produced and start to breakdown and combat the gluten, they may also cause the lining of the gut to become inflamed; this causes the villi (the tiny tubes which are located along the lining of the gut and help to improve digestion by increasing the surface area of the gut) to become damaged. When the villi have been damaged, the body is unable to absorb the necessary nutrients from food.
The reason why some people suffer a negative reaction to gluten is unknown, but there are several factors which may contribute to this condition; these include:
- Family history: having a relative with coeliac disease increases your chances of developing the condition from 1 in 100 to 1 in 10.
- Other health conditions: people that suffer from conditions including hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid) and type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop coeliac disease. Other conditions linked to coeliac disease include osteoporosis and ulcerative colitis.
- Stress: extreme stress has been linked to coeliac disease but research to determine the cause of this has proven to be inconclusive.
Symptoms of coeliac disease
The symptoms of coeliac disease differ between individuals and some people may never display sny symptoms of the condition. Symptoms may also vary according to age; some of the most common symptoms are listed below:
- Bloated stomach
- Pale coloured faeces
- Growth and developmental problems
- Nasty smelling faeces
- Nasty smelling faeces (which may be oily and paler than usual)
- Slowed growth
- Loss of weight
- Formation of ulcers
- Irregular heartbeat
Do I need to see a doctor?
The symptoms of coeliac disease can be both painful and inconvenient so it is important to see your doctor if you feel you may be suffering from coeliac disease. Many of the symptoms of coeliac disease are similar to those associated with a number of other digestive disorders so it may be difficult to diagnose the condition initially. If your doctor suspects that you have the condition, you will usually be sent for a blood test and a gut biopsy; if the condition is diagnosed, you may have further tests to determine how coeliac disease has affected you (for example, you may be tested for anaemia).
Treating coeliac disease
There is currently no cure for coeliac disease, as the exact cause of the condition has not been identified; however, avoiding foods that contain gluten usually prevents symptoms. Foods that contain gluten include:
- Foods containing pastry
- Some sauces and gravies
Many of the staple foods that make up a normal, healthy diet are naturally free from gluten so it is not always essential to make dramatic changes to your diet; examples of these foods include cheese, rice, meat, fruits, fish, milk, yoghurts and vegetables. It is important to avoid gluten free foods that have been prepared alongside foods that contain gluten as they can become contaminated.
Nowadays, most supermarkets contain a large range of gluten free products including gluten free bread, pasta, biscuits and pizzas. You should always check labels carefully but most suppliers have designated areas for gluten free products and clear labelling techniques.
Once you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, you will be given a list of foods to avoid and put in contact with a nutritionist; if you have any worries or concerns, don’t hesitate to consult your GP. Initially, you may be advised to take some supplements to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients and minerals it needs.