Coeliac Info

Gluten Free & Coeliac Disease Information

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in certain cereals and grains which acts as a glue, giving structure and texture. Gluten also gives elasticity to dough and helps baked products to rise and keep their shape and is found in wheat, barley and rye as well as a number of food products including: breads, pastas, wraps, sauces and even some sweets.

What is Coeliac Disease?

Coeliac Disease (also spelt Celiac Disease) is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, affecting around one per cent of the UK's population. When gluten is consumed by a person with coeliac disease, their immune system attacks itself, mistaking gluten as a threat to the body. This attack causes damages to the small intestine, specifically, the villi (tiny finger-like tubes which absorb nutrients from food). In a small intestine of a person without coeliac disease, the villi stand straight and trap food between them. Coeliac disease causes these villi to be flattened and incapable of trapping food.

It is important to note that coeliac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance. When gluten is consumed by a coeliac it can harm their body, causing long-term damage. However, with a gluten intolerance, there is no long-term damage. There is no cure for coeliac disease; coeliacs are instructed to not eat gluten to prevent discomfort and damage to their intestine. Gluten can only affect a coeliac when it is ingested; touching gluten-containing foods will not harm a coeliac.

The exact cause of coeliac disease is unknown, although it is thought that viral infections and stress can trigger it. It is also important to note that coeliac disease can be inherited and those with coeliac relatives are more likely to be coeliac themselves.

If you have not been told to stop eating gluten for medical reasons, it is best not to follow a gluten free diet as studies have shown that the effects of curbing wheat from your diet can be adverse. If you suspect you have a problem digesting wheat, please contact your doctor for a full diagnosis.

Coeliac Disease Symptoms

Since coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder, it can have numerous symptoms. However, here are the most common that occur after ingesting gluten:
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting and/or nausea
  • Unexplained gastrointestinal problems
  • Regular stomach pain or cramps
  • Iron deficiency
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Malnutrition
  • Hair loss
  • Skin rashes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Weakened tooth enamel
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Joint pain
  • Bone pain
  • Nerve problems such as Ataxia and Neuropathy

Am I at risk for Coeliac Disease?

You are at an increased risk of developing coeliac disease if:
  • A family member has coeliac disease
  • You have Type 1 Diabetes
  • You have Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • You have another autoimmune disorder
  • You suffer from anaemia
  • You have a neurological disorder
  • You have a chromosomal disorder
Women are up to three times more likely to contract coeliac disease than men. Although the disease can manifest at any time, the most common age groups are between the ages of 8 and 12 and 40 and 60.

Getting Tested for Coeliac Disease

In the UK, coeliac disease is most commonly tested for by a blood test followed by an endoscopy. For the test to be accurate you will be required to eat gluten products prior to the tests. If you fail to eat gluten the test is likely to come back negative even if you do have coeliac disease. Contact your GP if you suspect you might have coeliac disease. They will arrange the appropriate tests, if necessary.

Gluten Labelling on Packaged Foods and in Restaurants, Cafes and Delis

As of 13 December 2014, foods containing gluten must be clearly marked on packaged food and food sold loose. Patrons of restaurants, cafes and delis et cetera must be told either in writing or verbally about foods that contain gluten. On packaging, foods that contain gluten (and other allergens) will clearly state that they do. The ruling does not require manufacturers or restaurants, cafes and delis to disclose if the product may contain gluten due to cross contamination, however many manufacturers do list this information. When eating out (at buffets especially) you may be susceptible to cross contamination, so do take care.

Shopping for Gluten Free Foods

When you shop, it is important that you always read the labels. There are obvious gluten-containing foods such as bread and pasta made from wheat, rye or barley flour and sauces thickened with wheat flour. However, gluten can be present in other foods that you may not suspect such as some brands of frozen chips, soups and soy sauce. Most supermarkets now have a free-from aisle with a number of products clearly labelled as being free from wheat and or gluten. Some sauces, like ketchup and some barbecue sauces are already naturally gluten free. The most important thing to remember is to learn to read the labels and to not feel restricted to the free-from aisles of the shop. There are plenty of naturally gluten-free processed and packaged foods available. Just remember to watch out for those "may contain" messages!

Eating Oats with Coeliac Disease

You will find oats that are labelled gluten free and oats which are not. Oats are naturally gluten free, but stray wheat, rye or barley can be introduced during harvesting and transportation and as a result, oats are often sold with a "may contain" warning message. However, it has been discovered that some coeliacs may also suffer from avenin, a protein found in oats. If avenin causes you discomfort, you should discuss it with your GP and stop eating oats altogether--avenin is present in oats whether they are labelled gluten free or not.

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