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A Beginner’s Guide to Coeliac Disease

Coeliac Awareness Week 2020 runs from March 13th – 20th. The purpose of this week is to raise awareness of coeliac disease. To help spread the word, we’ve pulled together an introductory guide on the subject.

Be sure to check out our Gluten Free Baking Guide for loads of resources and tips to bake without gluten.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition where the body reacts abnormally to gluten, causing small bowel damage. Villi are tiny finger-like projections that line the bowel; they are flattened and become inflamed when gluten is consumed. This condition is a type of atrophy which reduces the available surface of the bowel to absorb the food’s nutrients.

Gluten is responsible for this damage to the body and can be found in a wide range of food and beverages. Wheat, barley, rye, and oats all contain gluten at varying levels. At first glance, this may not seem like a lot of food types; however, food manufacturers use these ingredients in a surprising number of products.

It is estimated that one in every seventy Australians has Coeliac Disease. Interestingly, of that number, around 80% have not been diagnosed. In Australia, Coeliac Awareness Week plays a major role in increasing awareness and helping people understand the symptoms.

Do you suspect you may have coeliac disease? Getting a definitive diagnosis from a qualified medical practitioner is imperative. The good news is, screening for this disease is relatively simple.

Step 1: Maintain a regular diet

Before any medical testing can be carried out, you’ll need to stick to a regular gluten diet for six weeks. You probably won’t feel great over this period, but it is necessary. Testing may produce false negatives if you’re already on a gluten-free diet.

Step 2: Get blood tests

A quick blood test, referred to as serology testing, is the next step in the process of diagnosis. The test looks for elevated levels of specific antibody proteins. Higher levels indicate that there could be an immune reaction to gluten.

Step 3: Endoscopy

If the blood test results come back positive then your doctor will usually request an endoscopy. A long tube with a small camera is fed down the throat and through to the small intestine. This allows the specialist to take a close look at the lining of the intestine. At the same time, several biopsies can be taken, which involves taking some small tissue samples; any damage to the villi will be evident from analysing these tissue samples.

The thought of an endoscopy may seem overwhelming for some, but it is actually a simple procedure which usually takes under 10 minutes.

We pulled together some statistics…

* The average age for getting diagnosed with coeliac disease is 40 years of age.

* If a family member has CD, there’s a 1 in 10 chance of other family members also developing it.

* Once starting a gluten free diet, it takes 3-6 months for the small intestine to recover, in children.

* Once starting a gluten free diet, it takes 2-3 years for the small intestine to recover, in adults.

Life for a coeliac is a different world in 2020 compared to 10 years ago. There is a staggering range of products on supermarket shelves that are suitable for those on a gluten-free diet. Virtually every category of food has an ever-increasing number of options; however, there is still plenty of room for new products to be developed.

According to data published by Statista the gluten-free market is estimated to grow to almost USD$7 billion by 2025.

So, what are the common symptoms associated with coeliac disease? There is a wide range, but here are some of the more common ones:

+Abdominal pain

+Weight loss

+Fatigue

+Nausea

+Joint pain

+Fertility problems

+Constipation

+Diarrhoea

+Stomach pain

+Growth problems

+Skin rashes

+Anaemia

There is a range of other symptoms so check out Coeliac Australia’s symptoms for more information.

Did you know that 12.1% of Australians have removed gluten and or wheat from their diet? This number grows each year which means there is an ever-growing base of resources in this area. If you need to eat gluten-free then you won’t be alone. There are loads of gluten free recipes that have been developed without gluten, as well as groups on social media to discuss anything related to the topic.

There’s a 15% chance that if you have coeliac disease, you’ll have another autoimmune disease. The later the age of diagnosis, the higher the possibility of developing other autoimmune disorders. Some of the common disorders associated with CD include arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and thyroid disease. For more information check out this page.

Your initial foray into eating gluten free may seem overwhelming. There are a surprising number of products that contain it. Soup, processed meat, dressings, sauces, and even beer may contain gluten.

In Australia, gluten is classified as an allergen and must be declared on the product’s nutritional label. Always check this label in-store. Even if a product is gluten-free, the food may have been made in a facility that contains allergens.

Summing up

If you, or your child, are experiencing symptoms of coeliac disease then the best thing you can do is visit your doctor to get a checkup. A simple 3-step process will provide you with solid answers.

For those that have recently been diagnosed, eating out and at-home cooking may seem daunting at first. We suggest asking lots of questions and joining online groups to absorb as much information as possible. Another great option is to attend exhibitions – these are invaluable for finding new gluten free food suppliers and for staying up to date with all the latest information on coeliac disease.

Hungry to learn more?
Check out our gluten free baking guide here.