Coeliac disease is common and affects one in 100 people. Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction of the immune system to gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (some people also react to oats). When someone with coeliac disease eats gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and can include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness, mouth ulcers, sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases), hair loss and anaemia. Once diagnosed, the only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet.
If you have symptoms of coeliac disease, you should first discuss your concerns with your GP. Do not remove gluten from your diet at this stage. Your GP will take a simple blood test to check for antibodies which can indicate the presence of coeliac disease. However, it’s possible to have a negative test and yet still have coeliac disease. Your GP will then refer you, if the blood test is positive or there is clinical suspicion of coeliac disease, to a gut specialist – a gastroenterologist – for a gut biospsy.
For further information, visit the Coeliac UK website.
Many foods are naturally gluten-free, including:
- fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses
- meat, poultry, fish
- eggs, soya, milk, cheese, natural yoghurt, cream
- rice, corn (maize), tapioca, polenta, buckwheat, sago, arrowroot, cornflour, gram flour, potato flour, soya flour, teff, quinoa
- butter, margarine and cooking oils.
Gluten can be present in food knowingly as an ingredient or accidentally by coming into contact with gluten-containing ingredients, such as wheat flour or breadcrumbs, used in the same premises. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. The main sources of gluten are foods such as wheat flour, bread and rolls, pizza, pastry, pasta, crackers, biscuits and cakes.
Other foods and drinks that also contain gluten are beer, lager and stout, soy sauce, sausages, some breakfast cereals, ready meals, ready made gravies and sauces.