This month at Total Exercise Physiology we are raising awareness for Coeliac Disease. An estimated 80% of people with coeliac disease don't know they have it, yet early diagnosis reduces the risk of long-term health complications.
What is Coeliac disease?
It is an auto-immune disease where your body reacts negatively to gluten – a protein found in many grains. This reaction results in damage to the lining of the small intestine which can then affect your ability to absorb nutrients. Left undiagnosed Coeliac disease can have serious health consequences such as anaemia, osteoporosis, infertility, heart disease, and intestinal cancer.
According to Coeliac Australia, Coeliac disease can develop at any age and affects approximately 1 in 70 Australians. The risk of developing the disease is increased by certain genetic factors particularly if a first-degree relative has coeliac disease.
Testing As Coeliac disease is a serious medical condition it is important to obtain a definitive diagnosis from a medical professional. Feeling better when you remove wheat or gluten from your diet does not necessarily mean you have coeliac disease. Testing usually involves a blood test requested by your GP followed by a small bowel biopsy completed under general anaesthetic or light sedation to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for Coeliac disease involves a lifelong gluten-free diet. Removing gluten from the diet enables the gut to heal and symptoms to improve. Common sources of gluten include:
Wheat (including spelt)
It is important to note that even a few crumbs of gluten-containing food are enough to cause damage to the intestine if ingested by someone with coeliac disease. For this reason, it is suggested to have separate food preparation areas and utensils such as chopping boards and toasters. What if it’s not coeliac disease?
So, your biopsy is negative but you still find gluten-containing products don’t agree with you? Research indicates it may not be gluten that is the problem and instead, it could be the malabsorption of fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs) found in many gluten-containing products that affect people with irritable bowel syndrome.
For individual advice on the management of Coeliac Disease and IBS, get in touch with an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). More information can also be found at Coeliac Australia.