Coeliac disease is a condition that affects about one per cent of the general population but about half of these people are unaware of it. This is because it causes a variable level of discomfort according to the dietary regime of those affected.
Essentially it is an immune disease that causes an inflammatory reaction to Gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat, barley and rye. When gluten is eaten the immune system reacts with variable levels of inflammation damaging the lining of the small intestine. The healthy surface shows small finger like projections, called villi, that are essential for absorbing nutrients. In Coeliac people they can be damaged, shortened or disappear altogether, causing a Syndrome called “Malabsorption”.
The typical symptoms of Coeliac disease are :
severe or occasional diarrhoea, excessive wind and/or constipation
persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting
recurrent stomach pain, cramping or bloating
sudden or unexpected weight loss (but not in all cases)
skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia (poor muscle coordination) and neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet)
When a coeliac condition is suspected it is essential, before performing thr routine tests, that gluten is not eliminated from the diet, in order not to have unreliable results.
A simple blood test will show an elevated number of Antibodies to Gluten and the presence of the genes involved. In case of children this is usually enough to confirm diagnosis and establish the appropriate dietary regime. In adults patients a more invasive endoscopy is performed, together with a gut biopsy, to confirm the diagnosis and to establish the level of damage to the lining of the small intestine.
Once the condition is confirmed a strictly gluten free diet, meticulous on avoiding any cross contamination, allows those people to live a healthy and happy life.
All types of rice, potato, corn (maize), plain meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, most yoghurts, fruits, vegetables and pulses (peas, beans and lentils) are naturally gluten-free and are suitable for the diet.
And there is now a considerable market for products that are produced with alternative components for what is naturally gluten rich.
In recent years a gluten free diets has become increasing popular and somehow fashionable among the general population but there is no scientifically proven advantage in imposing such a restricted dietary regime to people who are not affected by this alteration of the immune system.
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