What is Coeliac Disease? What Foods to Avoid

Coeliac disease is an immune disorder that makes the body react badly to the protein gluten, a substance that binds wheat, barley, and rye products together. About 1 in 100 have some form of the condition in the UK and USA. It seems to be rarer in some parts of the world. It is incurable and a lifelong condition, it can reduce life expectancy and increase the risk of a variety of diseases.

Do I Have Coeliac Disease?

If you have some or all of the following symptoms, there is a chance that you have coeliac disease.

  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Anaemia
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth ulcers

The above symptoms are also symptoms of some other serious diseases, including bowel cancer, so if you have had any of the above symptoms for more than two weeks, you should attend the doctors immediately.

The severity of symptoms can vary from mild to severe, leading many people to think they just have occasional stomach upsets, not coeliac disease. Even if the symptoms are mild, you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis
Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is the version of coeliac disease that manifests itself in the skin. A rash commonly forms on the elbows, shoulders, knees, facial area, and buttocks. It can be raised patches of skin with blisters. This is much rarer than the digestive version of coeliac disease, affecting 1 in 3,300 people on average. Talk to your doctor if you have any of the symptoms.

Diagnosing Coeliac Disease
Less than a quarter of people who have coeliac disease have been diagnosed. This is a potentially very dangerous situation and it reduces the life quality of these individuals substantially. A diagnosis is difficult because there are a lot of other conditions it might be that have to be ruled out. Tests for bowel cancer and ulcers are better than they used to be, but still need stool (faecal matter) samples and usually scans and colonoscopies.

Your doctor will help you a lot. There are a lot of different things that could be causing your problems, they will help you narrow them down and put you on to the right course for improved gut health. They will look at your diet, family history, lifestyle, and medical history to establish the likelihood of certain conditions and help you get the best treatment in the fastest way possible.

Do not be Afraid
The fear of examination puts many people off talking about their digestive health. Colonoscopies are usually painless, do not last for more than 10 minutes, and are vital to getting a good idea of your digestive health. They can rule out ulcers or cancer, or detect them if that is the reason for your digestive problems.

An examination could save your life. At the very least, it will help you feel a lot better when you can get the proper treatment for coeliac disease. The doctor has seen it all before and only wants to help. Please get tested if you have the symptoms.

Avoid Gluten
There is no other way to have a healthy gut than to avoid gluten if you are coeliac. By continuing to eat gluten when you have the disease, you are causing permanent damage to the gut lining, increasing your base level of inflammation, which can lead to many serious diseases, and making yourself very uncomfortable. Even a small amount of gluten can make you feel very ill. Thankfully, you do not need gluten to survive.

Foods with Gluten
Coeliac disease is a reaction to gluten, so foods that contain gluten are clearly the foods to avoid. Packaging in the USA and Europe will inform you whether it contains gluten or not. It will be highlighted on the ingredients list and as a separate warning on the package. Check the contents of the foods you are eating, you might be surprised what has gluten in. Bread, cakes, pasta, cereals, pies, cakes, battered foods, some sauces and gravies all contain gluten and need to be avoided.

Food Additives
Even if a food does not look like it has gluten in it, there might be additives like malt flavouring or modified food starch that is full of gluten. Even small amounts can set your gut off, so they are worth avoiding.

Some medications contain gluten but it should say on the medicine bottle. Contact the prescriber or manufacturer if you are unsure.

Postage Stamps
Gluten is a part of the glue in postage stamps and licking one could set off your gut, so try to damp them some other way.

In food processing areas, crumbs containing gluten can easily get into gluten-free foods, so be sure to keep food preparation areas separate.

Lipstick can contain gluten, check the labelling.

Safe Foods
Packaging should say when it is gluten-free, or if it does not have a “contains gluten” warning, it should be safe to eat. This includes most dairy products, fruit, vegetables, meats and fish, tubers like potatoes, rice products, and specially made gluten-free products.

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