For those living with coeliac disease, being gluten-free is more than just a nod to the latest health food fad. Steering clear of foods that contain gluten isn’t just a lifestyle option; it’s the only medical treatment for coeliac disease, and the only way to avoid a wide range of debilitating medical symptoms that are caused by consuming gluten.
Gluten is a protein that affects the elasticity of dough and is found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats. Gluten naturally occurs in most baked goods including breads, cakes and pastries. It is one of the most complex proteins that humans consume, and can be difficult for the human body to absorb. Most people can indulge in pizzas, cakes and cereals without a problem, but for those with coeliac disease, even something as small as a crouton can cause them to double over in pain.
Coeliac disease is an auto-immune condition that affects around 1% of the population. The disease causes the body’s immune system to attack villi, which are hair-like and line the wall of the intestines. Villi work by ensuring the body absorbs nutrients from food into the bloodstream, so any damage to villi can restrict the body in absorbing and utilising essential nutrients and vitamins.
Coeliac disease has many symptoms. Some people may experience one, a few or even none. They include:
Some people who have trouble digesting gluten may have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Although a gluten intolerance can be painful and uncomfortable, it is not as severe as coeliac disease. Your doctor can administer straightforward tests which can determine whether or not you have coeliac disease.
The only treatment for coeliac disease is to follow a gluten free diet. This means giving up traditional breads, pastas, cereals and pizza. Gluten is also hidden in products such as soy sauce and beer, as well as some foods made with “natural flavourings” and thickening agents that are used in some curries and sauces. Luckily, following a gluten free diet today is much easier than it used to be many years ago. The food labelling standards in Australia have come a long way, and now most café and restaurant menus clearly state what choices are gluten free. Many mainstream supermarkets also now have dedicated areas in-store for gluten free products.
Adjusting to Life with Coeliac Disease
If you’re part of the 1% of the population that suffers from the disease, adopting a gluten free lifestyle can be an overwhelming adjustment. There are many great resources and support groups available both online and in person that can help you on your journey. Coeliac Australia is an organisation that aims to enhance the quality of life for people living with coeliac disease. Their website has a wealth of information and they also have a dedicated helpline for support and information. For more information visit their website at www.coeliac.org.au or phone 1300 458 836.
If you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above and would like to make an appointment with our doctors, please phone our reception team on (03) 5221 5044.