What is Coeliac disease?


unwellAre you semipermanently feeling tired, unwell and have an upset stomach? This week is Coeliac Awareness Week (May 26 – June 1); one in every 100 New Zealanders are affected by Coeliac disease, yet the majority of sufferers don’t even know they have the condition!

What is Coeliac disease?

Coeliac disease is a permanent intolerance to gluten which is found in rye, barley, wheat and oats, which are common ingredients in a Western diet. Eating products with these ingredients can cause bowel inflammation and damage when eaten by Coeliac sufferers.

As many as 36,000 New Zealanders may be sick and tired of being sick and tired – but not able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with them. Common symptoms can include a lack of energy, digestive and bowel problems and a general feeling of being unwell. Coeliac disease can also cause malnutrition, as the damaged gut fails to properly absorb nutrients from food.

How do I know if I have it?

The test for coeliac disease is a simple blood test, available from your doctor; more than 8,000 New Zealanders have already been diagnosed this way. But that number is thought to be just 20 per cent of the total number of sufferers, which is why Coeliac New Zealand is urging people to get along and get checked out this Coeliac Awareness Week.

Fatigue and lack of energy is a common presentation of coeliac disease. But other symptoms can include diarrhoea, stomach pain, bloating, weight loss and anaemia, as well as some less obvious problems like irritability and depression. On average, confirmed coeliac sufferers have taken a decade to find the cause of their illness. Although many people are beginning to learn they have a ‘gluten intolerance’, Coeliac disease tends to be more serious.

Untreated, Coeliac’s can have severe long-term health implications.  As well as increasing the risk of infertility, liver disease, miscarriage and other auto-immune diseases like type 1 diabetes, is it also associated with an increased chance of developing osteoporosis, certain types of cancer, and premature death.

If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, go and get checked out.  It could prolong your life.

What happens if I’m diagnosed with Coeliac disease?

Once a diagnosis has been made, Coeliac’s is fairly easy to manage and you will usually be referred to a dietician to help you manage your nutritional needs for a gluten-free diet. You would need to avoid eating foods containing gluten and be careful of foods with unknown ingredients (as some food products you wouldn’t think of, such as sauces, may contain traces of gluten in them).

An increasing number of gluten-free products are becoming available on supermarket shelves, and many restaurants and cafes are beginning to recognise the importance of having gluten free offerings. There are also stores such as the Gluten Free Grocer where you can order your gluten-free products online.

If you’re an avid baker, there are a number of flour substitutes that you can use instead of ‘regular’ flour. Have a look at New Zealand Gluten Free Chef Jimmy Boswell’s blog for some of your options and when you should use them.

If you think you might have Coeliac disesase, see your GP to arrange a blood test.

For more information, visit www.coeliac.org.nz.

Image / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – marin

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