Coeliac Awareness Week 2024

Coeliac Awareness Week 2024

Bev Dunne

As this week has been designated "Coeliac Awareness Week" I thought it appropriate to write about coeliac disease. This disease is an autoimmune disease where our immune system has an abnormal response to gluten. Coeliac disease damages the small intestine and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from our food.

This malabsorption can in time result in nutritional deficiencies, causing long term complications. If left untreated there is a chance of developing malnutrition and other complications, especially in children because obviously they need adequate nutrition to develop properly.

So why does this happen? When foods containing gluten are eaten, the immune system responds by damaging the small intestine. Normally our small intestine is lined with tiny hair-like projections call villi which absorb vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food we eat. If we suffer from coeliac disease there is damage to the villi and our small intestine is unable to digest and absorb nutrients necessary for health and growth.  Instead, nutrients such as fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals are eliminated with our stools. As you can imagine this is extremely detrimental to our health.

The signs and symptoms of coeliac disease include weight loss or weight gain, diarrhoea with foul smelling or pale stools which may be fatty or oily, abdominal cramps, gas and bloating plus general weakness and lethargy.

Coeliac Australian claim 1 in 70 Australians are believed to suffer from coeliac disease. Alarmingly it’s believed only about 20% of these sufferers are actually diagnosed. 

Symptoms of coeliac disease can be very similar to other health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, intestinal infections, or anaemia. Sometimes coeliac patients don’t experience any of these symptoms but still experience damage to their small intestine. This is often called silent coeliac disease.

Because of this, unfortunately, diagnosis is often overlooked. It is therefore very important to obtain a proper diagnosis with a doctor which will usually mean a blood test and sometimes a biopsy of the small intestine. 

So how do we treat this disease? Obviously, it is imperative to avoid gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many grains including wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale and oats.

Most people who follow a gluten free diet respond very well and symptoms are only triggered again if they eat something containing gluten. Generally, improvements will be noticed within days of starting a gluten free diet however it takes time for the small intestine to heal - usually 3 - 6 months for children and up to 2 years for adults. The small intestine can then properly absorb nutrients which is obviously extremely important for optimum good health. If you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease and don't experience these symptoms after eating small amounts of gluten, you can still be damaging the small intestines.  It is therefore imperative for coeliacs to realise a gluten free diet is a lifetime requirement.

Of course, the first question when being diagnosed is - what can I eat? Believe me there are now many options out there. Thirty three years ago, when I owned my first health food store we were scrambling to find gluten free products for customers. Today the range is ever expanding. You can still of course eat the basic foods such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables.

Grains and seeds such as rice, soy, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, arrowroot, flaxseed, hemp seeds and chia seeds can be used instead of those commonly used grains containing gluten. There are many products available that are labelled 'gluten free' such as breads, cereals, pastas, biscuits, cakes and gravies. It is also very important to become a 'label reader" as you would be surprised how many products do contain gluten. Wheat is often used as a filler in processed foods and of course wheat contains gluten.

When suffering from coeliac disease it may be worthwhile taking a good gut healing supplement. I’ve often written about formulas containing the amino acid glutamine for healing the gut lining as well as herbs such as aloe vera, slippery elm, licorice, and calendula to also help with gut healing and inflammation. A probiotic is also important to increase the healthy bacteria in the gut. Drinking bone broth would be another great way to help heal the gut. Choosing a bone broth powder or paste which contains turmeric and ginger would be even more beneficial.

It is also important be aware, sometimes results of a test for coeliac disease will be negative, however you may still be suffering from a gluten intolerance. Very often removing gluten from your diet will majorly help those symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, abdominal cramps and lethargy.

For further information on this subject or other health issues call down to see Bev and the girls at Go Vita, Your Health Shop at 5 North St, Batemans Bay or phone 0244711683. Don’t forget to tune into Bev on 2EC every Wednesday at 12.45pm.