Coeliac disease affects at least 1 in 100 people, with an estimated 75% of sufferers going undiagnosed.
For coeliac sufferers ingestion of gluten causes an autoimmune inflammatory reaction in the gut, leading to digestive problems, which can leave the patient with nutrient deficiencies and other symptoms. Unexplained or extreme fatigue, bloating, indigestion or other gut symptoms, weight loss, headaches and a general lack of energy are common symptoms of coeliac disease. Like other auto-immune conditions coeliac disease is becoming more common. There is a genetic link, with your chances of being diagnosed increasing to 1 in 10 if you have a direct relative with the condition.
Although the exact cause is unknown, it is thought that our lifestyle is a major contributor due to the high intake of refined wheat products as coeliac disease is more prevalent in developed countries with a western style diet. The main problem that people face once diagnosed is the major dietary changes that need to take place in order to recover.
‘Gluten is found in wheat products such as bread, pasta, biscuits and cakes but also in rye, spelt, kamut, oat and barley grains’ says Brisbane Natural Health naturopath Katherine Maslen, who sees patients with coeliac disease regularly. ‘Often by the time the diagnosis is made there is significant damage to the intestines and patients are quite low in nutrients due to malabsorption’.
Avoiding gluten completely is the treatment, however nutritional supplementation can help patients to bounce back quicker, improving their digestion and helping symptoms to resolve more quickly. ‘People are often confused about what to eat and the gluten free options are not necessarily the healthiest. A large part of the treatment of coeliac disease involves helping the patient to modify their diet, teaching them about gluten free alternatives and giving them suggestions to make sure they are still getting good nutrition’. Patients are sometimes at a loss with what to eat and they need to learn about the alternatives to maintain a healthy and tasty diet without gluten’ says Ms Maslen.
Herbal medicines can also be beneficial to help repair the digestive system, reducing inflammation and helping to alleviate symptoms like bloating, wind and bowel issues. ‘For people with coeliac disease, if you modify their diet and help the gut to heal recovery is normally quite fast’.
A person with coeliac disease needs to avoid all products that contain gluten. Make sure you read the labels and beware of eating out as some staff may not have the clearest idea of what contains gluten.
Gluten is found in:
- Anything containing wheat including bread, pasta, biscuits, pastry, cakes, some noodles
- Oats and most commercial cereals
- Products containing rye, barley or kamut flours
- Soy sauce and many other sauces and marinades
- Many packaged products – gravy, spice mixes, rubs, frozen meals, milk drink powders, many lollies and sweets
- Beer, stout and ales that contains barley, rye or wheat (most beers)
- Sausages, processed meats and meat sold in marinades or sauces