Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease and digestive condition that affects the small intestine. Although commonly mistaken for gluten sensitivity, celiac disease is a separate condition that is the result of the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy intestinal tissue, when gluten is ingested. Around 1 in 100 people (1 per cent) suffer from celiac disease.
The symptoms associate with celiac disease can vary from mild to debilitating, and are known for coming on sporadically. Chronic diarrhoea is the most common symptom, and can lead to a host of problems such as dehydration and malnutrition. Other symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Weight loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Numb hands or feet
- Swollen hands or feet
Celiac disease can increase the likelihood of other health problems such as:
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Miscarriage/ infertility
- Iron or folate deficiency anemia
When someone with celiac disease eats gliadin – a protein found in gluten – it is mistaken for a harmful substance, triggering an immune response. Antibodies which are used to fight off bacteria and viruses start to attack the tissue in your small intestine, causing inflammation and damage.
The surface of the small intestine is home to millions of tiny finger-like projections called villi. These villi contain blood capillaries, which carry food molecules out of the intestine, and when damaged can drastically reduce nutrient absorption.
Celiac disease diet
As no medication currently exists to prevent the immune response associated with celiac disease, the only effective treatment is to cut gluten out of your diet completely. This gives your intestines time to heal and, if followed strictly, resolves all symptoms and related issues.
Following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you can no longer enjoy a healthy, balanced diet. There are various naturally gluten-free foods for you to eat, including:
- Fruits and vegetables
- French fries/chips (if cooked in clean oil)
Foods you should look to avoid include:
- All wheat products
- Barley and malt
- Any breaded or battered foods
- Gravy and sauces
- Foods fried in the same oil used to fry gluten products
Breads, pasta, cereals and crackers can be consumed from other types of gluten-free flour, such as corn, soy and rice flour, as long as they are specifically marketed as gluten-free.
Although eating out can be difficult, it’s not impossible. Stick to food items that you know are gluten-free and make sure to explain to tell the chef in advance, so they don’t cook your food in a contaminated workspace.