About 1 in 133 people suffer from coeliac disease, and health organizations say 2-2.5% of the general population suffer from food allergy – or 1-1.5 million people in Britain. The difference between food allergy and coeliac disease is that the latter, also known as coeliac sprue, is an autoimmune disorder, like diabetes.
Unlike other autoimmune diseases, however, doctors know the trigger for coeliac disease: gluten, which provokes an immune response that causes the body to attack itself. Two key components come into play in coeliac disease: genes and environmental factors.
Coeliac disease is an intestinal disorder caused by the intolerance of some individuals to gluten, a protein that is found in Wheat, Rye, Barley, and some other grains. Gluten irritates the intestinal lining, interfering with the absorption of nutrients and water. Unlike certain food allergies, coeliac disease is not ‘grown out of’ and those with the disease must maintain constant vigilance to keep their diet gluten free. Untreated, the disease can lead to severe complications and potential long-term illness. The disease is permanent, and damage to the small intestine will occur every time gluten is consumed, regardless of whether symptoms are present. Reactions among people who suffer from this disease vary, but they are inevitable. The only treatment is strict adherence to a 100% gluten free diet.
FACT: Diagnosis of coeliac disease starts with blood testing, in which doctors study the series of antibodies that provide a good marker of tendency to have the illness. Blood testing is often followed up with an intestinal biopsy.
Maintaining a healthy gluten free lifestyle involves eating a well balanced, gluten free diet that is high in protein and normal in fats. Common nutrient shortages among people with coeliac disease include deficiencies in calcium, the vitamin B complex and vitamins A, C, D, K and E. It is important for coeliac sufferer to eat a carefully balanced diet to ensure that he or she is getting all the vitamins the body needs.