To mark Coeliac Awareness Week from 14th to 20th May, we are looking at some of the common myths and misconceptions about the disease and hoping to set the records straight about what it is (and isn’t), who is affected and what to do if you have the disease.
“It is the same as being gluten intolerant”
Coeliac Disease is a serious autoimmune disease rather than a food intolerance or an allergy. If you have Coeliac, your body’s immune system can start to attack itself if you eat gluten and the lining of your small intestine can become damaged. If this occurs you will be unable to absorb nutrients from your food.
By contrast, an intolerance to gluten is the body’s reaction to proteins found in wheat, triggered by the immune system.
“Not many people have it”
Actually, it is a far more common condition that was originally realised, affecting around one in 100 people in the UK.
Many people – estimates suggest around 500,000 – have the disease but have not yet been diagnosed. On average, estimates suggests it takes around 13 years to get a diagnosis.
“Once my gut has recovered I will be able to eat gluten again”
Unfortunately Coeliac Disease is a lifelong condition with no known cure. By following a gluten-free diet you can manage the symptoms effectively but the condition will not go away.
Removing gluten from the diet allows the gut to heal but it would react again if you were to reintroduce gluten.
“It is hard to follow a gluten free diet.”
It should only take a bit of adjusting to adapt to a gluten free diet. Coeliac UK publishes an annual Food and Drink Guide containing thousands of foods that it is fine for you to eat if you have Coeliac Disease and a Gluten-free Checklist which is free to members.
Visit https://www.coeliac.org.uk/home/ for details.
“As long as I cut down on gluten, that’s fine. I don’t need to eliminate it from my diet altogether.”
If you ingest even a tiny amount of gluten, it can be harmful so you need to be as vigilant as someone with a severe peanut allergy to avoid exposing yourself to gluten. It is not enough to simply avoid eating products containing gluten, you also need to:
- use separate cooking utensils and breadboards
- use a separate toaster for gluten-free toast
- use separate butter, jam, marmalade, Marmite… anything that you would spread on bread.
“If I wasn’t diagnosed as a child it means I don’t have it”
Coeliac Disease can be diagnosed at any age. In fact, the most common age to be diagnosed is between 40 and 60 years.
There is sometimes a misplaced belief that it is most common in children. This may be because the condition sometimes develops when children start eating breakfast cereals containing gluten.
“If I suspect I have Coeliac Disease I should stop eating gluten”
In order to be tested for the condition you need to eat gluten in more than one meal each day for at least six weeks.
If you reduce or eliminate gluten from your diet before you receive a diagnosis it is likely that the results will be inaccurate.