Coeliac disease (Part 1)
Coeliac disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system in attacks its own tissue when gluten is eaten. This reaction then causes chronic inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine, which can then prevent vital nutrients in food from being absorbed.
Coeliac disease is not an allergy or a food intolerance, it is a serious chronic condition. Many people living with the condition feel that is some ways, the seriousness of their condition is somewhat trivialised these days as they become (wrongly) grouped with many people make the modern lifestyle choice to go “gluten-free”. Whilst there is no “cure” for CD as such, the key to the long-term successful management of living a full and active life with coeliac disease in a strict adherence to NO gluten, so, “gluten-free” is a necessity, not a choice.
At least 1 in 100 people in Ireland are affected by CD. Expert opinion indicates however, that this figure may be underestimated by up to 30% as people with milder symptoms go undiagnosed or in many cases, are misdiagnosed with another condition which present symptoms similar to those in CD.
Taking gender into account, CD typically indicates a ratio of 3:1 female to male, so, more common in women. Those with particular conditions e.g., Type 1 Diabetes, Down’s syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, autoimmune thyroid disease, carry an increased risk of developing CD.
Whilst CD can develop at any time of life – symptoms are most likely to appear either in
- Early infancy – between 8 -12 months old, although it may take some considerable time to achieve a correct diagnosis
- Or more commonly, later in life – in the 40 - 60-year-old range.
There is strong evidence of a genetic link to developing CD, so, first-degree relatives of an individual with CD also carry a higher risk, perhaps 10%, of having coeliac disease.
What causes Coeliac Disease (CD)
Why people develop CD is unknown. CD is caused by an adverse immune system reaction to the dietary protein gluten, which is found in 3 types of cereal: -
For those with CD, gluten plays a role in preventing absorption of vital nutrients such as Vit D and Calcium. With CD, the immune system mistakes one of the constituent substances of gluten (gliadin) as a threat to the body, producing antibodies to attack it. As a result of this erroneous attack, the surface of the intestine becomes inflamed (red and distended).
In a normal intestine, the surface is covered by millions of tiny finger-shaped growths called villi, their function being to increase the overall surface area of the intestine to aid more effective food digestion. With CD, the damage and inflammation to the intestinal lining because of the adverse immune reaction, flattens the villi, significantly reducing their ability to function as a digestive aid.
In severe cases of CD, where the digestive system has broken down considerably, malnutrition caused by a critical lack of vital nutrients is a potential danger. Malnutrition can result in loss of function in other parts of the body, diminishes the body’s ability to recover from wounds or infection. Other severe symptoms may include muscle wastage, mental confusion, and an inability to stay warm.
You will find gluten in nearly all common everyday foods that are cereal based which include bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, gravy, and sauces (flour), cakes, processed meals.
To be continued… next week.
For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans Pharmacies, log on to www.whelehans.ie or dial 04493 34591 (Pearse St) or 04493 10266 (Clonmore)