This week is Coeliac Awareness week, designed to create awareness that this disease can affect people from anywhere. People affected by Coeliac disease have their immune system react abnormally to gluten, which can be found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. This reaction causes the villi that line the small intestine to become inflamed and smooth, which can result in a range of symptoms and malabsorption of nutrients from the food we eat.
I have been a diagnosed Coeliac for pretty much my entire life. I went from being a very happy baby, to completely miserable when my mum started to feed me mashed up weet-bix. I was very lucky that one of the doctors at the hospital was knowledgeable about the disease and diagnosed me straight away. Unfortunately back then it was very early days for research in this field so there were a lot of un-diagnosed and therefore quite ill people.
Race forward 40 years and it is so common to hear about gluten free food I am starting to feel like I am no longer special :) You will find it on packaging at the supermarket, on menus in restaurants and even on awesome drinks like Gutsy Probiotic Drink Sachets (otherwise I would not have been able to drink it). Although it is super easy to get Gluten Free food anywhere now, there are still a lot of people out there who do not know that they have the disease and are probably feeling quite crap most days. In fact, 1 in 70 Australians have the disease. However, 80% of affected Australians remain undiagnosed, according to Coeliac Australia.
In the spirit of Coeliac Awareness week, ask yourself, do I experience any of the following symptoms:
gastrointestinal symptoms e.g. diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, steatorrhea
fatigue, weakness and lethargy
iron deficiency, anaemia and/or other vitamin and mineral deficiencies
failure to thrive or delayed puberty in children
weight loss (although some people may gain weight)
bone and joint pains
recurrent mouth ulcers and/or swelling of mouth or tongue
altered mental alertness and irritability
skin rashes such as dermatitis herpetiformis
easy bruising of the skin
If you answered yes, it is as simple as going to your local GP to arrange a blood test that will determine if you have the gene and if so it may take some more investigation to confirm if you have the disease. Trust me, you will feel a lot more awesome if you get on top of it. Unfortunately, you may also experience none of the above mentioned symptoms which can make it harder to diagnose.
Now I have been calling this a disease, which sounds awful, and yes it is a disease, but there is a very positive light that you can shine on being a Coeliac. It can force your hand to become really healthy. The nature of a Gluten Free diet automatically cuts out a heap of really bad food like fast food, sugary cakes (and a bunch of other carby foods) and beer (never fear there is now gluten free beer!). This has meant that my diet, on average, over the years has been very healthy. Full of veggies, fruit, beans, lean meat, fish and brown rice, which are all great things for your gut!
Happy Coeliac Awareness Week!
Written by Ben Gray, Coeliac and CEO of Gutsy Life