Word on Health

Word on #ShinealightonCoeliac

Our thanks to Coeliac UK, the national charity for people with coeliac disease and those who need to live without gluten, for their contribution to our on-air report (which you can hear again via the audio player further down this page) and for the support information below.

The #ShineALightOnCoeliac campaign by Coeliac UK, focusses on the needs of children and young people, by providing resources, tips, recipes and advice for people when they are eating away from home, which can be shared with those catering for them, and in addition the charity has launched a fundraising challenge to raise £50,000 to support children with coeliac disease in the future. 

Hilary Croft, Coeliac UK CEO, told us, “Trusting other people to provide gluten free food can cause major feelings of anxiety and lead to people avoiding social events. The last thing anyone, let alone a young person needs now is more isolation. So we are aiming to shine a light on coeliac disease to make life better for everyone who needs to live gluten free.”

“Coeliac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance but an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system damages the lining of the gut when gluten is eaten. There is no cure and no medication; the only treatment is a strict gluten free diet. People diagnosed with coeliac disease must maintain a strict gluten free diet for the rest of their lives to reduce the risk of very serious complications such as osteoporosis, infertility and although rare, small bowel cancer.

She added,  “As more people venture back out to eat at their favourite restaurants, the poll results show a worrying majority who are now less confident about finding venues that offer safe gluten free food. Before the pandemic, social distancing and lockdowns there were venues across the UK, accredited by Coeliac UK, serving safe gluten free menu options. However, as we know the hospitality industry has been severely impacted by the pandemic, and we have unfortunately seen closures and suspensions of gluten free menus as the sector tried to survive and weather the storm.”

 “As lockdown eases, we are strongly supporting our accredited partners to help them continue to provide safe gluten free options. Over the coming weeks and months, we are preparing to shine a light on places you can visit again, confident in the knowledge of their commitment. And in the meantime, to assist the community when eating out, we have produced a handy pocket checklist of things to ask venues both before and when you visit them.

Coeliac UK’s Gluten Free Accreditation programme provides customers with assurance that they can enjoy safe gluten free options and identify venues, which follow strict procedures in food handling and ingredient use, to ensure a safe gluten free experience. 

What is Coeliac Disease?  It is a life-long inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. In simple terms, it’s an intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

What Reaction does Gluten Cause in the Body?   The lining of the small intestine is covered in finger like projections called villi which increase the absorptive area of the gut. When a person with the coeliac condition eats gluten, the lining of the gut becomes inflamed causing the villi to become flattened. This reduces the ability to absorb the nutrients from food properly.

Symptoms? There are a range of symptoms including constant mouth ulcers, crippling fatigue, stomach pain, regular bouts of diarrhoea, anaemia, weight loss and in children, slow growth and development.

How Many People are Affected? Figures indicate that the incidence is as high as 1 in 100. Only 30% are currently diagnosed, meaning there are nearly half a million people in the UK with undiagnosed coeliac disease.   Individual symptoms vary meaning the condition often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Other Conditions Associated with Coeliac? Dermatitis Herpetiformis (a blistering skin eruption that can affect any part of the body but is often found on the knees and elbows), Type 1 Diabetes and thyroid disease. Other related conditions are those which occur as a result of the body's inability to absorb nutrients, such as anaemia.

Other Risks/Complications? Left undiagnosed, coeliac has been shown to lead to a higher probability of a patient developing osteoporosis and lymphoma (cancer) of the small intestine. Osteoporosis occurs as a result of the body's inability to absorb sufficient levels of calcium. 

How is Coeliac Disease Diagnosed?  Specific blood tests indicate a person may have the condition. Diagnosis is then confirmed by a biopsy of the small intestine. Before starting a gluten-free diet, please consult your doctor and/or dietitian.

The condition is most frequently diagnosed in adults, although children are often diagnosed when weaned onto solid foods. It has a genetic component and often becomes active for the first time after physical stress, for example, childbirth, pregnancy or surgery. Symptoms may not appear until later in life, which is why most people with the coeliac condition are diagnosed between 30 and 45 years of age. 

Treatment. Currently, the only treatment is strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. This allows the intestine to recover and food to be absorbed normally. Many gluten-free foods are available from major supermarkets or pharmacists. 

Listen to this weeks radio report

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