Coeliac disease is a member of the family of autoimmune diseases.
People with coeliac disease are unable to properly digest gluten. When a person with coeliac disease eats something containing gluten, their immune system reacts to the gluten and damages the intestinal villi, small finger-like projections in the lining of the small intestine which play a major role in the absorption of nutrients from food. If left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to a variety of medical conditions including anaemia, osteoporosis, various nutrient deficiency syndromes and, in some cases, cancer.
Gluten is a grain protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is also found in some of the modern wheat-alternative grains such as spelt and kamut – people who suffer from coeliac disease should also avoid these grains. A proportion of coeliac sufferers also experience an adverse reaction to oats, and as such it is recommended that people with coeliac disease avoid consuming oats also.
While there is plenty of research being conducted, there is presently no cure for coeliac disease. Once diagnosed, the sufferer must maintain a diet that is 100% wheat free and gluten free in order to return to full health and to minimise the ongoing risks associated with having coeliac disease.
Coeliac disease affects approximately 1% of adult Australians, although it is thought that up to 80% of coeliac sufferers remain undiagnosed.
The condition is known by a number of different names worldwide, including Coeliac Disease, Celiac Disease and Celiac Sprue. While the condition is sometimes described as gluten intolerance, coeliac disease is a true autoimmune condition and should not be treated as an allergy or intolerance.
Disclaimer: The information about coeliac disease and associated conditions provided here is of a general nature and is intended as background information only. It is not intended as medical or dietary advice. If you think that you may have coeliac disease you should consult your doctor for medical advice and you should consult a qualified dietician for advice on maintaining a 100% gluten free diet.