Coeliac disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks and damages the villi (the finger like small protrusions in the small intestine) affecting 1% of the global population (circa 70 million people). Originally considered a rare childhood condition it is now recognised as primarily an adult disease. The autoimmune destruction of villi is triggered by eating gluten (found in Barley, Rye, Oats and Wheat) and since this process dramatically reduces the surface area of the small intestine, the body’s ability to absorb nutrients is compromised, potentially leading to a raft of disparate symptoms and disease presentations.
Screening studies show that CD is one of the most common life long disorders in North America and Europe and that currently only 1 in 8 coeliacs are diagnosed and that on average it takes 13 years and 5 doctors for a diagnosis. So why is this?
The classical symptoms of diarrhoea and abdominal cramping are just one clinical manifestation of CD, with research showing that less than 50% of coeliacs currently present with these classical symptoms. Non classical or ‘silent coeliac disease’ presentations can include: iron deficiency anaemia, osteoporosis, arthritis, neurological degradation (ataxia and epilepsy), depression, fertility issues, migraines, blood test abnormalities, chronic kidney disease, raised liver enzymes, mouth ulcers, dental enamel defects and a number of other autoimmune conditions including Hashimoto’s, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, Addison’s disease, cardiomyopathy and autoimmune hepatitis.
Interestingly the research base would suggest that more people with less severe symptoms (mild anaemia and/or reduction in bone density) are being diagnosed with CD and this often includes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with up to 30% of coeliacs having had a previous diagnosis of IBS. It should also be noted that the first-degree relatives (parent/sibling/child) of coeliacs have a significantly elevated risk of developing the same condition and should be tested. Please note that the standard blood tests for CD often provide false negative results (due to the body not being able to produce sufficient amounts of the specific antibodies being measured, or reactions that may be present to other immune stimulating peptides of gluten that are not being measured).
So if your are presenting with an autoimmune and/or chronic condition you might want to seriously consider the impact that gluten might be having on your health.