According to the findings of a study conducted by The Mayo Clinic, coeliac disease is now almost 5 times more common than it was 50 years ago! It can affect more than 1 in 100 in certain populations but the reason is unclear. The ‘industrialisation’ of breadmaking which virtually eliminated natural fermentation and the breakdown of the gluten in bread and bread products has been linked to the development of the disease. What is becoming clear is that many people with coeliac disease do not develop symptoms until later in life. Unfortunately, undiagnosed coeliac disease, may have a significant effect on the development of other health problems and may even shorten your life!
Coeliac disease occurs as a result of an immune reaction in the small intestine to proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt. The protein called gliadin has been shown to be a strong stimulator of the immune system and triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals in the body . Resultant inflammation and damage to intestinal wall leads to:
Not only can there be immediate consequences such as diarrhoea and pain but there are also substantial long tem health implications ie:
Poor absorption of nutrients from food can lead to malnutrition, stunted growth, osteoporosis, anaemia, fatigue, skin rashes, irritability, behavioural problems, reduced immunity, unexplained infertility, tooth loss and a greatly increased risk of gastrointestinal cancer. In one recent study coeliac disease has also been linked to dementia and cognitive decline which conditions can result from suboptimal absorption of key nutrients.
Increased permeability of the gut or’ leaky gut’ has been linked to the development of several autoimmune disorders such as : thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis . lupus, sjogrens disease, MS, etc.
Why do some people with coeliac disease have no symptoms ? Coeliac disease can affect anywhere between 1% and 100% of the small intestine. Presence or absence of symptoms or the severity of symptoms can depend on how much of the intestine is affected. Damage usually occurs first at the beginning of the small intestine and progresses downwards over time. Being over 22 feet long, if the damage to the small intestine is mostly near the stomach (which is where biopsies are taken) then you may have few or no symptoms because the rest of the small intestine can compensate and absorb all the liquid and food that has not been absorbed in the damaged area. However if left unchecked the area of damage can spread and gradually symptoms emerge and conditions associated with nutritional deficiencies and chronic inflammation can become established.
If you suspect you have a gluten intolerance it is wise to consult your doctor and get tested. The test must be carried out before you change your diet to gluten free. A family history of coeliac disease increases your likelihood of having the condition . The only treatment currently is the complete
avoidance of gluten containing foods which if complied with, allows the normalisation of the intestinal lining and the resolution of symptoms. There is also mounting scientific evidence to suggest that wheat and rye breads properly fermented withcertain strains of lactobacilli microorganisms, can be tolerated by coeliacs.
In the meantime for many , obtaining sufficient nourishment from a gluten free diet can be difficult if you lead a busy life and have little time to cook from scratch.
Milled flaxseed is a nutritious and healing food that can play a vital part in the management of coeliac disease. It can also help restore intestinal function in cases of wheat intolerance , Irritable bowel and inflammatory bowel disease such as crohns and colitis. Flaxseed, not only is naturally gluten free but it also acts as a demulcent releasing a soothing mucilage when hydrated. Once gluten is removed from the diet and regular flaxseed consumption is introduced, the mucilage coats the intestinal lining allowing it to heal while the omega 3 fatty acids in flaxseed help reduce inflammation. A great way to add milled flaxseed to your diet is to incorporate into a fruit smoothie or spoon over gluten free cereal. It can also be added to gluten free baking and significantly improves dough handling , water absorbtion and baked volume in gluten free foods.