What gluten does, or doesn’t do.

Coeliac Awareness Week (13 – 20 March) aims to raise awareness around people living with coeliac disease. Currently, around one in 70 Australians live with coeliac disease, but others might not even know they have it.

The disease causes an allergic reaction to the protein gluten, resulting in bloating, stomach pains and diarrhoea.

Dr. Kelly Lambert is an IHMRI researcher and Advanced Accredited Practicing Dietitian. She says that the risks that come with having coeliac go much further than not being able to digest gluten.

“Coeliac disease is a genetic condition. This means people with coeliac disease are also more likely to suffer from a number of other conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes, Downs Syndrome, recurrent miscarriages or other fertility problems. Coeliac disease can also raise the risk of Lymphoma and bowel cancer. ” Dr. Lambert said.

Is gluten the enemy?

Despite gluten free diets and food options becoming much more on trend, Dr. Lambert says that unless you have been diagnosed with coeliac, you should not avoid gluten.

“Foods that contain gluten have  a large range of health benefits especially if they are wholegrain or wholemeal versions of breads and cereals. Gluten intolerance is much more controversial. It is not a medical condition as such. It is usually a term used by people who have a number of symptoms which they attribute to gluten,” she said.

Dietitians believe that gluten intolerance is actually malabsorption of one or more naturally occurring fermentable sugars called FODMAPs. The reactions they may experience are likely to be related to dose; the more they eat of FODMAP rich foods, the worse the symptoms, unlike in coeliac disease.

The popularity of gluten free diets has meant that gluten free options are more accessible, and taste better. However, Dr. Lambert says that restaurants and cafes that offer these options must be hyper vigilant with preparation of food, as small traces from cross-contamination can trigger symptoms.

“A shop may make a gluten free sandwich but still prepare it on the same bread board, use the same margarine or gloves. This is an allergy to gluten so one crumb can be enough to cause intestinal damage.”

Dealing with diagnosis

Dr. Lambert has a lot of advice to offer in regards to coeliac awareness.

  • If you think you may have coeliac disease, do not cut out gluten until you have spoken to your GP and had all the relevant testing, as pre-emptively cutting out gluten can do more harm than good.
  • People with coeliac disease should be extra careful when travelling overseas, as Australia and New Zealand have the strictest labelling when it comes to gluten free foods. Other countries labelling rules might not be as strict and you may inadvertently be eating gluten.
  • Finally, although a coeliac diagnosis can be overwhelming and isolating, there is help available for those who need it.

“Life with coeliac disease goes on and usually people feel a whole lot better. It can be overwhelming at first to have to learn all the ingredients to avoid. Link up with the local Coeliac Australia support group for assistance. You can learn a lot from talking to others and it is helpful to let that person know they are not alone. You can ask tips about where to shop, and how others adapted. Consult with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian who can guide you about how to manage the way forward. Download the Coeliac Australia gluten free app too!”

Media contact

Lizzie Jack, Social Media Coordinator

t: 4221 5432 e: ejack@uow.edu.au

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