The NHS awareness drive this week focuses on food allergies and intolerances. In itself this subject covers a broad range of conditions with varying levels of severity for sufferers. Today we’re looking at coeliac disease and wheat intolerance.
Often incorrectly thought of as the same condition there are some differences of note between coeliac and wheat intolerance. Coeliac disease specifically describes a genetic, auto-immune reaction to the protein gluten. Coeliac sufferers who ingest a small amount of gluten will cause the body to begin attacking itself, in turn damaging the walls of the small intestine. Symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, vomiting, sudden weight loss, hair loss, anaemia and osteoporosis. Around 1 in 10.000 people are affected by the skin manifestation of coeliac known as dermatitis herpetiformis which displays a spectrum of eczema-like symptoms. Coeliac disease unlike wheat intolerance often results in deficiencies of vitamins and minerals as the body becomes less able to absorb them.
Whilst coeliac reactions are instant a wheat intolerant person may experience a delayed, gradual reaction to eating wheat. Symptoms however are very similar to coeliac disease which in turn can also be confused with gastric conditions such as IBS. There is some conjecture as to the existence of wheat intolerance with studies yet to firmly establish diagnosis.
Although it is extremely rare people can also be allergic to wheat which if ingested can cause severe, even life threatening reactions. Fortunately a skin-prick test can reveal a wheat allergy, although wheat intolerance cannot be shown by the same methods.
In all cases the only known treatment is to avoid eating wheat and gluten altogether. This extends beyond avoiding bread, pasta and cakes. Wheat is included in many other products including beer, ketchup, soy sauce and even ice cream. Gluten is also widely used and can be found in foods you may not expect to find it in, these include processed meats, canned soups, some crisps and even tinned vegetables.
For wheat intolerant people it’s important to note that food marked as ‘gluten free’ won’t always necessarily also be ‘wheat free’. A great deal of vigilance needs to be exercised by sufferers of both conditions when approaching their diets. Even with mainstream supermarkets starting to stock gluten/wheat free alternatives and dedicated health food shops becoming more frequent, the challenge remains to maintain a balanced diet whilst avoiding many common foods. In our current climate of ever-rising food prices the additional expense of gluten/wheat free alternatives can also be a struggle, especially for those families on lower incomes.
Knowing that you or your loved ones have a food intolerance can be a major worry and a resulting change in life style and approach to eating is required. Raising awareness for both coeliac disease and wheat intolerance remains an important activity, especially when you consider that with coeliac disease an estimated half a million people may have it without yet knowing.
We’re proud at Express to be able to offer a considerable range of gluten free foods at competitive prices.
With food allergy and intolerance awareness running all week we’ll be back later to highlight some other dietary controlled conditions to do our bit to support this good cause.
- PAPER: The great gluten-free scam… (telegraph.co.uk)
- To test or not to test for coeliac disease and gluten related disorders (dietitianwithoutborders.wordpress.com)
- Doctor’s Diary: the good and bad side of bread (telegraph.co.uk)
- Got a gluten allergy or a hypoallergenic dog? You’re kidding yourself, says leading allergy doctor (dailymail.co.uk)
- Coeliac Disease and Psoriasis (trulyglutenfree.co.uk)
- Understanding and managing non-coeliac gluten sensitivity: “We are all on a learning curve”, says UK expert (medicalnewstoday.com)