Science

Coeliac Disease: The ‘Trendy’ Disease

You may be aware of the increase of publicity surrounding gluten-free diets at the moment; they seem to be all-the-rage. With celebrities like Miley Cyrus and ‘New Girl’s’ Zooey Deschanel going gluten-free, it must be cool. As gluten-free diets have become a fad, so it seems coeliac disease has too.

A medical representative on America’s today show recently referred to coeliac disease as ‘a hot new disease’, leaving sufferers of coeliac (like me) feeling a little dejected and affronted. Oh the ignorance. We want to know what exactly is so trendy about diarrhoea, fatigue and abdominal pain. Oh yes, I feel particularly stylish when I can’t fit into my favourite clothes because I’m too bloated.

So what is coeliac disease? After being diagnosed at the start of this year I have had to explain to friends and family what it is and the complications involved. I was shocked at how little was known about it.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease. It is not an allergy or intolerance. When I consume gluten my body’s immune system attacks itself and my intestines become increasingly damaged. The result of this damage is a decrease in food absorption in my gut leaving me feeling constantly exhausted. I suffer from stomach pain (sometimes unbearable) bloating and irregular toilet habits. Very à la mode!

How is it treated? There is currently only one way of treating coeliac disease and that is to avoid gluten…completely. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. Imagine being told you can no longer enjoy a pint of beer at the pub or a late night takeaway with your mates.

My new ‘trendy’ lifestyle consists of constantly checking labels, perusing ‘free-from’ aisles, fanatically attempting to avoid food contamination and being terrified of eating out. I have learnt that you can never be too careful – even the tiniest amount of gluten can cause damage.

It is estimated that 1/100 people in the UK suffer from coeliac disease, meaning that the increase in awareness and availability of gluten free products is vitally important. Not because it’s fashionable, but because there are people who would suffer without them. There are also over half a million people who have this disease but don’t know it. As of Monday, the charity ‘Coeliac UK’ and its many members have been celebrating Gut Feeling Week. This is a week of fundraising and promoting awareness with a focus on diagnosis of coeliac disease. It is hoped that this awareness will be able to target suffers, improve diagnosis and ensure they receive the care they need.

Briony Dean

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