Some people suffer from a condition called Coeliac disease which impedes the digestion of gluten. Coeliac disease is a lifelong autoimmune condition and a multi-system disorder.
People who suffer from this condition must eat foods that do not contain gluten in order to prevent illness. In addition, care must be taken when eating grains that do not contain gluten, particularly oats as they are commonly grown near foods which contain gluten, or are often processed and milled in the same place as wheat. It is therefore important that those including oats in the diet choose gluten-free oats, although some people may be sensitive to gluten-free oats. This is because oats contain a gluten-like protein called avenin.
In coeliac disease, gluten causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the delicate bowel lining which is responsible for absorbing nutrients from food.
Coeliac disease can be diagnosed at any age including babies after weaning, when cereals containing gluten are first introduced into the diet. However, the most common age of diagnosis is currently between 40 and 60 years old.
Symptoms may often be subtle, and you may feel unwell for some time for no reason before a diagnosis is reached.
Untreated coeliac disease can cause anaemia, low bone density and osteoporosis. Avoiding all gluten containing food will generally result in the improvement, or even disappearance, of damage to the bowel lining. However, the damage will start again if gluten is re-introduced into the diet.
It used to be thought that coeliac disease affected about 1 in 1500 people. More accurate diagnosis through blood tests has shown that the condition affects 1% of people across Europe. All ethnic groups are affected, and it is common not just in Europe, but also in South Asia, the Middle East,North West and East Africa and South America.
Coeliac disease also tends to be more common in women than men.