What is gluten?
Gluten is a sticky, elastic protein substance found in the grains of several cereals, including wheat (durum, spelt etc.), rye, barley and oats.
What is gluten intolerance?
Coeliac disease is a permanent intolerance to gluten and similar proteins. It damages the small intestine, damaging the mucous lining. When this happens, the body has difficulty absorbing nutrients and therefore provokes a health risk. Coeliac disease is one of the most common digestive illnesses in France. We have learned a lot more about coeliac disease in the past ten years but the only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. Coeliac disease is not the same as gluten intolerance or wheat allergy, which are rarer and trigger different immune system mechanisms such as angioedema.
How common is coeliac disease?
It is thought that one in 300 people in Europe have a gluten intolerance. It is also very common in the USA and North Africa. There are currently 60,000 declared cases in France. Experts estimate that a further 600,000 have yet to be diagnosed.
Both children and adults are affected. Symptoms can appear at any time, even after 60. In children, the disease is usually diagnosed between the age of 6 months and 2 years, when gluten is introduced to the diet. In adults, it usually appears between the age of 20 and 40, generally following a major life event.
The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the less damage to the small intestine. Following diagnosis, it will normally take 2–3 months for a child’s intestine to heal while for an adult, it can take 2–3 years. In children, symptoms virtually disappear altogether with treatment.
There is a genetic predisposition to coeliac disease and if a family member is diagnosed, the rest of the family should be tested.
What are the symptoms?
In young children coeliac disease can cause diarrhoea, stomach aches and chronic fatigue that can lead to a form of depression. Nutritional malabsorption hampers growth and weight gain.
In older patients, symptoms may be small size, late puberty or joint pain.
Testing is carried out before adopting a gluten-free diet. A blood test screens the presence of antibodies. If it is positive, then a biopsy will be performed to confirm the gluten intolerance.
Living without gluten
A gluten-free diet means paying close attention to ingredients. (Anything containing gluten or wheat starch).
The treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. Patients notice improvements as soon as they adopt the diet. Eating out requires extra care. A dietician can offer nutritional advice. Marine, our dietician, will be happy to answer your questions. Call her on +33 (0)4 82 78 01 53. Free service.
In cooking, wheat flour can be replaced by corn flour, rice flour or chestnut flour. The “no wheat” logo certifies that a product is gluten-free. To comply with European regulations, “gluten-free” products must contain less than 20mg per kg.