Breaking bread: are you really gluten sensitive?

Breaking bread: are you really gluten sensitive?

Many consumers are taking control of their own health and their own diets, looking online and to friends and family for information and guidance – but sometimes, they make lifestyle changes they don’t need to.

If Australians suspect a food allergy, intolerance or a problem like coeliac disease, it’s important they seek advice from a health professional, says Coeliac Australia’s accredited practicing dietitian, Penny Dellsperger.

Coeliac disease occurs when a person becomes sensitive to gluten, found in foods like bread and pasta, and can cause symptoms like fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches and more.

‘There seems to be a trend towards “self management” rather than seeking expert medical care,’ Penny explains.

‘There is a lot of information (and misinformation) readily available online which facilitates unsupervised and unnecessary self-dietary modification.

‘We’re noticing a gluten-free fad emerging, with people mistakenly believing a gluten free diet is a healthier alternative. There are also those who may feel sluggish, bloated or fatigued, who then self-diagnose and eliminate gluten.’

There are several reasons to seek a proper diagnosis for a suspected food intolerance or sensitivity, Penny says: the person can get expert help for their condition, including learning how to manage it well through diet.

‘The symptoms of coeliac disease can mimic the symptoms of other, more sinister conditions,’ she says. ‘It’s important to seek medical advice to ensure another diagnosis is not being overlooked, putting your health at risk.

‘Coeliac disease can have serious health consequences if not managed properly. A proper diagnosis will ensure coeliac disease and any associated conditions are managed properly.

‘A proper diagnosis will also provide motivation to adhere strictly to the gluten free diet, preventing long-term health problems.

‘While a gluten free diet can be healthy, any dietary restriction can result in nutritional deficiency without proper management.

‘A gluten free diet is not a “healthy” alternative, and should not be encouraged or promoted without need or proper supervision.’

The upcoming Coeliac Awareness Week (13-20 March 2012) offers pharmacies a chance to identify customers with coeliac symptoms (see below) and encourage them to get a formal diagnosis if they suspect they have the disease.

It’s also a good opportunity to talk about the correct way to investigate and manage coeliac disease and other medical conditions.

Pharmacy staff can also talk with customers who do have coeliac disease about gluten in medicines, including over-the-counter medicines: ‘prescription and over-the-counter medicines are required to declare the presence of wheat derived ingredients,’ Penny says.

‘Wheat can be used as an excipient (carrier) in some medications and it’s important all oral medications be checked for gluten.’


About coeliac disease

The main symptoms of coeliac disease include:

  • Unexplained and extreme fatigue
  • Bloating or other gut symptoms
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • A general lack of energy

People with coeliac disease remain sensitive to gluten throughout their life, so it can’t be cured as such; however a gluten-free diet can allow it to be managed effectively so that coeliacs can live a healthy, active and pain-free life.

If untreated, however, and the person continues to consume foods containing gluten, coeliac disease can lead to malnutrition, chronic poor health, osteoporosis, infertility, miscarriage, depression, liver disease and an increased risk of other auto-immune diseases.

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