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Coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity

coeliac; celiac; bowel; nutrients; gluten; intolerance; digestive; system; intestine; villi;


What is coeliac disease?

In coeliac disease (say see-lee-ak), gluten (gloo-ten) causes damage to the lining of the small bowel. It is sometimes spelled celiac disease. Gluten is a protein which is found in cereals like wheat, rye, barley, triticale and oats.

no cakeOf course many foods like bread, cakes, biscuits, or other foods which have flour made from these grains in them will also contain gluten. You may still be able to eat some cake which is gluten-free.

People who have a sensitivity or intolerance (say in-tol-er-ans) to gluten get sick because they cannot digest their food properly and they don't absorb all the nutrients (noo-tree-ents) that the body needs.

  • Intolerance means that your body can't digest something normally, so there is a reaction against it.

About 1 in 70 people in Australia have coeliac disease and it can be very difficult for a person who has coeliac disease.

How do you get it?

No one is sure why some people are gluten intolerant, but it can be hereditary (say her-ed-it-airy). That means that if parents or grandparents have it, there's about a 1 in 15 chance of their kids or grandkids getting it.

What happens?

looking for gluten free biscuitsWhen you swallow food it moves along the digestive system while the body removes all the nutrients it needs and gets rid of what it doesn't need. Our topic Your waste disposal system will tell you more about the last bit.

In the small intestine there are villi - tiny hair-like cells which take in the vitamins and nutrients as the food goes through.

If a person is gluten intolerant, these villi get attacked by the body's immune system when the person eats something with gluten in it, so the villi can't do their job and the body doesn't get enough vitamins and nutrients. If kids don't get these, their bodies can't grow and develop as they should, and they could get health problems.

What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Tummy pain
  • Diarrhoea (say dyer-ear) (the runs), or constipation (having problems doing poo)
  • Swollen abdomen (a fat looking tummy)
  • Being grizzly and bad tempered
  • Anaemia (an-ee-mi-a): a lack of iron in the blood which leads to the person feeling tired all the time
  • Slow growth rate

shopping for gluten free itemsOf course there are lots of reasons why kids might have some or all of these symptoms, so it is a good idea to visit the doctor and maybe have some tests if you are feeling pretty yucky for ages.

If you have symptoms that your doctor thinks fit with coeliac disease he or she may send you for tests to check out what is happening in your small intestine, especially if other people in your family have had coeliac disease.


What you can do if you have coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is for life or until 'they' find a cure. That means you need to be very careful about your diet for the rest of your life if you have coeliac disease.

Remember that there are lots of foods that you can eat without any problems, such as fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products.

  • Stay on a gluten-free diet. That gives the villi can do their job of making sure your body gets all the energy, vitamins and nutrients it needs.
  • Eat rice cereals or corn cereals.
  • Avoid foods that have gluten in them.
  • You need to learn to read food labels carefully. Lots of processed foods contain gluten. In Australia, the ingredients of all foods have to be listed on the label.
  • Look out for gluten-free breads and cakes.
  • Don't share someone else's food unless you know that it is gluten-free.
    gluten free
  • Look for gluten-free recipes on the Internet. There are lots and you can help make some of the foods too, as there are sites with recipes for kids to make. Just type in 'gluten free recipes for kids' into the search engine you use, such as 'google'.
  • You, your parents or caregivers can get support from others who have coeliac disease. You can find out more on this site.

Dr Kate says

Dr KateSometimes it can feel unfair that you have to stick to a strict diet. While your friends can eat fast foods, you need to be looking for gluten-free or unprocessed foods. More caf├ęs and restaurants are making meals that are gluten-free, so as you get older it will be easier to eat out.




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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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