Coeliac Awareness Week runs from 13-20 March 2019
A new campaign launched during Coeliac Awareness Week is urging food businesses to treat gluten seriously.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune illness caused by gluten, a dietary protein from wheat, rye, barley and oats.
Typical problems include gastrointestinal complaints, anaemia and nutrient deficiencies, chronic fatigue and headaches.
Treatment involves a strict and lifelong gluten-free diet.
While it affects one in 70 of the population, 80% of affected Australians remain undiagnosed and unaware they are living with the condition.
If the disease is left untreated, it can cause chronic ill health and lead to liver disease, osteoporosis, other autoimmune illnesses and cancer.
Meanwhile thousands of Australians with coeliac disease aren’t eating out as often as they would like due to concerns their gluten free meals could contain gluten, says Coeliac Australia.
“People with coeliac disease want to eat out more often but fear of possible gluten contamination and the debilitating symptoms they may experience is stopping them,” says Coeliac Australia Chief Executive Officer Michelle Laforest.
“This inability to enjoy social occasions, something that most Australians take for granted, can negatively impact the wellbeing of people with coeliac disease.
“Gluten free is not a fad. We urge all food businesses to treat gluten seriously and to be aware of their responsibilities when making a gluten-free claim.”
Any food service business making a gluten free claim should be aware that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) specifies:
Products or meals making a ‘gluten free’ claim must not contain:
- Any detectable gluten; or
Oats or oat products: or
Cereals containing gluten that have been malted, or products of such cereals
Food businesses should avoid:
- Creative claims such as ‘gluten friendly’ or ‘coeliac friendly’
- Use of disclaimers when making a gluten free claim
- Using the name of a disease in advertising or on a menu except in within the logo of a reputable endorsing body
Targeted testing by GPs of people who have at-risk symptoms or medical history is the best way to identify those with coeliac disease, says Coeliac Australia.
Pharmacists should also refer patients to their GP who present with at-risk symptoms.
“My daughter was diagnosed as coeliac in October 2018. Diagnosis was one of the hardest parts of finding out – it took around eight years from when we first went to a GP,” Melissa* tells AJP.
“It was not picked up early despite repeated trips to a GP and mentioning wheat issues, fatigue, low nutrients, anxiety/depression, low iron and bruising.
“I believe more accurate information given needs to be given earlier to patients/customers especially around associated conditions,” she says.
“In our situation it could have helped avoid the many and various complications my daughter has had to endure. The more I speak with those diagnosed I find their stories are similar. It has often been a difficult journey to diagnosis.
“One poor gentleman I know endured many years of ill health only to be diagnosed in his late 50s after breaking his back in three places due to osteoporosis.”
Melissa says pharmacists can assist by getting some information out to customers.
“For example, you may come across a customer who has osteoporosis but has never been sent for a coeliac blood test. It would be worth having the discussion about coeliac disease and providing some information. You could encourage your customers to have a discussion with their GP and do the online assessment.”
Coeliac Australia encourages people who suspect they may have coeliac disease to stay on a diet that includes gluten and ask their GP for a coeliac blood test.
“Do not commence a gluten-free diet prior to being tested for coeliac disease. If a gluten-free diet has already been adopted, the tests used to diagnose coeliac disease are unreliable, and can be falsely negative,” says the organisation.
They say a small bowel biopsy is essential to then confirm diagnosis.
Coeliac disease can affect most systems in the body, says Coeliac Australia.
“Early diagnosis and treatment of coeliac disease can greatly reduce the risk of most of these problems ever occurring,” says the organisation.
Associated conditions include, among others:
- Autoimmune thyroid disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Anaemia (iron or B12 deficiency)
- Lactose intolerance
- Pernicious anaemia (inability to absorb B12)
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Infertility and recurrent miscarriage
- Premature osteopaenia (low bone mineral density) and osteoporosis
See the Coeliac Australia website for the full list of associated conditions
*name has been changed for privacy reasons