Crossed Grain

Coeliac Disease

(Coeliac is pronounced see-lee-yack)

I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease by doctors at Epsom District Hospital in 1976 when I was only a year old. I was extremely ill before then.

About 1 in 1000 people in the UK are diagnosed as having Coeliac Disease. In very simple terms, a Coeliac's (ie. someone with Coeliac Disease) gut is unable to digest gluten. Everybodies small intestine has lots of little sticky up bits which vastly increase it surface area. The sticky up bits are called villi. If you put gluten into a Coeliac's stomach it makes the villi lie down, thus reducing the surface area and making it difficult for the stomach to digest anything at all. There is a slightly more technical description on the Coeliac UK website here.

If I eat gluten I get pretty ill within a day or two (diarhoea, headaches, vomiting, lethargy, weight loss). The intensity of the reaction depends on how much gluten I eat. If I ate a sandwich then I might get a bit of a headache and an upset stomach later that day. On the other hand, I might not notice any reaction at all - it depends on how good my general health was before. Nonetheless, every time I eat gluten it will damage my stomach and it won't always recover totally, so I must avoid eating gluten whenever possible. Fortunately, I don't start having fits or start having difficulty breathing like some people who are allergic to peanuts.

To control Coeliac Disease, all I need to do is stick to a gluten-free diet. That means that I can't eat anything with gluten in. Gluten occurs naturally in wheat, rye, barley and oats. That rules out all sorts of things;-

That sounds terribly restrictive doesn't it? It's not all that bad though. Nowadays there are laods of companies that produce gluten-free versions of all the above. Fifteen years ago there wasn't much available except tinned bread (yep, it came in cans!). Gluten-free foods can be very expensive, but thankfully the Doctor can prescribe most of the important things. The doctor can prescribe bread and pasta and plain biscuits, but the little luxuries like chocolate digestives and bourbon biscuits I have to buy... and they are expensive! It's hassle having to order things days in advance to come to the local pharmacy, but the diet I eat is reasonably healthy and provided I stick rigidly to the gluten-free food I can live a perfectly normal lifestyle.


It's not always obvious what is and what isn't gluten free. For example; King Size Mars bars are gluten-free, but the fun size ones are not! To help me with this, Coeliac UK (formerly known as The Coeliac Society) publish a little handbook which lists all the manufactured products I can eat.

The handbook is pocket size and lists everything by manufacturer. It is vital that I check products against the handbook to ensure that I don't eat things that will make me ill. Of course, I get to know what products are in the book and what isn't, so I don't have to look everything up. Also, some manufacturers helpfully put a symbol on their packaging or a statement to say that the product is gluten-free (although I always treat these with caution because occassionally they are blatantly wrong).