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Coeliac Disease Is Not An Intolerance

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Faiza Zahir, Content Writer at Grace Writes

Written by: Faiza Zahir (Content Writer)

Grace Pountney, Editor-in-Chief at Grace Writes

Edited by: Grace Pountney (Editor-in-Chief)

Step into science with Science Snapshot, a Bio Brigade blog. Find out about interesting science, health, and diseases. We spotlight individual stories, increase awareness of rare diseases, and answer your Science Suspicions!

Coeliac Awareness Week - 15th to 21st May 2023

Coeliac UK's campaign 'coeliac disease is different for everyone' for Coeliac Awareness Week 2023.
Coeliac UK's campaign 'coeliac disease is different for everyone' for Coeliac Awareness Week 2023.

In light of Coeliac Awareness Week 2023, we are publishing several articles to raise awareness of the science behind coeliac disease and to shed light on the real-life stories of individuals negatively affected by gluten. Head to the Coeliac UK website for more information about Coeliac Awareness Week 2023, and to find out more about their campaign.


What is Coeliac Disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease.

When gluten, a protein found in certain foods, is eaten, the immune system thinks it is a foreign invader and attacks the body's own tissue. This can lead to damage of the gut (small intestines), subsequently preventing the body from absorbing enough nutrients.

Coeliac disease is hereditary, meaning it runs in families.

It is unclear why some people develop coeliac disease or why symptoms, and their severity, differ, but family history, environmental factors, and other health conditions may contribute.

Close relatives of people with coeliac have a higher chance of developing the disease. If someone has a first-degree relative (for example, a parent or sibling) who suffers from coeliac disease, they have a 1 in 10 risk of developing the disease. Some people are carriers but do not suffer from the disease.

If not managed, coeliac disease can lead to cancer.

If people with coeliac disease do not refrain from eating gluten, whilst very rare, this can lead to cancer. Cancers associated with coeliac disease include small bowel cancer, small bowel lymphoma, and Hodgkin lymphoma.


What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in food and drink containing wheat, barley, or rye.

Which food and drink contain gluten?

Gluten-containing foods include:

  • Flour

  • Bread

  • Cereals

  • Pasta

  • Chips

  • Biscuits

  • Baked-goods e.g. cakes

  • Sausages

  • Some crisps

  • Semolina

  • Couscous

  • Gravy

  • Some chocolates

  • Most processed foods

Gluten-containing drinks include:

Gluten-contaminated food and drinks include:

Which food and drink are gluten-free?

There are many naturally gluten-free foods and drinks, and alternative ingredients can be used to make gluten-free foods. Fortunately, most gluten-containing foods are now widely available as gluten-free options. Before eating, is important that people with coeliac disease always check the ingredients do not include gluten.

Naturally gluten-free foods include:

  • Fruit

  • Vegetables

  • Dairy products e.g. butter, margarine, & eggs

  • Legumes e.g. beans, seeds, & lentils

  • Nuts

  • Meat

  • Fish

  • Rice

  • Quinoa

  • Corn flour

  • Corn meal


What are The Symptoms of Coeliac Disease?

There is a wide range of symptoms of coeliac disease. One or more of these symptoms are experienced upon consumption of gluten.

Symptoms, and their severity, vary between cases. For example, some individuals may not experience digestive symptoms.

Digestive symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhoea

  • Constipation

  • Stomach aches

  • Bloating

  • Flatulence (passing gas)

  • Indigestion

Other symptoms:


How is Coeliac Disease Diagnosed?

Individuals may think they have coeliac disease if they experience any of the symptoms above, or know a family member who has coeliac disease. In either of these cases, it is important to see a doctor, who will refer you for appropriate tests, if necessary.

Diagnosis Pathway

Diagnosis Pathway in the UK:

  1. GP Appointment

2. Blood Tests

Super Science: Coeliac Blood Tests

3. Endoscopy & Biopsy

Super Science: Coeliac Biopsy

4. Confirmation & Dietician Referral


How is Coeliac Disease Treated and Managed?

  • The basis of treatment for coeliac disease is to remove gluten from the individual's diet completely.

  • Complete refrainment from gluten can reverse the negative effects on the small intestines and the risk of developing the types of cancer associated with coeliac disease becomes the same as that of the general population.


Science Suspicions

Science Snapshot Blog logo

Each issue, we answer your science questions!

Is coeliac disease an intolerance or allergy?

Short answer: No!

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease.

The smallest amount of gluten can cause gut damage for people with coeliac disease. They cannot build a tolerance to gluten and it is a lifelong condition.

Got a question? Submit it using the link below:


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