However levels of the disease, particularly in the west of Ireland, are considered to be very high. Coeliac disease isnt a food allergy, it is an autoimmune disease. Gluten triggers an immune reaction in people with coeliac disease. However, people with gluten intolerance can have the same symptoms as coeliac disease and there is the same long term risk. Gluten intolerance can cause intestinal damage and can also attack any other organ of the body, similar to coeliac disease. Regarding gluten intolerance in Ireland,the research is still in its infancy. There is much debate on the prevalence, but some suggest it could be somewhere around six or seven per cent. Hotels are the worst culprits. There are some hotels who really know what theyre doing when catering to gluten free diets, but the majority fall short. I always have to bring a back-up meal to a hotel. People who have no choice to be on a restrictive diet should not have to bring their own food to established commercial hospitality venues. Especially when the venue has been called in advance and given information regarding dietary needs. In this day in age, youd think its a right to be able to consume food that has been safely prepared in a commercial hospitality venue.

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Everything you need to know about coeliac disease (and whether you really have it)

It was the 1950s and the age of treatment with a gluten-free diet had begun. Prevalence and the reasons why Far from being a medical rarity, coeliac disease is very common today, affecting more than one in 100 Australians. And in the last half century, it has become approximately twice as common every two decades , similar to the rise in other immune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes. The increased prevalence of the disease may be due to hyper-conscious hygiene practices. sydeen/Flickr Why the prevalence is increasing remains unknown, but a variety of environmental factors and the hygiene hypothesis have been proposed. Today, people are typically diagnosed in adulthood and are mostly female. Alarmingly, 80% of Australians with coeliac disease remain undiagnosed . This is because symptoms are wide-ranging and largely non-specific. And coeliac disease still remains off the radar for many doctors. Many symptoms but simple diagnosis In people with coeliac disease, gluten causes widespread inflammation not limited to the bowel. Patients are commonly troubled by gut upset (such as bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and/or constipation), lethargy, anaemia, and nutrient deficiencies, such as low iron. They can also suffer loss of fertility, migraine headaches, abnormal liver function, arthritis and autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and autoimmune thyroid disease. Bones are more likely to be thinned out (osteoporosis) and patients can develop certain cancers, such as lymphoma. The good news is that early diagnosis and treatment can greatly reduce the chances of these complications.

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Testing time for coeliacs

Loaf of bread with caution tape.

One of the reasons for the gluten-free boom, market analysts say, is the buzz bestowed by celebrities. Gwyneth Paltrow has talked about her cleansing regime that includes giving gluten a wide berth, while Oprah Winfrey went on a no-gluten cleansing diet. ”There are a lot of misconceptions about the gluten-free diet out there,” the communications director for America’s National Foundation for Coeliac Awareness, Whitney Ehret, says. Gluten, an essential component in making cakes fluffy and biscuits chewy, has in a way become demonised. Some products billed as gluten-free never contained gluten to begin with, but marketers want to capitalise on the sudden health halo. In the US, retail sales of gluten-free products rose from an estimated $US935 million ($1.02 billion) in 2006 to an estimated $US2.64 billion in 2010, according to a February report by market researcher Packaged Facts. Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics, another US market researcher, found 13.4 per cent of all food products launched there in 2010, excluding beverages, made a gluten-free claim, compared with 5 per cent in 2005. ”It’s pretty unusual to see that sort of major advance over that brief a period of time,” Product Launch Analytics’ director, Tom Vierhile, says. In people with coeliac disease, gluten causes the body to attack itself by destroying ”villi,” tiny finger-like protrusions lining the small intestine that are vital for absorbing nutrition. One per cent of Australians have coeliac disease, and executive director of Coeliac New South Wales and ACT, David Sullivan, estimates three-quarters of them are undiagnosed. That means only 0.25 per cent of Australians are coeliac and know it. Yet Sullivan says a study conducted by the Coeliac Research Fund in late 2010 showed about 10 per cent of Australians are either strictly controlling or limiting gluten in their diets.

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