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Coeliac happens when the body's immune system decides that it doesn't like Gluten - a protein found in wheat barley and rye and all foods that are made from these grains - and as a result damage occurs to the parts of the intestine where these foods are absorbed. As a result of this damage, not only is the absorption of gluten affected but also other important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. If this damage occurs at an early age, or if diagnosis is delayed for a very long period, then "Mal-absorption" diseases can occur such as Osteoporosis, peripheral nerve damage and liver disease.
Why this sensitivity happens is still not clear: there does appear to be a genetic basis for the problem although not every one with the affected genes actually develops Coeliac disease, and the current thinking is that there are other environmental conditions contributing to the development of the condition.
Many cases of Coeliac are completely silent - in other words, those affected have no symptoms whatsoever: others will suffer from abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea too.
Diagnosis is made by biopsy of the affected part of the bowel. This is a relatively simple procedure conducted by a specialist in a hospital setting. Tiny pieces of the bowel are harvested and viewed under a microscope: if present, Coeliac will show itself by a loss of the tiny, hair-like projections covering of the lining of the bowel and which are essential for efficient absorption of nutrients from digested foods.
There is no cure for Coeliac, but like most chronic diseases there is very effective management of the condition that allows for normal health and a normal lifespan. The exciting challenge is to exclude Gluten from ones diet and replace it with other food groups according to the individual tastes of the person with the condition. These days there are a plethora of alternatives to Grain based foods and all food packaging in Australia must show whether the contents contain Gluten.
Also there are many online support groups and organizations:
The upside of getting a diagnosis of Coeliac is that you think more carefully about what you eat, and you are challenged to discover different ways of preparing your food: a little bit of what I would call the agony and the ecstacy of living.
If you have any favourite recipes or advice you'd like to send in, I'd be very happy to publish them.
PS there is no gluten in Champagne!