Do you often feel unwell after a meal? You've enjoyed something delicious, but for hours afterwards, you're battling painful stomach cramps, or rushing off to the loo with an upset tummy. Or maybe you're always having to loosen your waistband because you get so bloated? Post-meal diarrhoea, bloating, and stomach pain are all classic symptoms of coeliac disease. But many people put them down to IBS or 'just one of those things'.
Research has shown that around 1 in 100 people in the UK are coeliac. And of these 1 in 100, a massive 7 out of 10 people remain undiagnosed. Often, because they don't know their symptoms could mean they have coeliac disease. Plus, lots of people don't experience these more typical coeliac symptoms and might not realise that a rash, headaches, and even low mood can also be signs.
It's no wonder the average coeliac is over 50 years old when they get a formal diagnosis, according to research by Coeliac UK. Which can mean years of eating the wrong foods and suffering from pain and discomfort. Plus, all the knock-on effects that being coeliac can trigger like poor gut health and malabsorption, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, anaemia, and weaker bones and teeth.
What is coeliac disease and what causes it?
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks the small intestine lining after you've eaten something containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
It's not fully understood why certain people's immune systems start to attack themselves, and why gluten is such a powerful trigger. Research has revealed some genes predispose you to coeliac disease. However, these genes are pretty common in the population and only a small percentage go on to develop coeliac disease. And yet, the number of coeliacs in the UK is growing. Studies showed a four-fold increase in the last 20 years.
Many experts, like functional medicine whizz Chris Dresser, believe this growth could be due to the well-documented overuse of antibiotics in developed countries. There’s growing evidence that suggests specific microbes in the gut can trigger coeliac disease. If you take antibiotics even once, the flora in your gut can be disrupted, sometimes forever. This can allow the microbes that promote coeliac disease to flourish. And a bacterial imbalance can also damage the lining of your gut and break down barriers in your intestines. This means gluten has access to places it shouldn't, making it easier for it to interact with enzymes and trigger an autoimmune reaction.
Are there any tell-tale coeliac disease symptoms?
Now you understand what can cause coeliac disease, you need to recognise the tell-tale symptoms to look out for. You probably know the standard symptoms, like stomach pain, unintentional weight loss, diarrhoea, and bloating. But just to confuse matters, some people experience the very opposite of these signs, and put on weight and are constantly constipated!
Many coeliacs report symptoms you wouldn't necessarily associate with a gut issue, like headaches and migraines, skin rashes and hives, and chronic fatigue and low mood. Pain under your ribs on the right side, joint aches, and chronic nausea are also common. As are neurological issues, like numbness in your hands and feet, brain fog, falling over, and restless legs.
As with all medical issues, it's wise to get any of these kinds of symptoms checked out by a GP. But coeliac disease is definitely worth considering if you're experiencing these types of things regularly. Especially if they seem to come on after eating.
How can you treat coeliac disease naturally?
1. Wave goodbye to gluten:
If you are coeliac, your first step is obviously to totally remove gluten, the trigger for coeliac disease, from what you eat. This means a diet free from wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye). Food labelling is very comprehensive now, so it's much easier to check ingredients when you shop.
The gluten-free food market has grown by 10% each year for the last 5 years. You'll find GF goodies in pretty much all shops and supermarkets now. But do be mindful of the ingredients in gluten-free products, they can often be full of lots of sugar, or sugar syrups, and aren't always the healthiest option.
A gluten-free diet can also lead to other nutritional problems. Not eating whole grains decreases the amount of fibre you eat, which can trigger digestive issues like constipation, and can even affect your heart health. GF foods are also typically lacking in vitamin B12, folate, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and calcium, which can lead to deficiencies in these essential vitamins and minerals.
And excluding lots of foods also reduces your dietary diversity, which can affect your gut microbiome negatively. This can lead to reduced immunity and make your overall general health poorer.
But don't panic, you can go gluten-free the healthy way:
2. Take these must-have coeliac disease supplements:
If you've had to make changes to your diet, a supplement is the easiest way to top up on essential vitamins and minerals. As already discussed, it's well documented that gluten-free foods lack B12, folate, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and calcium. So it's a good idea to take a broad-spectrum Multivitamin, like our Multivitamin Patch, to fill the gaps.
Research shows that around half of the coeliac population is anaemic. Probably because coeliac disease can damage the gut, so it doesn't absorb nutrients efficiently. Iron is essential for red blood cell formation, and if you don't get enough you'll feel tired and weak. You can boost your levels with virtually zero effort with our Iron Patch. Another essential ticked off your list!
Deficiencies in Vitamin D and B vitamins are also common if you're coeliac. This can lead to osteoporosis, nervous system disorders, and skin problems. So make sure you add them to your supplement shopping list. And guess what? You'll find 8 B vitamins and your ideal daily D dose in the Multivitamin Patch too. Result!
It's also worth taking Omega-3 to help to manage coeliac disease naturally. Omega-3 fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to reduce inflammation in the small intestine. Plus, studies have shown that coeliacs have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and taking Omega-3 regularly has been proven to improve heart health. You'll find the Omega-3 Patch here.
3. Make friends with fermented foods:
Coeliac disease can damage the intestinal lining, so it's crucial to make sure you're eating a diet that will help heal your gut. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir are all ideal. They’re all packed with beneficial bacteria that promote gut health.
Try and fit at least one fermented food into your meals each day and let the friendly microbes do the rest. They can help to heal the lining of the small intestine by reducing inflammation and increasing the production of substances that promote healing. Any kind of probiotics or prebiotic food will also help to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, and constipation. Double win!
4. Add extra fibre to your diet:
If you've cut wholegrain foods out of your diet your fibre levels can take a dive, which can also harm your gut health. You need 30g of fibre a day to promote regular bowel movements and healing in the small intestine.
Boost your levels by loading up on fibre-rich veggies like carrots, beetroot, broccoli, and kale instead. If you're an artichoke fan, you're in luck! Artichokes boast a massive 10g of fibre per medium-sized one – eat three of those, and it's job done!
Nuts like almonds and hazelnuts are also high in fibre. As are fruits like raspberries, bananas, and apples. One fruit and nut salad with probiotic yoghurt coming up!