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When you Google gluten-free you are inundated with memes about gluten-free haircuts, gluten-free water and how the rest of the world is sick of hearing about it. But how many people actually know what it means to be gluten-free in the case of coeliac disease, or understand what coeliac disease is?
Coeliac disease is a permanent autoimmune disease which causes the immune system to attack the body when you eat gluten from wheat and other grains. The damage to the gut causes symptoms like diarrhoea and bloating. Nutrient absorption may be impaired so people often have anaemia or feel fatigued. Growth in children may be affected. And, because the gut is damaged, there may be intolerance to lactose, at least temporarily until the gut starts to heal when gluten is rigorously avoided.
PhD student Katie Pedley is investigating the long-term effects of coeliac disease. She has already completed her Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition and Physiology and her interests in Coeliac Disease led her to want to do research in this area.
“Sadly, for sufferers of coeliac disease, there is no cure,” she says. “They have to avoid gluten for their whole lives – as indicated by this year’s theme for Coeliac Awareness Week ‘Together we are GF for life’.”
So how is coeliac disease diagnosed? “Blood tests can identify antibodies in the blood which are raised in coeliac disease because the gut is damaged,” Ms Pedley says. “Genetic testing can show whether genes which occur more frequently in people with coeliac disease are present. Confirmation of coeliac disease is usually done by a gastroenterologist taking minute samples of gut tissue which can be examined under a microscope to detect damage to the lining of the gut. The tests have to be done before the person starts a gluten-free diet. If the tests are positive then it is extremely important to avoid all sources of gluten.”
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Ms Pedley’s PhD thesis is being supervised by Professor Marlena Kruger from Massey Institute of Food Science & Technology.
Created: 20/06/2018 | Last updated: 20/06/2018
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