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Saturday, 04 July 2015

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Gluten’s for punishment!

THREE dieticians from West Cumberland Hospital are raising awareness about a digestive condition which many people suffer from without knowing.

raising awareness: West Cumberland Hospital dieticians Lesley-Anne Nicol, Nesmah Maguire and Emma Hennessy took part in the ‘Go Gluten-Free Challenge’ to mark Coeliac Awareness Week

It is thought that around 5,000 people in Cumbria have Coeliac disease but about half of those may not know they have it.

It is not a food allergy but an auto-immune disease which makes sufferers intolerant to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (and therefore found in foods like bread and pasta).

For these people, gluten damages the lining of the small intestine and can also affect other parts of the body so they have to follow a special diet.

Coeliac Awareness Week runs from May 14-20 and to mark it the Whitehaven team of dieticians Lesley-Anne Nicol, Nesmah Maguire and Emma Hennessy are taking up the ‘Go Gluten-Free Challenge’.

They took part in the challenge last year to gain an understanding of what it is like to live with coeliac disease and then wrote an article on their experience for the British Dietetic Association (BDA).

They all know the importance for patients to follow the diet but they were interested to understand how it affects them psychologically and what the highs and lows are for people coming to terms with the disease and trying to comply with the diet.

During the challenge week they adhered to a gluten-free diet and documented their intake in a food diary.

Cross-contamination is a real issue for coeliacs – during the challenge they were careful to use toaster bags, different chopping boards and separate condiments from others to prevent any accidental gluten consumption.

“Shopping was a bit frustrating, at times embarrassing, as well as time-consuming,” they said. “We took our food and drink directories to help us feel more confident in choosing safe foods. The consensus was that we all felt a bit self-conscious walking around the supermarket with our noses in the directory and checking food labels. Ensuring that all products are gluten-free can be a laborious task and this is when possibly some individuals may struggle.”

They found the most complex time was when it came to evening meals and snacks, with the main frustration when they wanted something sweet for dessert.

They added: “During this week we learned the importance of planning ahead to ensure we always had gluten-free food available.

“To conclude, as a team we gained valuable insight into the psychological and social aspects of adhering to a gluten-free diet. This has further increased our skills and knowledge to provide a more holistic service to patients with coeliac disease.”

Jean Foster is in charge of the North/East and West Cumbria support group of Coeliac UK and is a coeliac lifestyle adviser/expert patient.

She visits people who have been recently diagnosed or anyone needing a refresher to help with local knowledge such as eating out/where to buy products/prescriptions/support group events etc.

The group organises one of the biggest gluten-free food fayres in the country at Rheged, Penrith. There is also a pharmacy-led scheme (which brings products direct to the local pharmacy and cuts out the need to see a GP for food).

Jean said: “The gluten-free diet is the only treatment for the condition making gluten-free foods our ‘medication’. It is very important to keep staple foods on prescription, especially living in rural locations, as we coeliacs living in Cumbria have limited stock of gluten free foods available to us as we are not in the ‘selected stores’ to get many new products, and if you can buy it it costs three to four times more than ‘normal’ foods.”

She added: “If coeliacs don’t adhere to the gluten-free diet they are at risk of other related conditions such as osteoporosis/type 1 diabetes and intestinal tumours that could lead to bowel cancer.”

ALL types of rice, potato, corn (maize), plain meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, most yoghurts, fruits, vegetables and pulses (peas, beans and lentils) are naturally gluten-free and are suitable for the diet.

Many cafes and restaurants now clearly mark which dishes are gluten free and most supermarkets have a special section of gluten free foods such as pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits.

GLUTEN, which is found in wheat, barley and rye, all of which are found in many everyday products such as flour, bread and pasta.

IN the UK, people with coeliac disease can have gluten-free food on prescription. The foods on prescription are generally staples in the diet such as bread and pasta rather than biscuits and cake items. The gluten-free foods that are prescribed are agreed by a body called the Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances (ACBS).

DIARRHOEA; excessive wind, and/or constipation; persistent or unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting recurrent stomach pain, cramping or bloating; any combination of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency; tiredness and/or headaches; weight loss (but not in all cases); mouth ulcers and hair loss (alopecia).

If you think you may have coeliac disease, it is essential to continue eating gluten until your doctor makes a diagnosis. There are specific blood tests used to diagnose coeliac disease. The GP will also put you in contact with a dietician to offer help, information and advice.

Coeliac UK provides a wealth of information about the condition, go to www.coeliac.org.uk or telephone 0845 3052060. Locally, Jean Foster is in charge of the North/East and West Cumbria support group which has over 800 members. Telephone her on 01900 810440.


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