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Coeliac Awareness Week 2015: Interview with Dr James
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Coeliac Awareness Week 2015: Interview with Dr James

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Coeliac Awareness Week 2015: Interview with Dr James

This week, it is coeliac awareness week and I’ve managed to ask a few questions to Dr James about the disease. What makes it even more interesting is that he himself is a coeliac too.

MAZWO: Can you explain to those who don’t know, what is coeliac disease?

James: Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition where gluten (a protein found mainly in wheat and barley) causes the body to react and causes an inflammatory response. This reaction damages the gut, especially the small intestine.

M: Do we know what causes the disease to develop?
 J: Like with other autoimmune diseases, there is no convincing answer as yet to what actually causes someone to develop the disease. You can develop it at anytime in your life and you are at a higher risk if you have a close family member with the condition. It is thought that 1 in 100 people in the UK have the disease, but only around a quarter have a formal diagnosis. There is no cure as such, but following a gluten free diet improves symptoms.
M:What are the symptoms to look out for?
J: The body’s reaction to gluten can cause the person affected to have a range of symptoms, sometimes mild and sometimes severe. Before I was diagnosed, my main symptoms were bloating, heart burn soon after ingesting food with gluten in, then followed by lethargy which could last for a few days. Other common symptoms include diarrhoea, nausea, wind, mouth ulcers and weight loss. Symptoms that last longer than a few days should be looked into and it is important you make an appointment to see your Doctor.
M: What is the best way to check f you have Coeliac Disease?
J: For a formal diagnosis of coeliac disease, the best thing you can do is go and see your doctor as soon as possible. They’ll take a simple blood test first, and if that comes back positive, you may also go for a biopsy of the small intestine.  If someone with coeliac disease has prolonged exposure to gluten over many years it can lead to malnutrition, infertility and also significantly increases your risk of developing lymphoma or small bowel cancer. The good news is that a gluten free diet for a few years reverses these risks.
M: Once diagnosed, how important is it to avoid gluten?
J: As far as the medical profession know, the occasional ingestion of gluten does not cause detrimental harm. I have friends with coeliac disease who do not have as severe symptoms as me and I have known them to occasionally ‘turn a blind eye’ to a slice of cake. However, you shouldn’t do this often as it can cause serious harm to your small intestine.
M: What are the best products you have found which are gluten free?
J: In the four years I have had coeliac disease, the amount of food products available have not only quadrupled but the quality has massively improved as well. In part I think this is due to increased awareness of the disease but also due to some high profile people promoting ‘gluten free’ as a way of life even if you do not have the disease. Gluten free has become fashionable. If I had to choose one gluten free product, it would have to be Genius Seeded Sliced Loaf. It’s good enough that I have found my wife stealing a slice from time to time. Also, the clever people at Estrella Daura Damm have managed to remove the gluten from their beer and it tastes amazing!
M: Where are the best places to eat out?
J: In the UK, restaurants have been slow to catch on to gluten free, but this seems to be changing. Pizza Express do a fairly good gluten free pizza, although it is a bit on the small side. Vintage Inns do a good gluten free menu as do the Blackhouse chain of restaurants. I will add a word of warning though, as I said earlier, eating out is a risk. You are putting your trust into a chef who may not fully appreciate the seriousness of avoiding cross contamination with gluten and I have been bitten more than once. If the restaurant have used utensils, chopping boards, pans, that have had gluten containing ingredients on them and then prepared my dish using the same equipment, I get symptoms. At home, I have to use a different toaster to the rest of the family. We have separate butters and spreads to try and avoid cross contamination. It really does take a lot of getting use to and it is often difficult for people to appreciate and understand.
M: What advice would you give to people who are coeliacs?
J: My dietary advice for people who are Coeliacs is to keep persevering. A large portion of my calorie intact before becoming coeliac was wheat based, it took a long time to alter my habits. I would advice not trying to substitute what you ate before for the ‘gluten free version’, you will just be disappointed as the tastes and textures are different. Try and get your carbohydrates for other sources such as potatoes and rice. On a very positive note, my diet now is much better than before I was diagnosed. I have to plan my meals and snacks well in advance as it can be quite difficult to ‘grab a bite to eat’; fast food, ready made sandwiches, sausage rolls, pastries, flavoured crisps are almost equivocally a no go area.
M: What about people who aren’t coeliacs? Is it healthier to follow a gluten-free diet anyway?
J: If you do not have coeliac disease, it is hard to find compelling scientific evidence that avoiding gluten containing foods completely is any healthier than having a diet containing moderate amounts of it. What I can say is my diet now is much healthier and more varied. Avoiding gluten inevitably forces you to avoid fast food, pastries, white bread, beer. . . It is hard to argue that is anything but a good thing.
M: Do you think there’ll ever be a cure for Coeliac disease?
J: I don’t think we will see one in our life time because there is no drive to find one. There are not really any strong incentives for industry to invest money into researching a cure.
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Coeliac Awareness Week 2015: Interview with Dr James
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Coeliac Awareness Week 2015: Interview with Dr James
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