Children with coeliac disease can't eat: Wheat (including most bread, couscous, pasta, foods thickened with wheat flour such as some sausages and bought soups).
Coeliac disease is not an allergy it is an ‘autoimmune disease.’ This means the body produces an antibody when gluten enters the digestive system. 1 in every 100 people will develop the coeliac disease and the Department of Health recommends not giving any gluten containing food to babies under six months of age.
Gluten is a large protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For this reason, some people may confuse coeliac disease with a wheat allergy or wheat intolerance.
When the body produces an antibody to gluten it can attack the lining of the gut. The lining of the small intestine is full of finger-like extensions called villi. The villi have a good blood supply allowing nutrients from the food to be transported into the bloodstream to be taken to the liver.
People with long term coeliac disease will have lost a large proportion of the villi in their intestines. It is estimated the surface area of an adult’s healthy gut is the size of a tennis court whereas the surface area of the coeliac gut may only be the size of a dining table.
This destruction of the intestinal lining can lead to serious malnutrition and poor absorption of nutrients.
Inflammation and damage to the small intestine lining can lead to pain, discomfort and problems with growth. This may happen soon after introducing gluten in solids but it might not occur until later in childhood.
Symptoms include the following, but your baby may have coeliac disease without having all these signs or symptoms:
Your child might be very highly strung and get very sad or angry about minor things. In children with an undiagnosed coeliac disease, they are not getting enough nutrition and will suffer from the symptoms of a ‘blood sugar low’ which can make anyone feel cranky and emotional. They may crave high sugar foods to cope with this.
Coeliac disease can be reliably diagnosed with a blood test which simply counts the levels of the gluten antibody in the blood.
This blood test is highly sensitive but there is some differing of opinion on what to do if a child receives a positive result on the test.
Some doctors will then diagnose coeliac disease on the basis of the antibody results. They will then prescribe a gluten-free diet where gluten is completely excluded from the diet. After gluten has been removed from the diet for a period of time they may retest the blood to confirm that the antibodies are no longer there (this means that the diet is truly gluten-free). They will also look for signs of recovery and if growth improves and symptoms disappear they will recommend a life-long gluten-free diet.
Some doctors will want to confirm a diagnosis by keeping the child eating the gluten for several more months and then will perform a biopsy to see that the gluten has definitely damaged the gut. If the damage is found in the biopsy they will then recommend a life-long gluten-free diet.
The rationale for the blood test diagnosis is that the ‘cure’ of the gluten free diet can begin immediately which can be important for a child that isn’t growing and is suffering.
The rationale for continuing to eat gluten to test for intestinal damage in the future is that cutting out gluten from your child’s diet for life is a big step and you may want to be sure with a diagnostic biopsy.
It is worth speaking to several paediatric gastroenterologists and auto-immune experts to discuss these two options with respect to your child and her specific situations.
You will need to remove all foods that contain:
The good news is that is lots of food you can eat and for most of the human history grains containing gluten have not been a big part of the diet. So you can eat:
Living in the UK with coeliac disease, the good news!
The UK is one of the best countries, in terms of availability of gluten-free food and good food labelling. So:
No! Wheat-free products may contain other grains, such as rye or barley.
Gluten-free products may contain other wheat proteins so may not be suitable for children who are intolerant or allergic to wheat (as opposed to coeliac disease).
There is no cure for coeliac disease per se but your child will make a full recovery (including the regrowth of intestinal villi) by following a gluten-free diet. You will quickly see improvements in mood and then growth will start to pick up when the gut is enough recovered (not immediately) to allow good absorption of nutrients.
However, clinical trials for a vaccine for coeliac disease is now underway. The vaccine hopes to prevent damage to the villi in the intestine when a coeliac or celiac eats gluten.
An allergic reaction is generally a more systemic response by the body. In extreme cases, a child will go into anaphylaxis when they ingest or touch the food they are allergic too.
This is a true, immediate wheat or gluten allergy is caused by an IgE reaction to one or more of the proteins found in the wheat grain. Wheat contains the following types of protein:
This kind of wheat allergy is actually most common in babies (when they are initially given wheat or grains to eat) and the good news is that it usually goes away within a few years. Symptoms of this kind of wheat allergy (IgE mediated) may include:
Here a video with more information about food allergies and how to introduce high allergy foods to your baby:
There is more controversy about not immediate gluten senstivity as it is harder to test for it. Some people report the same symptoms to gluten as coeliacs but it is unclear what the bodies response is as there is no gluten antibody. If your baby does not positive for coeliac disease but seems to have bad symptoms and poor growth speak to your doctor about the pros and cons of trying a gluten-free diet. It is not advisable to cut out a whole food group without getting medical advice or having your baby referred to a dietitian.