Coeliac disease (also known as gluten intolerance) is a very poorly understood pathology. However, it is very widespread and poses a true public health problem.
It is currently thought that gluten intolerance affects one in every 100 people but only 10 to 20% of cases are actually diagnosed.
Coeliac disease can occur at any age. It can even appear in babies under the age of six months. Women are two or three times as likely to be affected as men.
Coeliac disease is characterized by inflammation of the intestine; this progressively destroys the microvilli and prevents the absorption of certain nutrients.
The disease shows itself in patients via:
- chronic diarrhoea
- retarded growth
- recurrent abdominal pain
- short stature
- muscle wasting
Even with a healthy diet, patients suffer from significant malnutrition, with very significant repercussions on their state of health:
- kidney stones
At present, there is no treatment for the disease. The only solution for patients is to adopt a strict, gluten-free diet for life, which is tough to stick to - not only for meals eaten outside the home (mass catering, crèches, canteens, etc.) but also in terms of choosing food products and even drugs where gluten may be present as an original ingredient (flour) or through contamination.
Research is now focusing on the development of new drugs as non-dietary alternative treatments.