Gluten intolerance

Intolerance to gluten takes many forms – from coeliac disease, which is a severe reaction to gluten containing foods, to wheat allergies or sensitivity to gluten in the diet. As a result, many people confine themselves to a gluten-free diet.

Gluten is a protein found in foods made from wheat and other grains, such as rye and barley. The most common source of gluten in your diet is from products like bread and pasta. Often people with the most severe reaction to gluten are also advised to avoid oats due to cross-contamination.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance are different for many people. In those suffering from coeliac disease, their intestine is damaged by the presence of even small amounts of gluten and they suffer from poor absorption of many nutrients as a result. An absolute diagnosis of coeliac disease is generally made after a biopsy, or removal of a small piece of their intestine to check for damage.  

Other people who are sensitive to gluten in their diet complain of symptoms, such as a bloated stomach, abdominal pain, constipation, nausea, diarrhoea, excessive wind or a combination of these. These people will usually have a negative test result for coeliac disease and their condition is regarded as less severe than coeliac disease. There is documented evidence that restricting gluten in their diet will alleviate most, if not all, symptoms.

Wheat allergy is an allergy to many components of wheat, not just gluten.  People that suffer from an allergic response to wheat must avoid all forms of wheat and will need ongoing medical care in order to manage this allergy.

All people that suffer from adverse effects after eating wheat or gluten containing products should attempt to avoid this in their diet. It takes vigilance and care to manage the symptoms, especially when you have little control over your food, such as when eating out, or ordering take-away food. It is also helpful to read packaging carefully when buying any food that you may eat or drink when gluten or wheat intolerant. In New Zealand, food packaging is required to state if any potential allergens are present.

There are a variety of gluten free products. Supermarkets generally stock a reasonable range of these and others are available on prescription,  from mail order or retail stockists of low allergy foods.

Medications to treat the symptoms of gluten intolerance are available from your community pharmacy. Your pharmacist can also advise you about managing the intake of foods that cause these symptoms and refer you to get specialist advice and treatment from a dietician or your doctor if appropriate.

Managing the symptoms of gluten intolerance is made easier with the help of your community pharmacist.