There has been a fourfold increase in the rate of diagnosed cases of coeliac disease in the UK since 1990, according to the latest research from the University of Nottingham.
The National Institute of Health & Care Excellence previously estimated that only 10–15% of those with coeliac disease had been diagnosed, however, this latest research, funded by Coeliac UK and digestive disorder charity Core, has shown that the level of diagnosis has increased to 24%.
Lindsey McManus, deputy ceo of Allergy UK told FoodManufacture.co.uk she was not surprised by the increase.
“That is a staggering increase, but it doesn’t surprise me because it is hard to pinpoint and takes a lot of to-ing and fro-ing from the doctors to become diagnosed,” she claimed.
“People end up becoming their own experts and try things out to see if taking gluten out of their diet makes them feel better.”
The increase in diagnosed cases was a good thing because it meant that the disease was being picked up, she added.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten. Left untreated it may lead to infertility, osteoporosis and small bowel cancer. 1 in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, with the prevalence rising to 1 in 10 for close family members.
The research also found that three quarters of people with coeliac disease remained undiagnosed.
“With food intolerances there is so little information out there, so many people will look on the internet and try things out,” McManus claimed. “So many people are trying to feel better.”
Last week, Coeliac UK warned against the dangers of people self-diagnosing themselves.
Sarah Sleet, ceo of Coaliac UK said the increase in diagnosed cases could be a good thing for food manufacturers.
“Of course, increasing numbers with a diagnosis is good news and will inevitably mean that there will be an increased demand for gluten-free products in supermarkets,” Sleet added. “But the three quarters undiagnosed is around 500,000 people – a shocking statistic that needs urgent action.”
The only treatment for coeliac disease is a lifelong gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and, once diagnosed, people with coeliac disease need to eliminate all gluten-containing foods and make sure they only eat gluten-free varieties.
Coeliac UK is running an awareness week from May 12–18 asking people across the UK to support the ‘Gluten-free Guarantee’ which asks supermarkets to commit to have in stock eight core items of gluten-free food
Almost three quarters (74%) of Coeliac UK members said they have to visit more than one supermarket to complete their free-from shopping requirements, a recent survey by the charity claimed.