One in 100 Australians suffer from coeliac disease, where the body is unable to tolerate gluten. Of this, 75 per cent of sufferers don’t even know they have the condition.

The Milk Moustache’s Katelin Meredith explores what it’s like to struggle with coeliac disease, and the many difficulties faced with shopping for gluten free products in our supermarkets.

VO: Danae Costello is doing her weekly shopping. For most of us, this is a routine chore, but for Danae, it can be quite a challenge. No racing through the supermarket aisles; every label has to be read in meticulous detail.

Korinne Costello: You just need to check labels of everything you eat before you eat it, and really being aware of what you can and can’t have.

VO: Korinne and Danae suffer from coeliac disease, an auto-immune condition that affects the body’s ability to process gluten. With gluten in a wide array of common foods, having the condition can mean endless complications

Danae Costello: It’s all about better preparation, going out and having to eat before you go out, because there’s not always a lot of options. More so, going to malls and stuff and food courts and things like that, they don’t have any gluten free options.

VO: As a genetic disorder, it’s common for multiple family members to be coeliac, but it’s only recently that the condition is becoming better known and understood. And for people like Korinne and Danae, that’s meant battling with symptoms that went undiagnosed for years.

Korinne Costello: I always got really sick and bloated eating things like breads and cereals, anything that was high in gluten sort of foods; pastas, anything like that. I’ve always, my whole life, hated those foods and struggled with things like breakfast and lunch because most foods like breads and cereals made us feel sick. Yeah mainly just sore stomachs and bloating.

Danae Costello: I had it a bit more severe, stomach pain, I would be out for two weeks. I couldn’t eat much, couldn’t move. I was in bed.

VO: Apart from fatigue, discomfort and mood swings, coeliac disease can have more severe health implications, and, left untreated it can result in early onset osteoperosis, liver disease, and even cancer. With one in every 100 Australians estimated to have the condition, it’s far more prevalent than we realise. And 75 per cent of sufferers don’t even know they have it.

Graham Price: Coeliac disease appears to be a disease of our modern society, like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, so it does appear to be increasing but with better testing methods, and certainly it needs more awareness.

VO: As president of the Coeliac Society, Graham Price is a driving force behind the Gluten Free Expo, an annual event to raise awareness of the disease and in particular, to promote gluten free products.

Graham Price: Figures have been increasing gradually over the last 10-15 years. The introduction of blood tests in the late nineties certainly raised the diagnosis rate. There’s also a proportion of the population that are gluten intolerant, rather than having coeliac’s disease. And the Coeliac Society runs this expo with the sole purpose of exposing our members to the latest available foods.

Tamara Aquilina: It’s becoming more well known. Every state now has one of these coeliac shows or gluten free shows, and coeliac societies, and all of that sort of stuff.

VO: Stallholders like Tamara Aquilina say things are getting better, but that there’s still a long way to go.

Tamara Aquilina: I mean in Melbourne, I’ve got a friend that travels like two and a half hours to get her bread because it’s the only place she can get fresh baked, gluten free bread. That’s the thing; there’s not a lot of awareness of it.

Danae Costello: Even now that I do work in a supermarket, I recognise a lot more people do have coeliac’s and they’re requesting it, but they’re not always meeting the demand of how people want these products.

Tamara Aquilina: The health food section of the supermarket, that didn’t exist previously, and it’s gone from being something that took up two bays in the shopping aisle to then four bays, and now you’ve got whole aisles that are now all health food, whether it’s nut free or coeliac.

VO: Coeliac disease is diagnosed with a simple blood test performed by a GP, followed by a biopsy of the small intestine. For sufferers like Korinne and Danae Costello, getting diagnosed was the beginning of a better understanding of their condition, and gave them a new lease on life. They can only hope that with greater awareness and more diagnosis, their gluten free food choices will be better catered to in the future.

This is Katelin Meredith for The Milk Moustache.


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