It is currently estimated that 60,000 to 70,000 New Zealanders have coeliac disease (1 in 70), however up to 80% of those are unaware they have the condition.


Coeliac disease (pronounced see-lee-ak) is a permanent intestinal reaction to dietary gluten. In coeliac disease the cells lining the small bowel (intestine) are damaged and inflamed. This causes flattening of the tiny, finger like projections, called villi, which line the inside of the bowel.

The function of the villi is to break down and absorb nutrients in food. When these villi become flat, the surface area of the bowel is greatly decreased, which interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food. This may lead to deficiencies in vitamins (such as folic acid) and minerals (e.g. iron and calcium).


Common in adults:

  • Diarrhoea – This may begin at any age and is often present for years prior to diagnosis. It may first appear after other illnesses (e.g. gastroenteritis) or abdominal operations
  • Fatigue, weakness and lethargy
  • Anaemia – iron or folic acid deficiency are the most common. The anaemia will either not respond to treatment or will recur after treatment until the correct diagnosis is made and a gluten free diet is commenced
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic constipation – some are more likely to experience constipation rather than diarrhoea
  • Flatulence and abdominal distension
  • Cramping and bloating
  • Nausea and vomitin
  • Osteoporosis (thin bones)


Coeliac disease is treated by a life-long gluten free diet.


For more information and advice on gluten free diet, visit the below websites


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