Whether it’s pizza, pasta or sandwiches, or even something more desi like chapati, puri or naan, you’ll find gluten calling out to you – and your child – wherever you go.
Gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye and barley, isn’t one that agrees with everyone. In some kids, the protein persistently triggers a bodily reaction, giving rise to a condition called coeliac disease.
To understand what the disease is and how it affects your little one’s digestive system, let’s backtrack a little to how your child’s body processes food. When your child eats, say a sandwich, the food travels through the stomach and into the intestines for nutrient absorption – a job done by microscopic, finger-like projections called villi. However, for a child with coeliac disease, the sandwich – thanks to its gluten component – catalyses an autoimmune reaction that leads the body to destroy the villi.
Consequently, nutrient absorption becomes a challenge and without any vitamins and minerals entering the bloodstream, your child may face difficulty growing and fighting infections. A blood test and biopsy can help detect and diagnose the condition.
Typical symptoms of coeliac disease include:
For kids with the condition, it is common for symptoms to appear between the ages of six months and two years – a period when many new glutenous foods are introduced. That said, some kids exhibit symptoms when they’re much older, or when they’re in periods of high stress – with early symptoms appearing mild and sporadic. The symptoms of coeliac disease are often mistaken for those of other digestive disorders, so it’s wise to visit a trusted paediatrician for a definitive diagnosis.
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There isn’t an exact reason why coeliac disease occurs, but it is thought to be heritable. If you or your spouse, or someone in your family has the disease, your child has about a 10% chance of developing it. Although the disease and its symptoms can be managed with a gluten-free diet, it can never be eradicated completely. So, once your child has been diagnosed, the condition will stay for life. It’s up to you to take early steps to educate your child about a sustainable, gluten-free way of life.
Coeliac disease can be managed primarily through a gluten-free diet. If your child is formally diagnosed with the condition by a paediatrician, you may be directed to a nutritionist to help you and your child ease into a gluten-free lifestyle. If your household thrives on chapatis, you may be advised to switch to rice. And if you’re used to Saturday pizza nights, you might need to find a gluten-free-but-just-as-yum alternative. It may seem difficult at first, but you’ll learn the art of gluten-free living in due course.
Teaching your child to rise above coeliac disease is your first step to giving them a comfortable and healthy life. And avoiding gluten will give your child’s intestine time to heal. As colossal as these dietary changes may be for your child and your family, you’ll soon find your new diet transforming into an easy, organic lifestyle. Take it upon yourself to lead the way.
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