A few moments ago, as I was holding my toddler in my arms, the same thought that ran through my head a thousand times re-surfaced:
I hope she won’t have Coeliac disease like me.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that Coeliac disease is not the worst thing to be bestowed with. I am not one to wallow in self pity. I am a physiotherapist who worked in surgical wards for years, so I know all about far worse things to have than Coeliac disease. And in a way, there is a positive to getting my diagnosis at the age of 28 even though I had been suffering since my late childhood. At least I got to enjoy food like my friends at a very young age.
But for a child, it must be different.
I do not have first hand experience with children with coeliac disease, but this is what goes through my head…
How difficult must it be for a young child to be told that she cannot eat the same yummy snacks as her friends? To have to take her own food to a party? Or not to be able to eat the same food as others on a school outing?
To be the different one? To be the one who has strange-tasting bread? Children can be cruel.
I often wonder,
if some adults have problems sticking to the diet, how much more difficult would it be for a toddler or child to do the same?
As adults, we know that we have to stick to the gluten free diet to prevent complications in the long run, but how do you explain this to a child when all they know and care about is the here and now?
Coeliac disease affects between approximately 1 in 100 and 1 in 300 people worldwide and it occurs in genetically predisposed individuals. A first degree relative of someone with Coeliac disease has about a 10% chance of also having the disease. A first degree relative means a parent, brother, sister, daughter or son. Second degree relatives have a lower risk. If an identical twin has coeliac disease there is an approximate 70% chance that the other twin will also have coeliac disease at some point in their lives (source: http://www.coeliac.org.au
So is there anything that can be done to prevent this, or is the future of our children determined by genetics alone?
First of all, although coeliac disease has a strong genetic component, environmental factors like viral infections also play a role in trigerring the disease in genetically predisposed individuals.
Secondly, Prevent Coeliac Disease, is an international project investigating the theory of possibly preventing Coeliac disease in genetically predisposed children by introducing small quantities of gluten during the period of breastfeeding. According to the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (2008) the best time to introduce gluten is between 4 and 7 months of age, in small quantities, while continuing to breastfeed. This may protect against Coeliac disease but research is still underway. Sadly, it is not yet known if it prevents or only delays the onset of the condition.