Other autoimmune conditions
Coeliac diseaseA condition where a person is unable to eat gluten as it makes their body attack itself.
is an autoimmune disease that appears in people who have the genes that cause them to develop the condition.
For this reason, coeliac disease is more common among people with other autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes and autoimmune thyroid disease. Our leaflet on diabetes gives more information on this condition.
Although lactose intolerance isn't an autoimmune disease, it can be associated with coeliac disease. Symptoms of lactose intolerance are similar to that of coeliac disease and include:
- abdominal pain
Lactose is a sugar found in milk from humans, cows, sheep and goats. Cheese contains lactose but at a very low level. Lactose is not found in soya or rice milk.
Why is lactose intolerance associated with coeliac disease?
Lactose is broken down by an enzyme called lactase, which is found in the lining of the gut. When people are first diagnosed with coeliac disease, the lining of the gut is damaged by eating glutenA protein that is found in the cereals wheat, barley and rye.
. So, if the body does not make enough lactase, or the enzyme that is made does not work properly, people may experience gut symptoms.
Once established on a gluten-freeWhen a food has less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten so it is safe for people with coeliac disease to eat.
diet the gut is able to heal and the break down of lactose returns to normal. Therefore, lactose intolerance is usually temporary. Following a gluten-free diet means that most people with coeliac disease do not develop lactose intolerance.
If you think you may have a problem with lactose, it is important to discuss this with your dietitianAn expert in food and nutrition.
. Removing foods that contain lactose from your diet will potentially reduce your calcium intake.
Following a diet suitable for lactose intolerance is not the same as following a totally lactose-free diet. Tolerance to lactose varies between people so you should get specific advice and monitoring from a dietitian. Your dietitian will also be able to ensure your diet contains enough calcium from other sources.