- The only treatment for coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet for life
- Once on the gluten-free diet, symptoms should improve but the time it takes for the gut to heal varies from person to person
- Research cofunded by Coeliac UK is taking an important step towards finding a vaccine for coeliac disease.
At the moment there is no cure for coeliac disease. It is a lifelong condition and following a strict gluten-free diet is the only treatment. Once you have that medical diagnosis and gluten is removed from your diet, you should start to feel much better.
The gluten-free diet
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, so foods containing these should not be eaten. Some people with coeliac disease may also be sensitive to oats.
On a gluten-free diet, you can still eat rice, corn, potatoes, meat, fish, cheese, milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables and pulses (peas, beans and lentils). Gluten-free specialist foods, such as gluten-free breads and gluten-free pasta, are available in supermarkets, on prescription, in healthfood shops, by mail order and via the internet.
We have lots of information about how to follow a gluten-free diet, including advice about shopping and reading food labels, cooking and baking, eating out, travelling and specific advice for children.
Even very small amounts of gluten can be damaging to people with coeliac disease. Therefore, taking sensible steps to avoid cross contamination with gluten is important.
Top tips include:
- keep cooking utensils separate during food preparation and cooking
- do not fry food in the same oil that has previously been used to cook foods which contain gluten
- use a clean grill, separate toaster or toaster bags to make gluten-free toast
- use separate breadboards and wash surfaces thoroughly
- use separate condiments like jam, butter, mustard and mayonnaise.
How long it takes to see an improvement
The time it takes for someone to feel better on a gluten-free diet varies. Many people feel better within a few days and usually symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea and bloating clear up within a few weeks.
Some symptoms may take longer to improve, or you may find one symptom gets better before another. The time it takes for the gut damage to heal completely varies between people and can take between six months and up to five years (in some cases longer).
A lifelong diet
If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, you will need to follow a lifelong gluten-free diet.
Taking gluten out of the diet allows the gut to heal. If you’re following a gluten-free diet and were to be retested for coeliac disease, the tests should be negative. This means you’re responding well to the gluten-free diet and there is no gluten for the immune system to react to.
If you introduce gluten back into your diet at a later date, the immune system will react and the gut lining will become damaged again.
Research is ongoing to develop a vaccine for coeliac disease. The biotech company leading this research is ImmusanT. Dr Bob Anderson, former Coeliac UK research grant holder and currently the Chief Scientific Officer at ImmusanT, through his research, identified the toxic parts of gluten, which along with further research has gone on to help in the development of the vaccine.
Developing a cure may still be a few years away, but the identification of the toxic parts of gluten is an important step towards it.
Coeliac UK's Chief Executive Sarah Sleet discusses how long it could take to find a cure for coeliac disease, plus Coeliac UK's role in funding research into a possible cure: