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Gluten Free More than a Diet Fad for the Undiagnosed

Media Release

23 May 2013


Coeliac Awareness Week – 26 May - 1 June

Going gluten-free is more than just a diet fad for coeliac disease sufferers, who have a permanent intolerance to gluten and can suffer long term health problems if not diagnosed.

Coeliac New Zealand is urging people to have the simple blood test which will solve the mystery of why they are feeling sick and tired during Coeliac Awareness Week, May 26 – June 1.

More than 8,000 New Zealanders have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, but that number is thought to be just 20 per cent of the total number of sufferers. As many as 36,000 people may have it but not have been able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with them.

On average, confirmed coeliac sufferers have taken a decade to find the cause of their illness.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye barley and oats, and an intolerance to it can cause bowel inflammation and damage when eaten by coeliac sufferers. The disease can also cause malnutrition as the damaged gut fails to properly absorb nutrients from food.

Fatigue and lack of energy – being ‘sick and tired’ – is a common presentation of coeliac disease. But other symptoms can include diarrhoea, stomach pain, bloating, weight loss and anaemia, as well as some less obvious problems like irritability and depression.

Untreated, coeliac disease sufferers can have severe long-term health problems. As well as increasing the risk of infertility, liver disease, miscarriage and other auto-immune diseases like type 1 diabetes, is it also associated with an increased chance of developing osteoporosis, certain types of cancer, and premature death.

If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, go and get checked out. It could prolong your life.


Coeliac disease can have a strong genetic component, as the Scott family of Auckland can attest to.

Radio DJ Robert Scott, who with Robbie Rakete hosts “The Two Robbies” breakfast show on The Breeze FM, lives a strictly gluten-free lifestyle that he shares with son Sam, who is also afflicted by the disease.

It’s been several years since Robert and Sam adopted the gluten-free diet, and their lives are much more comfortable for it. However, Robert says like many men, the debilitating symptoms of coeliac disease hadn’t really affected him until he reached his forties.

“I had always struggled to gain weight and keep my energy levels up, but to be honest, I thought it was because I had such extreme hours of work with the radio show,” he says.

Then four years ago, a sustained period of upset stomachs convinced Robert’s wife Carmel, an ex-nurse, to send him along to the doctor for a blood test. Within a week he had been diagnosed with the disease.

And within months on the gluten-free diet, he’d put on 15 much-needed kilos in weight and “felt like a new man, I had so much energy!”

The family immediately moved to have son Sam and daughter Molly tested. “It had been a hard road with my symptoms during that period, and then to have Sam come out positive for coeliac disease was really a double blow,” remembers Robert. “It was tough, but he has handled it brilliantly, and he’s also managed to put on some weight and build his energy levels too so we are pleased to have done the test.”

Carmel, Molly, and Poppy the dog are not affected by coeliac disease, but they have largely adopted a gluten-free diet to support Robert and Sam.

“I feel sorry for Sam and Robert because eating out can be difficult,” says Carmel. “In the house it is easier to control, but I have had to learn to hunt out gluten-free products, run two separate toasters in the morning, even prepare meals on separate bench tops sometimes. It’s been a huge education!”

Robert says living a gluten-free lifestyle is much easier now the condition is increasingly catered to in supermarkets, speciality shops, and online. Restaurants can still present a problem, however.

“I spent a bit of time sad about the fact I would never be able to walk into a takeaway shop and order fish & chips, or other favourites like Subway and McDonalds,” he says. “But I know that for Sam and I, gluten-free is the only way we can have a comfortable and healthy life.”


Coeliac New Zealand is grateful to Robert Scott for speaking out about his condition. In doing so he helps to raise awareness of coeliac disease, which is a main aim of Coeliac New Zealand, a national non-profit organisation based in Auckland. They support those with coeliac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis and those on a gluten-free diet through education and collaboration with gluten free manufacturers, medical professionals and support research. Coeliac New Zealand was established in 1973.


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