RIYADH: Celiac disease is estimated to affect one in 100 people globally, however, in Saudi Arabia, approximately 0.64% of the population suffers from celiac disease related problems.
The autoimmune disease is triggered by the consumption of gluten and rather than being an allergy or a congenital disease, it usually develops over time and occurs in genetically predisposed people.
Symptoms include malabsorption, diarrhea, unexplained chronic abdominal pain and bloating, iron deficiency, and chronic fatigue.
Dr. Hassan Omran Odah, consultant in internal medicine, gastroenterology and hepatology at the International Medical Center network, told Arab News: “Gluten is not only present in food and drink, but also in cosmetic products such as lipsticks, oral hygiene products, vitamins. , and supplements and over-the-counter medications.
He said those most at risk of developing celiac disease were people with a family history of those affected, which makes them genetically more susceptible.
As a genetic disease, celiac disease can be passed from parents to their children and can affect all age groups. But although incurable, Odah stressed that it can be managed by sticking to a strict gluten-free diet recommended by gastroenterologists and nutritionists.
He also noted that gluten restriction was necessary to prevent osteoporosis, malnutrition, lactose intolerance, and deficiencies of iron, vitamins B12 and D, and even cancer or small intestine lymphoma.
Gluten, Odah added, was present in most foods and the generally high price of gluten-free products was due to difficulties in finding affordable substitutes. But alternatives exist, such as replacing wheat flour with tapioca starch, corn or rice flour, and replacing wheats and barely with quinoa, chickpea or brown rice flour.
In 2019, the gluten-free market within the Gulf Cooperation Council union was worth $140 million, of which Saudi Arabia’s share was 45%.
In 2018, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health launched a program to financially support the provision of free gluten-free foods to patients with celiac disease in its 33 hospitals and health facilities in Riyadh, Medina, Makkah, Jeddah , Taif, Al-Ahsa, Asir, Jazan, Qassim, Hail, Najran and Baha.
Food substitutes provided by ministry hospitals include gluten-free breads, flour, cereals, cookies, pastas, soups and jellies.
Odah said patients should provide “complete medical reports, including investigations confirming the diagnosis, such as serology, endoscopy results, and biopsy results.”
The Celiac Association was established in 2018 under the patronage of Prince Faisal bin Bandar as a non-profit civil society, licensed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and supervised by the Ministry of Health, to serve gluten-free foods for all regions. of the Kingdom.
Although considerable efforts are being made to treat patients, Odah noted that more awareness initiatives are needed.
He said: “We need more awareness of the disease in terms of its symptoms, diagnosis and complications by doing more campaigns explaining the nature of celiac disease, especially as its symptoms are similar to other gastrointestinal disorders and that it is easy to miss a diagnosis.”
Restaurants, cafes and restaurants in the Kingdom are increasingly aware of the need to offer gluten-free dishes in order to satisfy all diners.