Gluten Intolerance

By Dr Evelyn Lewin

Gluten is a substance commonly found in our diets (in BROW foods: Barley, Rye, Oats and Wheat). Many processed foods also contain gluten. In Coeliac’s Disease, eating gluten causes an immune reaction that damages the lining of the small bowel (where nutrients are absorbed). If left untreated, children with coeliac’s can’t absorb nutrients properly and can develop malnutrition. Long term, untreated coeliac’s can lead to health problems such as infertility, osteoporosis and even an increased risk of some types of cancer. Treatment involves life-long avoidance of eating gluten. See Celiac Disease.


Children with gluten intolerance can display a range of symptoms. Some may have trouble putting on weight, while others may lose weight. Children may be tired all the time, have difficulty concentrating or lack energy. They can have abdominal symptoms, such as pain, bloating and flatulence. Their stools may be ‘bulky’ and have an associated bad smell. They may have diarrhoea or constipation, as well as nausea and/or vomiting. See Celiac Disease.



Before treating gluten intolerance it is vital to obtain a proper diagnosis. Your GP can refer you to a gastroenterologist. Your doctor will ask about symptoms and may order blood tests. To gain a proper diagnosis, a biopsy (small tissue sample) is taken from your child’s digestive system. This is done while sedated. The sample needs to show damage to the lining of the bowel. Before undergoing the procedure, your doctor will explain what your child needs to do in the lead-up to the test. This includes eating a normal diet with gluten in it. It is important not to cut gluten from your child’s diet before the test, as that will cause misleading results. If a child is diagnosed with coeliac’s disease, treatment involves strictly adhering to a gluten-free diet for life. It is best to meet with a paediatric dietitian who can teach you, and your child, how to do this. Ensure your child’s school knows about her condition, and that she is not allowed to share food from classmates.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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