Coeliac Disease and the Cure

Photograph of tablets representing a possible cure for coeliac disease

Those of you who saw the title of this and were hoping for my thoughts on seminal English new wave band The Cure are, I’m afraid, going to be disappointed. Although I will say that Friday I’m in Love is a total banger. No, instead I’m talking about a different kind of cure. A cure for coeliac disease.

One of the questions I get asked the most, aside from “can you eat this”, is that if someone discovered a cure for coeliac disease, would you want it? I always find this really tricky to answer. For people diagnosed later in life, who have experienced years of eating whatever they want and know exactly what they’re missing by cutting gluten out of their lives, I imagine it’s a fairly straightforward decision to say yes, they would take the cure. For me however, it poses a dilemma.

Would I want a cure for coeliac disease?

Having had coeliac disease for all of my conscious life, it’s a massive part of who I am and, in many ways, has shaped the person I am today. As much as it would be a revelation to finally experience why everyone bangs on about gluten-filled bread being so much better than gluten free, I think it would come at cost.

I’m in my 30s now and pretty content with who I am as a person. If I were to no longer have coeliac disease, I’m fairly sure it would trigger an existential crisis of quite biblical proportions. I mean, if I was no longer Coeliac Man I’d just be a man, with one of my defining characteristics taken away. As much as being coeliac can be a pain at times, I quite literally can’t imagine life without the disease, as aside from a few months when I was a newborn baby, I’ve never experienced anything different.

Having coeliac disease also forces me to lead a relatively healthy lifestyle. If a new world of takeaways, doughnuts, pastries and all the other glutenous treats I can’t eat was opened up, the temptation would surely be there to binge eat everything I’ve been missing out on for the past few decades. As fun as this would probably be for a day or so, I’m not sure it would be the greatest idea and would more than likely lead to gaining weight, and all the health complications that can arise from that.

It’s so deeply ingrained in the very fibre of my being to avoid gluten at all costs now that it would also require quite a significant mental shift to adjust to a life with gluten on the menu. Who knows if my brain is even wired up well enough to make such a profound and significant shift at this stage in my life? It seems to me that there’s so many unknowns in terms of the affect a cure would have on both my physical and mental health that it’s hard to really get excited at such a prospect.

On the other hand, being able to go about my daily life without the almost ever-present fear of being glutened would possibly lead to a less anxious and stressful life. I’d be able to eat whatever, wherever and not have to plan ahead to where my next meal was coming from so much. So, I can absolutely see the appeal of taking this imaginary vaccine too. However, in life I often tend to take the view that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Being content and settled with who you are and where you’re at is, in my opinion, one of the keys to happiness.

Sometimes in life I agree though that making a drastic change is a good thing and even necessary. If you’re stuck in a toxic relationship or a dead-end job for example, then getting the hell out of there and trying something new is invariably going to come with so much upside that you won’t regret your choice. But mostly in life things aren’t so clear cut or black and white. Most scenarios, to continue the analogy, are indeed varying shades of grey, and decisions can have an almost imperceptible number of consequences, both good and bad. Some of these consequences you can often predict, but often there’s a lot you couldn’t possibly have foreseen as well.

It’s this mindset that means I would be extremely hesitant to want to change anything as fundamental as having coeliac disease. While it would inevitably provide some benefits, who’s to say what negative impacts it could have? It would also, presumably, be a pretty permanent change. So, if you did get ‘cured’ but that led to loads of unforeseen negative consequences, there’d be no going back. Unless Marty McFly and Doc Brown rocked up in a steaming DeLorean anyway. Some may argue I’m overthinking this slightly, but on balance I’m not sure it’s a risk I could take.

Will there be a cure for coeliac disease?

While it is an interesting hypothetical question, at the moment a cure for coeliac disease is just that, hypothetical. I’ve been playing the gluten free game for long enough now that I’ve seen talk of a possible vaccine come and go for years and years without any tangible progress towards it actually becoming a reality. Not to piss on anyone’s (gluten free) chips, as I know a lot of people are holding out hope that a vaccine will happen one day, but I can’t really see it happening in my lifetime.

At this point it’s probably worth repeating my usual disclaimer that I’m not in any way a medical or scientific expert, so what do I know? Maybe in a lab somewhere in the world someone is about to make an earth-shattering breakthrough and the glutablet, or whatever it is they’d call it, will soon become a reality. But I for one am sceptical. Every few years there seem to be headlines claiming that such a breakthrough is close, and, after a few excitable people have shared it on Facebook and around 12 people have tagged me in the comments, the talk inevitably dies down and nothing ever comes of it. This cycle seems to repeat itself in a way that makes me think it’s probably driven more by websites looking for clicks rather than any actual science.

But I guess, in the immortal words of Sean Connery, never say never. We live in a crazy world and far more crackpot ideas have come to fruition than a cure for coeliac disease, so maybe one day it will happen. I hope it does in many ways, as I know a lot of people would jump at the chance to get back to their normal lives of shoveling as much gluten in their cake holes as humanly possible. For me though, having coeliac disease is my normal. It’s all I’ve ever known, it’s part of who I am, and it’s not something I would be in any kind of hurry to change. Coeliac Man out.

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