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Article Date: 2014-04-15

Coeliac UK, the national charity for people with coeliac disease, announces the support of Craig MacLean, gold medal winning cyclist at the Paralympics in London 2012.

Craig, 42, was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2009 whilst his daughter, Harriet, who is nearly five years old, was diagnosed at the end of last year.

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten. Left untreated it may lead to infertility, osteoporosis and small bowel cancer. 1 in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease, with the prevalence rising to 1 in 10 for close family members. However, current statistics show that only 10 - 15% of those with the condition are diagnosed leaving an estimated half a million people in the UK undiagnosed.

Craig was finally diagnosed with the condition after enduring 12 years of symptoms which included extreme exhaustion, very low iron levels and debilitating cramps which sometimes rendered it impossible for him to continue training.

The only treatment for coeliac disease is a strict gluten-free diet for life. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and is found in foods such as bread, pasta, pizza, cakes etc. However, it is also often used in a wide range of products including, soy sauce, sauces, sausages and many processed goods so people with coeliac disease need to eliminate gluten-containing foods and make sure they choose gluten-free varieties.

Coeliac UK is trying to improve availability of gluten-free foods in stores across the UK and is launching a new ‘Gluten-free Guarantee’ campaign which asks supermarkets to commit to have in stock eight core items of gluten-free food, making it easier for people with the condition to manage their diet, which is their only treatment.

From 12-18 May 2014, the charity is asking people across the UK to tell them how many of the eight gluten-free staple items they can find. The items are: white bread, pasta, cereal, flour, cereal bars, rolls, crackers and other bread (brown or seeded).  See for more information about the campaign.

Sarah Sleet, Chief Executive of Coeliac UK said: "Can you imagine going into your local supermarket and there is no bread you can eat, not one loaf, not one slice? And when you check out the pasta, cereal or flour again there is nothing available on the shelf which means you have to trawl around two or three stores in order to be able to find your staple foods. This is not about your preferred brand but about the major supermarkets ensuring that they have sufficient stock for this growing market of people who depend on gluten-free food for their health. In a recent survey about shopping habits 74% of Members who responded said that they have to visit more than one supermarket to complete their Free From shopping requirements.”

Craig who was born in Scotland and now lives in Wilmslow with his partner Emily and their two children Harriet and two year old Rory, said: "With Harriet and I both diagnosed with coeliac disease, the whole family generally eats a gluten-free diet which helps to reduce any risk of cross contamination. Harriet was very pale with dark circles under eyes before her diagnosis and now, less than six months on, she has much more energy and colour in her cheeks.”

Craig not only won a gold medal at the Paralympics London 2012 as the able bodied pilot in the tandem sprint for visually impaired athletes, but was also in the Great Britain Olympic team and won a silver medal at Sydney in 2000, making him one of only a few people in the world who have won medals in both the Olympics and Paralympics. He switched to become a tandem pilot in 2010 shortly before he was diagnosed with coeliac disease*.

"I was very frustrated that I didn’t make the GB team for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and am sure that my undiagnosed coeliac disease was affecting my times as training was constantly marred with injury and my body’s inability to repair effectively. I was also suffering with insomnia and depression and I am keen to raise awareness of the condition so that more people will ask their GPs to test them,” he explained.

The symptoms of coeliac disease range from mild to severe and can vary between individuals. Not everyone with coeliac disease experiences gut related symptoms; any area of the body can be affected. Symptoms can include bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, wind, tiredness, anaemia, headaches, mouth ulcers, recurrent miscarriages, weight loss (but not in all cases), skin problems, depression, joint or bone pain and nerve problems.

 "We are delighted that Craig is feeling so much better since his diagnosis and wish him all the very best for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow,” Sarah continued.

* Coeliac disease is not a disability and Craig participated in the Paralympics as the able bodied pilot for a visually impaired cyclist. Coeliac disease is not a category in the Paralympics.


1. 1 in 100 people in the UK have coeliac disease.

2. Half a million people with the condition currently undiagnosed in the UK today.

3. Average time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis is 13 years.

4. 1 in 4 people diagnosed with coeliac disease had previously been diagnosed with IBS.

5. Undiagnosed coeliac disease can lead to infertility, osteoporosis and small bowel cancer.

6. There is no cure and no medication and the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life.

7. Coeliac disease is not an allergy or a food intolerance but an autoimmune disease caused by intolerance to gluten.

8. One crumb of gluten can make someone ill, so it is essential there is no cross contamination whilst preparing and serving food.

9. There is no register by the NHS to state how many people in the UK have been diagnosed with coeliac disease.

10. Coeliac UK has an average of 1200 new members joining each month – membership is available for anyone diagnosed, seeking a diagnosis, supporting a friend or a relative, or trying to find out more about the gluten-free diet.

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