As part of national Coeliac Awareness Week from May 12-18, North Devon Gazette reporter Sarah Howells reflects on life without gluten…
Imagine a life without bread. Or cake, biscuits, pasta, pizza, vinegar on your chips and a whole host of other foods containing gluten.
This is the life around one in 100 people suffering with coeliac disease face across the UK.
I was diagnosed with coeliac disease (pronounced see-liac) when I was 11 years old but instead of seeing it as restricting my diet, I feel it’s opened up a range of choices.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition, which means every time I eat gluten, my body essentially attacks itself, wearing down the lining of my small intestine.
The symptoms can vary among sufferers, from stomach pains, diarrhoea, dramatic weight loss and vomiting to headaches, weight gain, recurrent miscarriages, hair loss and bloating.
There is no known cure – once you are diagnosed it is forever– and the only treatment is a lifelong gluten free diet.
Gluten itself is found in a variety of grains and cereals, which means staple foods such as bread, flour, cereals, cakes and biscuits are out of the window.
But it can also be found in a lot of processed foods such as cooking sauces, soups, ready meals, battered foods, sausages, burgers and also in beer.
My symptoms began when I was at school. I was one of the smallest in the class, looked worryingly thin and had constant stomach pains.
After many failed trips to the doctor, I saw a different GP on one occasion and he suggested that I might be intolerant to gluten.
I had to have a blood test and then an endoscopy which involved putting a tube down my throat (under anaesthetic) to provide a diagnosis.
The small intestine is lined with villi –small folds to increase the surface area to absorb food – but in coeliac disease sufferers these are destroyed when gluten triggers a response causing the body attack itself and wear these down.
As soon as the results confirmed I had coeliac disease, I immediately had to cut out gluten, and from there my symptoms improved drastically.
I was lucky my coeliac disease was caught early on in my life – if left untreated it can lead to serious malnutrition, infertility, and osteoporosis.
Many people who have coeliac disease have been misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome in the past – the average length of time for someone to be diagnosed from the onset of symptoms, according to Coeliac UK, is 13 years.
Life as a coeliac disease sufferer has improved over recent years – there are so many options available and great places to eat out safely across North Devon.
In giving up gluten I’ve spent many hours experimenting in the kitchen, trying foods I never would have looked at before and my diet is the healthiest it’s ever been. I also write a blog about my gluten free life at www.theglutenfreeblogger.com.
If you think you may have coeliac disease, you should always consult your GP before eliminating any food groups from your diet. For more advice contact Coeliac UK on www.coeliac.org.uk.