It's Coeliac Awareness Week again!
So it's that time of year all coeliac's rally together and try to raise awareness in relation to the autoimmune disease that is called "coeliac." Here's my piece on it.
What is coeliac disease?Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by an intolerance to a protein called "gluten" that can be found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. This also includes items in the family, like spelt. Gluten causes damage to the villi (they actually flatten) in the lower intestine making it difficult to digest and break down the nutrients from food.
In an autoimmune disorder the body mistakes good cells and substances for bad ones and produces antibodies to fight them off. Normally the immune system attacks viruses and infections. A coeliac's cells can start attacking good cells, causing them to be susceptible to the bad ones. However, if gluten is not present in the system the gut will heal itself and start acting normally.
Therefore, no gluten equates to a healthier system for someone suffering from coeliac disease. Not a life style option.
So, what's it like to be a coeliac?I'm just going to be really frank and expose this. There are many stages, frustrations, joys, highs, lows, etc to being diagnosed as a coeliac.
I had a stupidly long and drawn out process of diagnosis. I was told I had anaemia more times than I can recall. I had a lot of infections in my late teens. I had reactions to a lot of products. So many that they did not want to do allergy testing on me. At 11 years of age I was told to drink two bottles of lucozade a day for my energy levels. It was not until much later that I was confirmed. Even then, I was diagnosed as severely gluten intolerant first.
There are just some of the stages of how a coeliac feels. I am going to list out a few, of the more common I've found over the last six(ish) years:
- You get your really long and drawn out diagnosis and start to feel better in your body without gluten.
- You really, really start to feel better and think, "Is this what "normal" is?!"
- You start to feel like a normal human being again. Or in some cases, like a normal being should because you've not experienced it before.
- You start to tell people and they ask questions about it.
- You research everything.
- You are an encyclopaedia on your autoimmune disease.
- You start to feel safe eating with people again.
- You can now explain to people you know about it.
- Some people understand, try to understand, or question the validity of your disease.
- You feel judged.
- You feel embarrassed.
- You feel like an inconvenience.
- You eat before you go to parties with "finger food."
- You feel jealous at parties with "finger food."
- You delight when a bar has gluten free beer just because you don't have to drink wine/spirits/cider.
- You see a new product and "whoop" only to discover it's seriously expensive. Maybe next payday....
- People ask you why you're not skinny because they mistake gluten free as a low fat, low carb, low sugar diet. Er, because I eat healthily for me now, which means no gluten, but those other things are all good... mmmm... cake...
- You find the gluten free community on blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, on websites, on Instagram, on Zomato, on Yelp... Anywhere you can find out that everyone is feeling some spectrum of what you are.
- You realise other people are frustrated too.
- There's a little hope in this.
- You learn to cope with people who judge you, you realise they don't understand because they don't understand what it's like when you're glutened. They don't understand the illness that can be both immediate and long term. Sometimes you argue with them. Sometimes you just let it go.
What are the effects of Coeliac disease?
Short term adverse effects:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss/gain
- Failure to grow at expected time (in children)
Exposure to gluten may in the long term cause:
- Growth defects
- Certain types of cancer
- Lactose intolerance (in some cases)
There are a lot of resources out there for coeliacs. You just have to look. The Coeliac Society of Ireland will be running some events this week.
They've got some cooking demonstrations with Chef Adrian Martin:
- Tues 12th Fenelon’s Butchers Unit 6, Stillorgan Shopping Centre, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin 2.30pm - 3.30pm
- Wed 13th Grogan & Brown Artisan Butchers, Unit 5, Smithfield Centre, Loughboy, Co. Kilkenny 4pm - 5pm
- Thurs 14th O’Crualaoi Butchers , Wilton Shopping Centre, Wilton, Co. Cork 1pm-2pm
- Fri 15th O’Connells Butchers, 4/5 Little Catherine Street, Limerick 12pm-1pm
- Sat 16th Finnerty Butchers, Unit 110, Eyre Sq Centre, Eyre Sq. Co. Galway 12pm-1pm