Thanks to those that read the first When Food Changes Everything last month. I have blogged for Gluten Free by the Sea and various other coeliac websites for almost a year now, but this column is a new experience for me. I have always written for a coeliac or gluten free audience, so I’m really hoping this column is well received in the “outside world”. Personally, I think it’s a great opportunity for me to raise awareness of coeliac disease and I thank the People’s Republic of South Devon for hosting me.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack itself when a sufferer ingests gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, constipation, headaches, joint pain, fatigue, weight loss, malnutrition, hair loss and neurological issues. The list goes on. There is no cure and the only treatment is to eat a strict gluten free diet. Some of you may think the gluten free diet is a fad, but for us coeliacs it isn’t a choice. One stray bread crumb could make you ill for weeks. Then you add in the long-term increased risks such as osteoporosis, infertility and even bowel cancer and it just isn’t worth the risk.
Awareness of the condition is a big problem, both within the general population and the medical profession. The national charity for Coeliac Disease, Coeliac UK, estimates that 1 in 100 of the UK population has coeliac disease. However, they also estimate that between only 12-15% of this number are actually diagnosed. That is around half a million people in the UK who are suffering and whose lives could be turned around by a gluten free diet. Average diagnosis time for coeliac disease is a staggering 13 years.
In May once a year Coeliac UK run an awareness week to raise the profile of the disease. For 2013 the week was entitled Gut Feeling Week, with the emphasis very much on tracking down those half million people. All across the country coeliacs held events to raise both awareness and money for Coeliac UK. Social media now offers a great way to spread the word and coeliacs also spent the week Tweeting and Facebooking the message to all their friends.
One of the great ways to raise awareness has been the sharing of diagnosis stories. People have shared amazingly personal accounts of what they went through to get diagnosed and the symptoms they suffered. Three fellow coeliacs shared their stories on Gluten Free by the Sea, and you can find links to them here. The Plymouth Herald also printed an extract of my diagnosis story as part of their Gut Feeling Week coverage, and my thanks to them for devoting a whole page to the cause.
Do you have bloating, fatigue, IBS, diarrhoea, vomiting, anaemia or abdominal pain? Could you be living with coeliac disease and not know it? Listen to your gut with Coeliac UK’s Gut Feeling campaign – visit www.coeliac.org.uk/gutfeeling for info.
Since my last column I have been busy working with the Coeliac UK Plymouth Voluntary Support Group. We have a whole new team in place and we’re busy planning ways of better engaging and supporting the coeliac community in Plymouth. We also hope to be putting on some exciting gluten free events over the coming year.
On Saturday June 2, I attended a gluten free event at St Maurice Bakery in Plymouth. The bakery makes fresh gluten free sweet and savoury items such as steak pasties, quiches and cakes. Well worth a visit if you are living gluten free in Plymouth. There was also a gluten free Chinese cooking demo from Lai-Yin Wong Brooks of 8 and there was a good attendance on a lovely sunny day. I manned an information stand for the Coeliac UK Plymouth Voluntary Support group and it was great to meet so many other coeliacs on the day.