Until six months ago, I didn't really know much about coeliac disease. I presumed it was a stomach disorder which had people rushing to the loo.
Then I discovered there was a lot more to it.
I had been in and out of my doctor's surgery so often that they were on the point of inviting me to their Christmas party. My symptoms were many and varied. As well as all my usual back, rib, face, head and joint pain, I also had (still have) other neurological symptoms such as strange tingling sensations and numbness. I felt so tired all the time and I had weird heart palpitations. My doctor was doing her best to try to investigate all my symptoms, then she struck gold. Blood tests came back revealing deficiencies in several nutrients including vitamin B12, phosphate and folic acid. That made her think there was a malabsorption problem and she decided to check for coeliac disease.
I thought surely not. Coeliac involves the stomach. My stomach was fine. Well, kind of fine. I often felt really bloated, but a lot of people are like that. I was always constipated. But I'm on a lot of medication. So, no, surely I couldn't have coeliac disease.
Another blood test revealed that she was probably correct, but I needed further testing. I was sent for an endoscopy, which meant a tube with a camera was put down my throat into my stomach. A biopsy was taken and a few weeks later I had the result that I had severe damage to the lining of my stomach which was caused by eating gluten.
The test had confirmed that I do have coeliac disease.
There are little Christmas tree shaped things called villi on the lining of your stomach which help the body absorb nutrients. My little Christmas trees were flattened, so I'd not been absorbing nutrients. I had a healthy diet, but it wasn't doing me any good. And that was because I ate gluten. And the cure was not to eat gluten.
It was explained that coeliac is an autoimmune disease. The body attacks itself when gluten is in the diet. It can cause stomach problems and malabsorption of nutrients, which can lead to things like osteoporosis and neuropathic problems. And if it goes undetected, it can cause bowel cancer.
Apparently it is a lot more common than people realise. About 1 in 100 people have coeliac disease in this country, but that number may be a lot higher if people don't really have the stomach symptoms, so don't get tested. If someone has it, there is a 1 in 10 chance of a close family member also having it.
Since my diagnosis, I have not intentionally eaten any gluten. That sounds pretty simple - cut out bread, cut out weetabix, cut out biscuits - sorted! No, not quite that simple. Wheat, barley, rye and a few other cereals are the culprits - and they are to be found in so many foods. Sometimes unexpected foods. Like beans, bisto, soup, sausages, corn flakes, crisps, chocolate (yes, chocolate!). I have had to become an expert label reader. Sometimes it's just a 'may contain traces' on the label, but those traces will do damage.
If I go to a restaurant, it's a panic! They often serve gluten free food, but there is normally a disclaimer on their menus about the food being prepared next to non gluten free food, so cross contamination could be a problem. Those are the restaurants that know about coeliac. Other restaurants will say, "don't worry, the gluten's been burned off in the fryer" or "see you folk with your fad diets!" Gluten doesn't burn off and coeliac disease isn't a fad diet.
I didn't have stomach symptoms before, but I do now. My little Christmas tree-like villi are starting to recover and are enjoying a gluten free living space. But if the tiniest grain of gluten gets into their happy home, they are not quite so happy and like to let me know fairly quickly.
So looks like this silly yak is on a gluten free diet for the rest of her life.