The first time I ever heard about Coeliac disease was from my colleague Jan, while I was munching on a delicious homemade sourdough sandwich during our lunch break. Back then, in 2008, I was right at the start of my bread baking journey, fulfilling my childhood dream of making delicious loaves using my own two hands. Jan had Coeliac since she was a child. When she broadly explained to me what Coeliac was about, my instant reaction was: “if I ever had such a problem, I would really rather kill myself”, and I meant it. Of course, I couldn’t imagine staying alive without eating bread, not even in my wildest… ahem, nightmares. “How could this longtime trusty companion, who had been the pillar of my diet, be capable of so much evil?” I thought, disbelieving.
It is a fact. Gluten, that is present in wheat, rye, barley and oats (but can be found in hundreds of common foodstuff we eat), is responsible for so many ailments, amongst a much bigger portion of the population than you might think.
Afflictions can range from light intolerances with symptoms people are usually willing to cope with (fatigue, headaches, bloating,…), to more serious conditions, the worst two of which being the true allergy to wheat (one that induces anaphylactic shock = you’re likely to die on the spot), and Coeliac disease, where your body is subjected to constant and durable (sometimes irreversible) damage. What the two conditions have in common is that they are both triggered by the tiniest amounts of gluten, and both involve the immune system. The way this mechanism operates though is very different. Unlike classic allergies, the immune response in Coeliac disease is directly targeted at… your own body. In other terms, if you’re a coeliac and ingest gluten, your body will react by destroying your own intestines. This is why it is called an “auto-immune disease“.
The main threat that comes from Coeliac is that the damage of the intestines inevitably causes in a multitude of problems that are the direct consequence of malabsorption, since the base of food absorption is located in the intestines. Amongst the problems that are often associated with Coeliac, I would name a few: chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression… The list is long; you can visit this link for more information on the subject.
Now why the body decides to attack itself is a different story… We will certainly have the chance to discuss such “mysterious mechanisms on this blog. I will be posting more extensive information about Coeliac, and how much modern medicine (thinks it) knows about this disorder. You will be surprised to see that doctors’ knowledge in this area can sometimes be deceptively limited. I truly respects doctors who would admit that, and recommend you see a specialist; instead of overlooking your condition or misdiagnosing you, while you grow worse by the day. I stumbled unto a considerable number of testimonies on forums and blogs, where coeliac patients sometimes lingered years before being properly diagnosed. Fortunately with me, it was only a matter of a few months.
It goes without saying that, before my diagnosis, I was desperate to figure out what was causing my problems. I have to say that I found the online community to have been the most useful source of valuable information I could access. Of course, one has to always filter down the data available on the net, eventually backing it up with more reliable sources like books. Nevertheless, the internet was the only place where I was able to start drawing lines between the apparently unrelated symptoms I was experiencing. By reading about other people’s stories, a pattern started to emerge.
I will be writing a detailed account about this (very frustrating) chapter of my life in another post. I will delve into more elaborate health expositions, in hopes of reaching those out there, left on their own looking for clues; perchance even bring some optimism to some who are truly despairing at their condition.
Oh, and did I mention that Coeliac is a life-long condition? Which means that coeliacs can… never have gluten again in their life. At least it is thought so. Well, guess what? It may have been the best thing that ever happened to me.