27 Mar 2008

Happy Anniversary

A year ago today my life turned around. I received the confirmed diagnosis of coeliac disease.

In all honesty, in the lead up to my appointment with my gastro man I never thought that I would get a positive diagnosis for anything let alone coeliac disease. Since I can remember I have hounded my various GPs determined to get to the bottom of my joint pains. This is where it all began – clicky knees. As a girl of 17 doctors oh so wisely informed me it was ‘growing pains’ (?) but dissatisfied with my supposed diagnosis I continued to pursue investigation through my time at university and beyond, when I then developed clicky ankles.

With a strong family history of arthritis I was anxious to eliminate this as the cause of my complaint. Memories of my dear Nan, who suffered both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis and how incapacitated she became, fuelled my drive to get to the bottom of the issue – particularly as it seemed to be branching out to other limbs.

Embarking on my new life in London after university, I began to find that I was waking in the night to release my ankles from feeling stuck. Off to the GP again, and this time I actually made some progress and was referred for arthritis tests at the hospital.

Negative. No arthritis - great news!

But what is it that’s causing my joints to crack and actually get rather painful? I kept asking myself.

During this long investigative period I was also studying a food degree where among other things, we were exposed to cutting edge nutrition research, and quickly learned to appreciate the connection between what you eat and what happens to your body. This was a subject I remained massively interested in, and when working in the food industry attending a conference on food trends I attended a talk by Patrick Holford. He spoke about his theory of optimum nutrition and the impact of specific nutrients and foods on health so, in my normal knowledge seeking self quickly bought his Optimum Nutrition bible to learn more.

Scouring the index for information on arthritis – knowing I didn’t have the condition, but still suffering the symptoms – I started to discover the impact of wheat and dairy on the joints, how glucosamine and fatty acids can improve joint function and reduce pain and plenty more enlightening facts…

Reading this and around the subject further, I decided to reduce my intake of wheat. This was a big undertaking as I have always had a sweet tooth. I have many sweet memories of happily devouring freshly toasted crumpets or English muffins dripping with butter, home made maltloaf on return from school, pasta carbonara in the local Italian as a student and dense chewy Italian bread toasted to a crisp topped with fresh local ricotta and olive oil as my Italian breakfast in the morning sun.

Mmmm heaven…

But I decided to give it a go, largely based on wisdom from my unofficial sister in-law based on a lifetime of allergies. She is seriously allergic to eggs but has stangely found herself craving eggy foods before. Delving into this further, I learnt that you often and rather unfortunately crave the things that are bad for you. For me its croissants, muffins, toast and anything remotely wheaty… I figured I could be onto something.

So, giving up wheat, replacing my morning toast with porridge and my evening pasta with puy lentils I began to feel much better. I missed my croissant fix but was happy to be feeling better.

Untill my boozy weekend in Dublin. Somehow I managed to eat bread at every meal. Not delicious homemade soda bread, but supermarket bread to mop up the yolk of my fried egg and hangover. And boy was I ill. I will spare you the details –here but for those with stronger stomachs the symptoms look here.

So, when I returned to my GP to pick up where I had left off on the joint issue, I mentioned in passing my unpleasant bread experience and bingo… I was despatched to the gastro man and one year later here I am. Living gluten free and loving it.

I have to finish this piece by saying that getting diagnosed has been one of the best things to happen to me. I have totally reconnected with my passion for food, I am thrilled to be back in the kitchen, cooking loads and experimenting with natural gluten free foods. I am really healthy these days and I even lost 5kilos!

Happy Gluten Free Anniversary to me – and yes I will be going for dinner to celebrate!

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