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Coeliac diagnosis came as a relief; Food COELIAC UK'S campaign Food Without Fear is highlighting the need for more gluten-free options in restaurants, schools and hospitals. Feature writer ANN EVANS finds out what life is like for someone with the condition.

Byline: ANN EVANS

WHEN mother-of-two Melanie Evans was diagnosed with coeliac disease, it came as a huge relief finally to have an explanation for feeling so ill and losing weight at an alarming rate.

"I was beginning to worry that there was something seriously wrong, like cancer, so it was a great relief to know it was something easily controlled by diet," says Mel, who started to suffer symptoms after giving birth to her first child, Megan, in November 2004.

Coeliac disease is neither an allergy nor a food intolerance. It is an autoimmune disease triggered by eating gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley and, for some people, oats.

For people with coeliac disease, eating gluten damages the lining of the gut, which prevents normal digestion and absorption of food. If they unwittingly eat gluten, they are likely to be unwell within hours. Symptoms include severe diarrhoea and vomiting which can last for several days.

At present there is no cure for the disease; the only treatment is a lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet. If this isn't followed, the disease can ultimately lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, bowel cancer and fertility problems.

Mel found that before her diagnosis she was suffering from uncontrollable stomach cramps, tiredness and severe weight loss.

The primary school teacher, who lives with husband Wayne and children Megan, three, and Brendan, one, in St Nicholas Park, Nuneaton, has a petite figure anyway.

Her normal weight was about 8 1/2 st, but two years before being diagnosed, her weight dropped to 6 1/2 st.

"I couldn't get clothes to fit me.

Size six was too big, so anything I did buy, I had to take in first."

Being diagnosed for coeliac disease isn't easy either. The average time taken for someone to be diagnosed from the onset of symptoms is, incredibly, 13 years.

In Mel's case, her diagnosis came by accident. Having been fine throughout her pregnancy and breastfeeding, she only contacted her doctor when she failed to start having periods again.

"Doctors said it was because of breastfeeding, and the change in my hormones. I wanted another baby, but my weight loss meant my body wasn't at a safe enough level to get pregnant. Basically, it was through the back door route that I discovered I was a coeliac.

"However, I was diagnosed incorrectly to start with and told to cut gluten out of my diet for a fortnight - which I've since learnt is the wrong thing to do, because it will result in an incorrect diagnosis.

"I was then told to go back to my normal diet, and reintroduce gluten, and that's when I was extremely ill with sickness and diarrhoea."

Eventually Mel was diagnosed as having coeliac disease, and was able to begin to learn how to control it through diet, which meant a lot of changes.

"Coeliac UK has a book which lists all the products which lists which sauces, which baked beans and so on are gluten free. To start with I took this book shopping, but now I'm more used to it I know what I can or can't have, so tend to buy the same things every week."

As well as the obvious foods containing gluten, such as bread, pasta, flours, cereals, cakes and biscuits, it is often used as an ingredient in many favourites such as fish fingers, sausages, gravies and sauces.

"It makes shopping very limited and you can't be adventurous," says Mel. "Also items which are produced to be gluten free are twice as expensive as the same product which has gluten.

"It annoys me that food manufacturers are taking advantage of people such as coeliacs by charging twice as much. I can't believe it costs that much more to produce the product without gluten.

"You're better off just looking around for products that just happen to be gluten free, rather than those designed to be so."

As for eating out at restaurants, research shows that 67 per cent of coeliac sufferers don't even risk it.

Mel adds: "I am very nervous eating out and I tend to stick to a basic range of foods such as steak or gammon or jacket potato. Puddings are impossible, even ice cream can contain gluten."

So far Mel has found that the Huntsman at Dunchurch and the Wetherspoons pub chain are the best places for coeliacs. "If you telephone The Huntsman beforehand they will go out of their way to provide a varied menu. Wetherspoons have about six dishes suitable for coeliacs on their menu.

"But in most restaurants when you ask if something contains gluten, they usually don't know, or they'll try to find out, which doesn't inspire you with confidence.

"I would love to see all eating establishments providing gluten-free alternatives. They all provide vegetarian options and indicate foods that contain nuts, so it would be great if all restaurants and cafes provided choices for people who cannot have gluten."

COELIAC FACTFILE

ABOUT one person in 100 has coeliac disease, although a study shows that only one in eight cases is diagnosed.

PEOPLE who think they have Irritable Bowel Syndrome may actually have coeliac disease.

ANYONE diagnosed with coeliac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis - a linked skin condition - can get staple gluten-free food on prescription.

COELIAC disease is not contagious, but if a family member has the condition there is a one in 10 chance of a close relative developing the disease.

PEOPLE with coeliac disease are born with genes that predispose them to develop the condition, but symptoms can be triggered at any age, sometimes by a stressful event such as pregnancy, childbirth or gastroenteritis.

THE majority are diagnosed between 40 and 50 years of age.

GLUTEN-FREE foods can be contaminated by crumbs in toasters, jam and butter, and on utensils.

VISIT www.coeliac.org.uk or call 0870 444 8804.

CAPTION(S):

DS060508FOOD2 SAFE CHOICE... Some of the specific gluten-free foods now on the market.; DS060508FOOD5 WEIGHT OFF HER MIND... Melanie Evans can now control her coeliac disease by avoiding gluten in her diet. Pictures: Darryl Smith
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:May 10, 2008
Words:1018
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