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“My eye lashes started to drop out.”

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Often mistaken for a ‘healthy diet’, an allergy or intolerance, Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease which affects at least 1 in 100 people in the UK and in Europe, including Maria Kelly, from Middlesbrough.

At the age of eight, Maria was diagnosed with Coeliac disease after being taken to the doctor numerous times by her mother. “I was extremely tired all the time and lacking in energy” Maria explained “even my eye lashes started to drop out.”

When someone with Coeliac disease consumes gluten, the small intestine becomes damaged and the immune system attacks the bowel. This results in the gut being damaged and the body can’t absorb other nutrients.

Coeliac disease currently has no cure and the only treatment is a strict lifelong gluten-free diet, but if not kept, over time this can lead to other complications such as cancers and osteoporosis.

At the time Maria was diagnosed with Coeliac disease it wasn’t very common, with limited options and access to gluten free foods, she found it hard. “I felt I was missing out as there wasn’t as much variety as there is now and food didn’t taste as nice” Maria expressed to me.

Gluten is the name given to protein which is found in wheat, rye and barley and gives food its shape. It can be found in food such as breads, cakes, biscuits, pasta and cereals as well as some foods you may not expect, such as; in burgers, sausages, gravy, sauces, battered food, stock cubes, soy sauce and even in some chocolate and sweets.

Maria explained how her mother made her gluten free bread at home as you couldn’t get gluten free bread very easily. “It was so crumbly which was very embarrassing” Maria said. 

Living with coeliac disease can be extremely isolating. Restricted to a select diet can prove difficult when eating out, as places often only provide limited options on a menu for gluten free options or in majority of cases nothing at all. Maria often felt sad growing up as she couldn’t eat what other people were eating, especially her sisters or at kids’ parties.

Lucy Zara from Hull had a similar experience: “My mum had to make everything even chicken nuggets so me and my sister wouldn’t feel left out.” Diagnosed at five after blood tests and an endoscopy. She has found living with the disease a nightmare.

Maria found it very frustrating eating at friends’ houses. “You have to tell them what you can and can’t eat” Maria says: “You feel like you always must plan as there’s no guarantee of being able to just grab something quickly like most can.”

It is extremely important when sticking to a gluten free diet to ensure no food is cross contaminated with foods that contain gluten. Even the smallest amount of gluten can have effects for suffers and cause a range of
Symptoms. This can be hard when eating in restaurants, as traces of gluten can often be found within the kitchens. This can be extremely anxiety provoking for people who suffer with coeliac disease.

Although eating out for Coeliac has improved over the years with Gluten free food now available at M&S, Costa and most chain supermarkets: “The cost is always more than the gluten version of the same thing,” Maria explains.

While studying at University, Lucy couldn’t afford the price of bread and gluten free food on prescription she had to go without. “Although there is so much more awareness, it is still very expensive.”

Victoria Hall Owner of 2 Oxford Place in York, the only completely gluten free restaurant in York, expressed the limitation for Coeliac eating out in restaurants across the UK. “Living with Coeliac disease has been difficult” Victoria says. She explains how overtime you adapt and learn to live with it but eating out you don’t realise how debilitating it can be.

This month marks Coeliac disease awareness month, in order to help raise awareness for those unaware of the disease, as currently only around 30% of people with the condition are currently clinically diagnosed.