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Sackville woman shares her experience with Celiac, going gluten-free

Cathy Jones was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago and has made the switch to a gluten-free lifestyle.
Cathy Jones was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago and has made the switch to a gluten-free lifestyle. - Contributed

A life-changing diagnosis

SACKVILLE, N.B. —

It wasn’t easy news to hear. A celiac disease diagnosis was not what Cathy Jones had been expecting and she knew the road ahead would be a challenge.

“It changed everything,” said Jones.

This life-changing moment came about two years ago, and while Jones admits it has been tough making the switch to a gluten-free lifestyle, she is grateful for the diagnosis which brought an end to several years of suffering.

Nausea. Fatigue. Migraines. Bloating. Diarrhea. All symptoms she had been experiencing but couldn’t find an answer for.

“I just didn’t feel well,” said Jones. “And I had that feeling that something wasn’t quite right.”

Tests after tests were coming back negative – something you might expect would provide a sense of relief but instead was causing more frustration.

Finally, after several visits to her family doctor, she was sent to a specialist for a scope. That’s when the celiac was discovered.

“Celiac wasn’t even on my radar,” she said, noting she had been treated for irritable bowel syndrome about 10 years earlier but didn’t connect it with her latest illness.

Soon after her diagnosis, Jones was sent to a dietitian to discuss treatment. She knew she would never be able to have gluten again.

The problem is, gluten is hidden everywhere – from spices to toothpaste to cosmetics and even in some drugs.

“There are all these hidden things, so many chances to contaminate yourself.”

Jones also has to avoid eating out at most restaurants because they’re not celiac safe. She said there is always the risk of cross-contamination because gluten particles can spread easily through the air or via cutting boards, utensils, or other foods.

For Jones, the diagnosis initially made her feel isolated and alone. But after hearing about the Moncton chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association and making contact with local member Sheila Parker, she began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“She was such a wealth of information,” said Jones.

The Celiac Association has provided her with much-needed support and an endless string of information and new recipes, she said. And it has also connected her with other celiacs in the area, who are going through the same struggles as she.

Jones has learned a lot of tricks of the trade in the past two years, including the secret to avoiding a lot of the processed gluten-free foods because of their high sugar content. She said it’s become commonplace now for her to make her meals from scratch rather than grab convenience foods off the shelf.

More gluten-free options are also starting to become more widely available, making it easier for celiacs to find the items or ingredients they are looking for, said Jones.

“Initially you focus on the things you can’t eat,” she said. “But once you start focusing on what you can, it opens up all sorts of possibilities.”

Slowly, as gluten started to disappear from her diet, the headaches and the diarrhea and the cramping started to go away. She also has a lot more energy now.

“I was quite happy when the symptoms started to dissipate and I started to feel human again.”

For those who’d like to know more about the variety of gluten-free products and services available in the region, Jones encourages people to attend the upcoming Gluten Free Fair, an annual event hosted by the Moncton chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association. She says it’s a great opportunity to try something before you buy it as many of the suppliers and vendors provide samples of many of their products.

Parker, of Sackville, is a longtime member of the Moncton chapter and one of the organizers behind the event, now in its fifth year. The Gluten Free Fair will be held Saturday, June 1 at the Coverdale Recreation Centre in Riverview from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will allow families and individuals eating gluten-free to discover new products, educate themselves and even save with offers from local businesses. It will feature dozens of vendors, including Sackville’s own Cackling Goose Bakery and Knuckles Truffles Chocolates.

For more information, contact Sheila Parker at 536-1867 or visit www.monctonceliacchapter.org or the Moncton Celiac Facebook page.

The Facts About Celiac

•Celiac disease (CD) is a common disorder that is estimated to affect about one per cent of the world’s population. It is a condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten. Gluten is a group of proteins present in wheat, rye and barley and their cross-bred grains. The damage to the intestine can lead to a variety of symptoms and result in an inability of the body to absorb nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health.

•Patients with CD can present with a variety of symptoms. Typical symptoms may include chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, malabsorption and weight loss. However, many patients now present with atypical symptoms including anemia, osteoporosis, extreme fatigue, and more.

•At present, there is no permanent cure for CD but it can be effectively treated with a gluten-free diet. The adherence to the gluten-free diet must be strict and lifelong.

SOURCE: Canadian Celiac Association

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