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Gluten-free not a diet, it's a necessity

Last updated 05:00 17/05/2014
Coeliac sufferer Dianne Parker
NO BREAD, NO BISCUITS, NO BEER: Wellington coeliac sufferer Dianne Parker says finding out she had to be careful with bread as a result of the disease was ‘‘like having your legs cut off’’.

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As far back as she can remember, Dianne Parker felt ill after eating.

As a child, she would visit the butcher with her mother every week and promptly throw up after finishing her saveloy.

"I was a pretty sickly child."

It wasn't till she was in her 40s that the Wellington woman was found to have coeliac disease, an auto-immune disorder that plays havoc with the gut and turns gluten into poison.

"If you are a person that loves bread, and I was, then finding out was like having your legs cut off."

A recent Australian study has suggested about one in 80 people have the disease, far more than previously thought, and only one in five of them know it.

Bob Anderson, a New Zealand gastroenterologist involved in the study, said the figures were likely to be similar on this side of the Tasman, equating to tens of thousands of Kiwis with the disease.

For sufferers, eating gluten actually damages the gut, meaning thousands could be obliviously munching on bread and doing themselves serious harm.

Elizabeth Forbes-Blom, a gut expert at the Malaghan Institute, said it was far more serious than gluten intolerance or a trendy diet.

"It is a horrible, horrible disease. It is like having a peanut allergy, but gluten is in so many things it is hard to avoid."

Parker said that over the years, she had shied away from food that made her ill but it was only an off-hand comment to her GP about oats making her sick that sparked a test for coeliac disease.

After the diagnosis, she went completely gluten-free and realised just how "tired and sick" she had felt for most of her life.

But living without gluten is tricky. Almost any meal can be dangerous. "Steak is a steak, so that's OK, but I steer clear of takeaway. It's a lot of meat and veg."

In March, she took supposedly gluten-free biscuits on a walk to Butterfly Creek, near Eastbourne. As she was walking out she started feeling "green" and, by the time she got to Petone, she had to be sick on the roadside. "Within hours you feel nauseous and then you just throw up for hours, no matter where you are."

Last Christmas, she spent the night huddled over a bucket after a dinner out had some rogue wheat. "It's everywhere. There is even wheat in jelly."

Soon after her own diagnosis about a decade ago, her teenage daughter Sarah was also found to have coeliac.

Sarah suffered through sickness as teen but has since gone gluten-free as well. "Beer was her weakness . . . but there is only so long you can keep going back to the doctor."

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Parker said she still regularly heard people complain about feeling tired, bloated and ill for no reason. "I tell them, get tested."

- The Dominion Post

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