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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease Changes Everything

Jennifer Esposito and Louis Dowler

Jennifer Esposito and husband Louis Dowler now run a New York City gluten-free bakery, Jennifer's Way, sparked by Esposito's struggles with celiac disease.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Esposito

Celiac disease is an immune disease in which people can't eat the protein gluten because it will damage their small intestine.

For actress Jennifer Esposito, going from one doctor to the next, seeking relief, and even getting a correct diagnosis of her condition, proved to be a nightmare. As her symptoms worsened, Esposito continued her busy life, while also looking for answers. She was a hard-working, award-winning actress for almost 15 years. She managed to own her own home by the age of 25. But almost everything she ate was toxic to her system. Then, finally, a doctor mentioned a term she had not heard before: celiac disease.

Celiac disease, she learned, affects each person differently. Symptoms may occur in the digestive system, or in other parts of the body. One person might have diarrhea and abdominal pain, while another person may be irritable or depressed. Today, Esposito has totally changed her diet. And while still an actress, she has also made time to start a gluten-free bakery called Jennifer's Way and written a book by the same name that details her journey with the disease and shares resources for others with the condition.

NIH MedlinePlus magazine recently asked Jennifer Esposito about her celiac disease experiences:

How long did it take you to get your condition diagnosed?

Even though my very first symptoms started at birth, with severe rashes all over my body, it wasn't until I was 15 that my journey to be diagnosed began. Although I never knew what I was looking for during the next 20 years, I did know the way I was feeling. As time went on, and I became more and more unwell, I knew there was something going on.

What were your thoughts when you were told you had celiac disease?

I was actually thrilled when I was finally diagnosed. To know that what my body was telling me and what I knew in my gut for years, that something was very wrong and it wasn't all in my head, was an absolute gift, even if that meant having a disease. The not knowing and the implications of being a hypochondriac, dramatic, crazy, hormonal, or whatever else I was told, was almost harder than the disease itself.

How difficult has it been to eliminate your intake of gluten?

Once you understand how much damage gluten is doing to you, there really isn't much of a choice. I don't choose to feel like I'm dying just to eat a piece of bread. You must realize that this isn't a change of diet, this is a change of life!

Have you found inspiration from others who have celiac disease?

The celiac community was the only place I found answers, understanding, and true compassion that only others with celiac could give, because they have experienced what I was going through. I suggest for anyone dealing with this disease—or any disease for that matter—to find others who are going through the same thing. The support from others who have been there is what will pull you through the hard times.

What advice do you have for others who have been diagnosed with celiac disease?

My suggestion for any new celiac patient is to get my book. This is not a sales pitch—you can check the book out of your local library or borrow it from a friend. But this is the book I wish I'd had when I was diagnosed. It tells you everything you need to know: what to expect, what other factors of your diet to look at, lifestyle changes, emotional aspects of the disease, and it even gives some recipes.

But, mostly what it does is make you realize, through my journey, that you are not only on the crazy ride that this autoimmune disease takes you on; it is also a gift, at such a hard time. The letters I receive from people all around the world who have been helped by my book have been overwhelming and heartwarming, to say the very least. It made me realize this disease wasn't a bad thing in my life, but a true gift.

Spring 2015 Issue: Volume 10 Number 1 Page 2