Very timely that news should hit the broadsheets of Novak Djokovic’s rise to success being down to his diagnosis with Coeliac Disease (CD) and subsequent change of diet to gluten free, right in the middle of Coeliac Awareness week!
You can read one of the many articles in the Independent, “Is a gluten-free diet behind Djokovic’s smash success?”.
In the sub heading the Independent refer to Djokovic having a wheat allergy: “The tennis ace attributes his amazing winning streak to overcoming a wheat allergy.” yet later in the article it says he’s been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease.
Already some confusion here about the difference been the two. Coeliac Disease is a potentially life threatening condition (if left untreated) where the lining of the small intestine is damaged, allowing food to leak through the lining, preventing nutrients from being absorbed and leading to many problems such as osteoporosis, anaemia, failure to thrive in children and a much higher chance of contracting certain cancers.
Wheat allergy may also be fatal if anaphylaxis is present, but it’s not the same as coeliac disease and can effect different people in very different ways from IBS symptoms, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, skin rashes etc. Somebody with a wheat allergy may well be able to eat rye, barley and other gluten containing grains with no problem because it’s the actual wheat causing them a problem, not the gluten, which is what causes the problems for coeliacs. Two very different conditions, albeit caused by wheat, or more specifically, the gluten in wheat.
It’s thought that approximately 600,000 people have CD in Great Britain alone, yet there is very little awareness of what the disease is, how it effects the body, how to recognise the symptoms and most importantly the difficulties of maintaining a gluten free diet. Serbian born Novak who is just 23 years old, has attributed his success on the tennis circuit to a lot of hard work on the courts and his new gluten free diet which nutritionist Igor Cetojevic helped him to perfect
Around 1 in 100 people in the UK have Coeliac disease, but only an estimated 10 to 15 per cent have been diagnosed. There is no cure or treatment for the disease, the only answer is to completely cut out all gluten, including wheat, rye and barley from the diet for life.
Not everyone has the benefit of their own personal nutritionist like Novac who can help them plan out their daily meals and maintain they stay on track. For most, diagnosis with CD can be a very tough pill to swallow. For others, it’s a relief to get a diagnosis, but it’s not an easy lifestyle, especially when eating out in restaurants or being invited to dinner at friends.
What this article raises is another very important angle. We all know that avoiding foods that make you ill, whether that be down to CD, food allergies or intolerances, can make a dramatic difference to our quality of life. You have more energy, feel happier, healthier, more positive and often it leads to a far healthier diet which has got to be a good thing in the long run. It forces you to examine what you’re eating and take action. Just think of all those normal people who don’t have allergies eating junk food, processed ready meals and without a moments thought to what it’s doing to their bodies.
I’m also not suggesting that by cutting out gluten, or any other food that you might be allergic to could send you rising to fame in an instant. Clearly Djokovic already had amazing talent on the tennis courts. We’ve all heard of him before and seen him win matches, but he was often flagging at crucial points and not quite winning when perhaps he should. Having Coeliac Disease must have made training and long three set matches incredibly tough, with the added complication of an unknown medical condition chipping away at his strength and reserves.
But what about the long term effects of CD and allergies when they go un-diagnosed? How many people out there don’t know that they have coeliac disease? All the time doing untold damage to the lining of their small intestine, which if left undiagnosed can do permanent damage. Usually going on a gluten free diet means complete repair of any damage done to the small intestine.
How do allergies and undiagnosed CD effect exam results and achievements at school? How many day’s off and sickness does the workplace see? How much more could we all achieve in life with the right diet for our bodies?
I’m not say we’re all going to reach the heady heights of No. 1 tennis player in the world but if you suspect you have a food intolerance, allergy or CD, seek medical advice and don’t take no for answer. Try cutting out the food you suspect for a week or two to see if you see any improvement; and I mean really really properly cutting it out – no cheating allowed or you won’t get a true picture. If you have CD it may take a lot longer than a few weeks of abstinence to see proper healing, more like three months.
This news is great for allergy and CD awareness – such a public figure speaking out about his lifestyle change and what a huge difference it’s made to him. You rarely hear about any famous people with allergies, nor hardly any characters on the TV programs we watch with CD or allergies. Is this really the case? or do people just not like talking about it? and directors just not really think it’s interesting for their viewers?
In the article the journalist also refers to Novac’s condition as his ‘secret’. Why should having Coeliac Disease be something to keep quiet about? Why did he keep it a secret? It’s a shame that many people don’t feel confident enough to speak out about their condition or allergies for fear of misunderstandings and derision from waiters, chef’s and acquaintances. It’s something many people think is all in the mind but many of us it’s very real. If you have CD or allergies don’t keep it a secret. Share it with others, explain what it means for you and help raise awareness.
It’s a fact of life, just like the fact that we come in all different shapes, sizes and colours, some of us have allergies, food sensitivities and conditions like CD too which mean cutting foods out of our diets. We’re not making it up. We’re not being fussy. We’re just trying desperately to remain healthy by cutting out foods which make us ill.
Thank you Novak for telling the world about Coeliac Disease. I’d love to hear more, like how did you find out? Did you suspect for some time that food was causing a problem? Does it run in your family? How are you finding your new gluten free diet and what is your favourite gluten free food discoveries?
If you want to find out more read Alex Gazzola’s brilliant new book, “Coeliac Disease: What you need to know” or visit the brilliant Coeliac Disease website at www.coeliac.org.uk which is packed with information, resources and useful links. Don’t be one of the many undiagnosed. Get your health checked out – you never know, you could be the next Novac Djokavic!