In Spring 2014 I was hit with the double whammy of Celiac Disease and Diabetes. The Celiac was nothing new. I have had it since I was a baby (over 50 years ago). But the diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes on top seemed unfair!
There is a link between celiac disease and diabetes type 1. They are both autoimmune conditions. If you have one, there is a higher than average risk that you may have the other, especially if either condition runs in your family.
In my own case I have two cousins with type 1, and 2 aunts and an uncle with type 2 along with an aunt with Celiac. It is also now suspected that my grandmother had celiac disease, although it wasn't diagnosed back then.
So why did Diabetes suddenly affect me?
Looking back, I can now see that it actually crept up on me. I didn't recognize the symptoms at first...
In the end, my sister-in-law made sure I visited the doctor, by taking me there herself. By this time my blood sugar levels were sky high, and I had ketones (sugar) in my urine. The doctor told Jenny "It's a good thing you brought her in when you did!"
So what caused this to happen, beyond the genetic factor?
I put it down to the ease at which gluten free products are now obtainable, and the fact that I found it hard to resist them after growing up without such treats.
Keep in mind that manufactured gluten free foods tend to have a higher quantity of sugar than the wheat containing equivalents, and use the cheaper starchy gluten free flours. It doesn't take long for overeating to cause problems, both with weight and blood sugar levels.
Before my diagnosis I had thought that diabetics couldn't have any sugar and had to inject themselves daily, and that was it.
I soon found out that things were a little more complex than that. Having both celiac disease and diabetes meant some radical changes of lifestyle were necessary.
It isn't just sugar that can send blood sugar levels rocketing - all forms of carbohydrates (carbs) have an effect on them. Nothing is actually forbidden to a diabetic, as it is on a gluten free diet. However, it is advisable to learn what your own body reacts to, and limit foods that have an adverse reaction.
For example, rice is now off my menu, as is gluten free pasta, whereas other celiac diabetics may find they can tolerate small amounts.
Some fruits are fine, such as strawberries, whereas others like bananas, watermelon and pears I have to avoid in order to keep my readings on track.
My starting point was to go search the web to find out what was now safe for me to eat. I was sadly disappointed to find very little advice for someone with both conditions. So it was down to me to test, test and test some more, before and after each meal to see what affected me. I kept intensive records of everything I ate and gradually invented new low-carb gluten-free recipes and menus, that kept my blood sugars in check while sticking to the gluten free diet.
If, like me, you suffer from Celiac Disease, the only treatment is to stick to a gluten free diet for life. If I stray, or make a mistake, then I pay the consequences almost straight away and spend more time than desired in the bathroom!
From a Diabetic viewpoint, although diet and exercise play a major role, there are other treatments that can help. If you have Type 1 Diabetes then you need to inject insulin in order to survive. For Type 2 diabetics there are both tablets and injections available.
I found it interesting to note the effect the diagnosis of diabetes had on me. I have never considered celiac to be an illness, just a "condition" that I had to live with. Now, however, needing to take pills and a daily injection I suddenly felt "sick". It wasn't until the treatments started to work, that I was able to take these additional daily "chores" in my stride.
On a positive note, grocery shopping trips are now a lot quicker, as there are many aisles that I no longer bother walking down. My shopping basket now has a lot more vegetables, meat, fish and eggs in it than before.
This has so far resulted in my having lost just over 100 pounds (7 stones) and my readings are now often in the normal range of between 4 and 7 mmol (72 - 126 mg/dl). In fact, I feel healthier than I have been for years.
I am living proof that it is possible to cope with both Celiac Disease and Diabetes.