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Actress Jennifer Esposito offers hope for others with celiac disease

Find out about celiac disease.
Da Capo Lifelong Books

Jennifer Esposito has become famous for her roles in TV shows such as "Blue Blood." For years, however, she struggled with mysterious symptoms that no physician could diagnose. In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Jennifer told me about her journey, which she writes about in her new book "Jennifer's Way: My Journey with Celiac Disease--What Doctors Don'’t Tell You and How You Can Learn to Live Again."

From a young age, Jennifer had stomach problems. Because celiac disease impact her nervous system, Jennifer told me that she experienced "severe panic attacks, numbness in my hands, and even hair loss. At one point I had a lump in my neck the size of a small grapefruit."

Jennifer reached what she calls her "breaking point" when she lost a tooth on the "Samantha Who?" set. She knew she needed to persist and get a real diagnosis.

The immediate reaction when she learned that she had celiac? "My first reaction was relief, finally after all these years and a countless amount of doctor’s visits I had an answer, a diagnosis," Jennifer told me.

After researching what her diagnosis meant, Jennifer "realized just how much my life would have to change. There is so much more to celiac disease than just cutting out bread and pasta from your diet."

Jennifer emphasizes that celiac disease is not a fad. It's a serious condition, and just 1/8 teaspoon of gluten can make her feel sick for days. Adding to the problems: "Most people who have celiac disease also form allergies to other foods."

Because of the link between celiac disease and food alleriges, Jennifer believes in the benefits of a rotation diet. She explains how and why to use that type of food plan in her book.

Now that she's been diagnosed, her life "has changed in every way imaginable. I had to change everything from the way I eat, to the beauty products I use to where I go out to eat."

From traveling to social events, following a diet appropriate for celiac disease is challenging. "Everywhere I go I need a kitchen that hasn’t been cross-contaminated, which makes holidays like Thanksgiving very difficult!" Jennifer told me.

Jennifer has created her own bakery, Jennifer's Way. She caters to those with food allergies, so that everything is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free, sugar-free and organic.

"I eat a lot of fresh vegetables and try to spruce up my menu as much as I can. I love to cook and bake so it’s fun to come up with new recipes," she told me.

To others with celiac, Jennifer offers this advice: “Be persistent! Make sure your doctor tests you right away because the longer you wait the more damage occurs to your body."

She also credits the celiac community for their support. "Having celiac disease affects everyone around you socially, so it’s important to surround yourself with people that really understand the disease," she told me.

Jennifer is not the only celebrity to step forward and talk about her celiac disease in order to help others. Elisabeth Hasselbeck also suffers from the condition. And like Jennifer, she struggled to get an answer to her symptoms.

She's written her own cookbook to help: "Deliciously G-Free: Food So Flavorful They'll Never Believe It's Gluten-Free." And even though more products are labeled gluten-free now, both she and Jennifer emphasize it's essential to become a food sleuth for those with the condition.

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