The out-going Mayor of Woking, Cllr Ian Johnson, has performed his final official duty, on his final full day in office.

He has represented a cause close to home for himself, by helping to man the Coeliac (pronounced see-lee-ack) awareness stand held at the front entrance to the hospital. Being a sufferer of Coeliac Disease himself, Cllr Johnson was delighted to be able to help promote the issue as his final official engagement.

He said: “I was thrilled to be asked to do this as my final official duty. I have had a great year as Mayor, and along the way I have hopefully spread the word about Coeliac Disease to everyone that has catered for me at the many functions I have attended. I have had a great response from everyone, and hopefully have managed to help more people understand what a gluten-free diet is, why it is important, and what it is like to have Coeliac Disease.

“I thought it very fitting that on my last full day as Mayor I should help St Peter’s raise awareness of the condition to a wider public as part of the charity Coeliac UK’s Awareness Week. So that life as a coeliac may become easier for everyone who has been diagnosed; but also to help those people who are having health problems that may be the symptoms of Coeliac Disease and they just don’t know yet.”

Coeliac Disease is not an allergy. It is an auto-immune disease, which means that the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues. For people with Coeliac Disease this attack is triggered by gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Some people with Coeliac Disease, including the Mayor, also react to oats. The only way to manage the condition is to cut gluten out of the diet all-together. This can be challenging at times, as gluten is not only found in the obvious products like bread and pasta but can often be hidden as an ingredient. Wheat flour for instance is commonly added to pre-made sauces as a thickener. Even some medication has gluten in it!

Communications Officer at the Hospital, Martin Stevens said: “Some people think that Coeliac Disease is a condition solely limited to the older population but my wife was diagnosed when she was 21, while the Mayor was only in his 40’s. Coeliac Disease is an incurable, genetically inherited disease, and for my wife it as meant a whole change of life style. We always have to plan ahead when going out for a meal and she will never again be able to eat at Pizza Hut, or have a McDonald’s burger. There are some people who take a gluten-free diet because they think it’s some fad diet. If you are a coeliac it is definitely not a fad, it’s a way of life. People with Coeliac Disease have no choice in the matter, if they eat food that contains gluten it will make them physically sick. The body rejects it like poisoning, and if you’ve ever had food poisoning you’ll know what that feels like.”

People with Coeliac Disease can feel limited in what they can eat and a trip to the supermarket can be a lengthy process. All labels must be read before purchase and items that do not clearly say that they are gluten-free or suitable for coeliac’s must have all ingredients read. However there are an increasing number of products becoming available that mean that they no-longer have to be left out. Gluten-free products are now fairly well labelled, which helps, and there are even Supermarket ranges - often kept in the organic aisle or in a special section, and usually called something like free-from, or just Gluten-Free. These products substitute wheat flour and others, for gluten-free flours such as maize flour, gram flour (made from chick peas), rice flower and potato flour. As a result the manufacturers can produce biscuits, bread, pasta and any other baked item you can imagine. As well as sauces like Soy Sauce - that's right Chinese is off the menu, because Soy Sauce has Gluten in it - unless you use a particular brand which is gluten-free. It’s a good job the Mayor is not a beer drinker- that’s way off limits too, as it is barley-based.

With statistics from Coeliac UK showing that 1 in 100 people could have Coeliac Disease but 4 out of 5 don't know it, it could be that you are reading this and have it yourself, but don't know. Symptoms are feeling bloated and tired, having anaemia and possibly suffering from weight loss, diarrhoea and depression. In severe cases undiagnosed sufferers may be experiencing vomiting after eating a meal - this could be your body's way of saying it is intolerant to Gluten. If you are unsure - ask your GP.


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