WHEN A usually fit and healthy Angela Kane began to feel endless fatigue, despite taking regular exercise, it came as a great surprise when she was diagnosed as having coeliac disease.
Never having heard of the condition - which causes some adults and children to react to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye - Angela set about learning as much as she could about how to control the symptoms through diet, and has now started a support group in Drogheda.
'It's only been a short while since I was diagnosed, and I'm just getting used to the new diets, but I thought it would be a good idea for people with coeliac disease to meet up and share recipes and experiences,' says Angela.
'It is still a condition that few people are familiar with, and it can be confused with fussy or faddy eating, but for many people, eating gluten can have a serious effect on the gut, energy levels and overall lifestyle.'
Before she knew what was causing her tiredness, Angela found she was very anaemic, and as a keen runner, was lacking energy.
'I started running with a club last year, and instead of feeling better, I found my energy levels were falling,' she says.
'I started extra sessions thinking it was just my fitness, but it got worse, until I was barely able to put one foot in front of another.'
Taking iron supplements was a small help, but after blood tests with her GP, they found her problems were down to coeliac disease.
' The first thing I did when I heard was contact the Coeliac Association, which were a great source of information, but the nearest support group was Navan, so asked them could I start a group here, and they said fire away.'
19 fellow coeliac sufferers attended the first meeting last month in the Highlanes Gallery, which shows how many people are affected by the condition.
'I was surprised to find that we have the highest incidences of it in Europe, and what we aim to do is raise awareness of the issue, especially in shops and restaurants,' adds Angela.
' Things seem to be really improving though, and Anderson's Cafe in the Highlanes Gallery serve gluten-free bread, Kieran's have locally made sauces and Tuite's butchers stock glutenfree stuffing, some of the foods you really miss.'
Another Drogheda woman has been controlling her symptoms since she was diagnosed two years ago, and is delighted to have a group she can attend.
'I found myself very unwell, with unexplained vomiting and depression,' says 26year-old Mary (not her real name).
'Blood tests found I was borderline coeliac, but gradually the symptoms worsened to the point where if I ate a slice of pizza, I was immediately sick.'
'Mary' was sent to the Beaumont hospital, where after a conformation of the disease, she says she left 'with not a clue of what to do'.
'I had to do all the research myself, and when I found that undiagnosed or treated, you could develop bowel cancer, I took it seriously,' she says.
'I do miss a lot of things - I can't eat chips in case they are cooked in oil that had breadcrumbs in it - but my energy levels have gone up and I feel unbelievably well since I changed my diet, so if anyone is in doubt, I recommend getting the test done or come along to one of the friendly meetings for more information.'
The next meeting of the Coeliac Drogheda will be at Anderson's Cafe in the Highlanes Gallery on Saturday November 12th at 11am. All are welcome to attend. There's also more info on www.coeliac.ie.