Actress Jennifer Esposito. Photo Source: The Chalkboard. http://thechalkboardmag.com/actress-jennifer-esposito-living-thriving-celiac-diease
Jennifer Esposito, the star of films like Crash and popular television shows like Spin City and NCIS, has been suffering in silent frustration for almost 25 years…until she found out about celiac disease from a doctor who would truly listen—and pay heed to what she was going through.
Esposito experienced a wide variety of health issues and ailments that did not seem to fit any one category of diagnoses or another. For a little over two decades, her doctors attempted to pinpoint the condition or disease that was ailing her—from multiple sclerosis to IBS to just plain stress and hormonal imbalance. Along with one misdiagnoses after another, the mysterious (and debilitating) symptoms were treated with different medications and therapeutic regimens, but nothing actually worked because the disease or condition itself was not being addressed—only the effects.
Here’s her story about her quest for answers and how she finally received the correct diagnosis of celiac disease. From there, she also resolved to share what she had endured so that others can learn to overcome similar obstacles.
The Elusive Symptoms
For years, Esposito suffered from what appeared to be the textbook symptoms of common illnesses, such as sinusitis, stomach problems, and overall lack of energy. These symptoms could almost pass off as treatable bacterial or viral infections. Or perhaps, in the case of fluctuating energy levels and hormone imbalances, they were just the normal effects of getting older and approaching the premenopausal phase of life.
However, what alerted Esposito was the fact that these symptoms were not going away even after treatment. Furthermore, some of them were getting worse, as was the case with the stomach and bowel issues. Even those affecting her emotions were not dissipating since she also periodically suffered from anxiety and panic attacks.Nothing seemed to work.
Her doctors then, prescribed different medications that addressed the discomfort and pain caused by these issues. Several distinct diagnoses were made. Some doctors concluded that Esposito had developed multiple sclerosis, a degenerative autoimmune condition. Another claimed she had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which covers a plethora of gut issues. Yet others, insisted that these symptoms originated from a psychological malady of some sort, possibly brought on by stress or a chemical imbalance. None of these theories were very helpful to Esposito, who knew,deep down, that her pain was not just something she imagined or the manifestation of a mental health issue. Something was genuinely wrong and more than likely, it was related to a digestive problem because the common denominator related to abdominal issues in spite of appearing healthy and fit and leading an active lifestyle.
The End of the Waiting Game
Finally, during a two-hour visit with a doctor, Esposito began to get the answers she needed. Her doctor suspected that celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body negatively reacts to gluten by attacking intestinal tissue, was the root of the problem.According to Esposito, her case was “the worst” that this doctor had ever seen, and this physician marveled at “how [she] can still be alive,” considering that she had sustained extensive harm to her intestinal walls and other organs. All the while, Esposito was completely unaware of the damage that was taking place in her digestive system due to its exposure to gluten, the protein that is found in wheat and other grains. Because of autoimmune reaction, the condition of her kidneys and liver were compromised. Nonetheless, remaining active and clean living, in spite of her malaise, kept her situation from getting worse.
The First Steps toward Wellness
Almost immediately, this same doctor started Esposito on the path toward improvement and management. Esposito was completely on board with the dietary overhaul to avoid future flare-ups and permanent damage. In fact, she has stated that food can be utilized for “healing,” and the changes to her diet have been a major part to her recovery.By eating “clean” and sticking to a diet of healthy and wholesome foods, she has be able to regain her energy and rid herself of the toxic effects of ingesting gluten. She describes her journey as a difficult but “beautiful road.”
Nevertheless, Jennifer Esposito’s story doesn’t just end there. She has decided to give back by educating the public about the disease and the importance advocating for oneself. As she puts it, one has to “take a stand” when seeking out solutions for medical problems and to not feel apprehensive about questioning the conclusions drawn by healthcare professionals. As in her situation, she strongly encourages asking for second (or even a third or fourth) opinion. In her blog, which was featured in Mind Body Green, she outlines a very strategic approach to dealing with a recurring medical issue and doctor’s visits. She passes on the following points to her readers:
- To research the symptoms in order to make connections to possible causes
- To prepare oneself with questions and findings from one’s research
- To be assertive in requesting referrals and/or tests
- To maintain open and honest communication with healthcare professionals
- To listen to one’s body and to be mindful of any and all symptoms and changes; to not dismiss anything
- To look to nature’s sources for healing along with modern medicine
In regard to sharing what she’s learned from her journey, Esposito has also written a book about her experience titled Jennifer’s Way: My Journey with Celiac Disease. Additionally, she’s penned a collection of gluten-free and vegan recipes called Jennifer’s Way Kitchen. Both books pass along valuable information about cooking and enjoying meals again.
In addition to these publications, she maintains a website, livingfreejennifer.com. On this site, readers can find more of her informational blogs about celiac, diet, products, and of course, tips for effective communication with healthcare providers.
She also owns a bakery in New York City called Jennifer’s Way Bakery. This establishment ships baking products nationwide as well as fills orders at its local level. (She and her staff also opt for organic, vegan ingredients.) Products range from breads to desserts to granola. Customers can order online or visit the store.
Basically, Esposito applies all of the endeavors as different modes to give out information about living with the celiac and other chronic conditions while making the most out of life and managing health issues both physically and mentally. By educating the public, she aims to remove some of the stigma that lies behind these conditions and to reveal that real people live with these health problems but still adapt and overcome the barriers created by these conditions. Most importantly, she wants anyone who coping with medical problems to know that they are not alone and that there is support available.
So at times, when a chronic condition becomes an everyday part of a person’s life, almost everything can seem to be totally beyond control—from the food that a person eats to the environmental factors that he or she has to live with.However, Jennifer Esposito is on a mission to spread a positive message of hope and to arm people with the knowledge and tools to advocate for themselves and take control of their health.