Heal: My Story



Amber Valletta


At the start of 2013, I was a married 37 year old Mum of two small children of 1 and 4 years old. I started to get bad headaches that initially I dismissed as migraines.

Over a period of days they became severe and I began to get electric shock like tingling  in my toes and hands and my vision became blurred. I was quickly diagnosed with optic neuritis and referred to a neurologist.

11 years before I had seen a neurologist after episodes of suddenly losing any function in my legs.  I literally hit the deck on a London route master bus on one occasion.  At the time the neurologist put it down to work related stress.

Back in 2013, after losing total vision in my right eye my optic neuritis had a text book progression and I regained my sight after 6 weeks.

Far scarier was the state of my general health. The tingling turned into painful spasms that I was unable to control my arms and legs. I was exhausted and had no energy. I’d suddenly lose my grip and drop things. I went to get out of bed one day and couldn’t. My feet and legs simply wouldn’t move.

I had a long list of weird and not very wonderful symptoms but the most devastating thing was I was unable to look after my children. I had given up a successful career to be a stay at home Mum.

In among the chaos  a wonderful person, I still refer to as super nanny, who told me how I could be assessed for child care funding.  A true blessing which I was incredibly grateful to receive over the following months that I needed help.


I had brain and full spinal MRIs and no lesions were found.  Evoked Potential tests however showed nerve damage in both eyes , legs and arms. I was scared.

I was offered a lumbar puncture but my GP pointed out it wouldn’t change anything and that I was experiencing was an episode of MS but without evidence of scaring on the MRI scans it was not a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. He suggested that perhaps it was best to see what happened in time and not chase a diagnosis. Advice I am eternally grateful for.

I was prescribed a drug for my symptoms, but it wasn’t for me, as it numbed out ALL feeling of anything.


486123_10151308994171493_1426692566_n I am very familiar with neurological disease.

My Mum had Motor Neurone Disease (ALS) and died within 2 years of diagnosis.  She was 52.

Her mother (my maternal Grandmother) lived with progressive Multiple Sclerosis from her 30’s until her death in her 80’s but required full time care living in a nursing home.

My granny had tried to live gluten-free, back in the 1970’s and was perhaps Coeliac but unfortunately I have no way of finding out.


I started to look for answers . I found a TED talk by Dr Terry Whals, (see Heal: Dr Terry Whals here).

I read about the blood brain barrier, symptoms of Coeliac disease and the association with neurological conditions. It started to make some sense and I had nothing to lose by changing my diet and seeing what happened.

At the same time my 1 year old was referred to a Paediatrician with tummy problems she’d had since being weened.  The Paediatrician told me he suspected it was gluten.  I told him my experience and family history of neurological disease. He said he suspected it was all linked to a genetic condition and that he thought it was likely to be Coeliac Disease, which can easily go undiagnosed.

I drove home with tears in my eyes.  Finally it was beginning to make some sense.


I started to feel different within a few weeks. And by different I mean more alert, less swollen (in my fingers, face, and tummy). Slowly a lot of the weird pains and symptoms reduced or went.

After a few months I knew it was a very significant change. It felt as if someone had switched the light on in my body and life. I started to read more about gluten intolerance and Coeliac disease and some little things began to click;

  • unusual shape tummy as a small child
  • raised red skin rashes
  • I had ‘panda’ eyes
  • Scoliosis of my spine
  • my blood was refused as a donor due to low iron levels
  • I had ‘chicken skin’  on my arms until very recently
  • I bruised easily
  • constant low energy levels I experienced since childhood
  • my, shall we politely call it ‘wonky’, metabolism
  • the strange bowel movements I had after eating pasta that had prompted my GP to refer me for a sigmoidoscopy.

I wrote to my neurologist to check in all my ‘extensive’ blood work if it included any checks for the markers of Coeliac disease. They hadn’t been included. I was gutted.

I followed up with a (very) polite e-mail asking that she consider such tests in future cases. I received a positive reply so hopefully this will happen.


I spoke to more Doctors, I asked more questions but there were no tests I could have without reintroducing gluten, if only for a period of 6 weeks. This was not a risk I was willing to take.

In 2014 I was in a great place but still had a couple of niggling problems with my hands and feet.   I decided to seek out help from the functional medicine I’d read so much about and went to see Naturopath.   On her advice I had a full MOT and genetic screening to find the balance of the probable cause genetics, toxins, and or vitamin deficiencies.

The results were incredible. I couldn’t properly absorb B vitamins, a classic sign of Coeliac Disease and if untreated can lead to nerve damage and anaemia. I also found out I carry the genes for Coeliac disease and many genes associated with Multiple Sclerosis.

I was also fortunate to see Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou, a consultant neurologist at  the NHS Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield who runs a dedicated clinic specialising in gluten ataxia.  He has also conducted research into the association of gluten and neurological disease and kindly left me as an open patient (so I can go back at any time) but I am very hopeful I won’t be returning.


I now eat grain-free,  small amounts of dairy, grass fed and pasture reared meat and organic fruit and vegetables where possible.

I have just turned 40 and feel more healthy, energised and all round alive than I did at 20.

I hope the knowledge I now have will stop my girls and future generations experiencing neurological disease.

My period of illness has given me a great opportunity to reflect and look at all aspects of my life. I don’t believe health is ever just down to genetics, disease, diet and fitness. Life style and environment are major factors.

I am grateful for the amazing information, advice, studies and research I’ve been able to access. Thank you internet.

I am also forever indebted to some of the amazing people, Doctors, and yoga teachers I’ve met both virtually and in person who have been able to guide and help me.


I’ve shared my story because I hope that at some point now or in the future it might help you or someone you know, or someone they know….

I’ve learnt not to let anyone hold you back in life, especially yourself.

Go chase that dream, do whatever makes you happy and feel alive. Listen to yourself and your body.

Nobody however ‘well meant’ their intentions knows you and your body (health) better than you. TRUST IT.

This post is dedicated to my Mum and Granny Pam. Amazing, strong, vibrant and beautiful women.

Tabitha’s Gluten Free Dishes – Real Food. Healthy Fuel. For a Happy Life.

 Real Food. Healthy Fuel. For a Happy Life.

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30 Responses to “Heal: My Story”

  1. Jo

    Wonderful Tabby! I’m sure many people will be inspired by your story and sharing it will help a lot!

  2. healthycleanfamily

    Thank you for sharing your story of hope and wisdom with others.

    I have sent this to a close friend of mine who is experiencing similar symptoms and has been diagnosed with MS.

    I am hopeful she will make changes in her life which will bring her better health, such as you did. Thank you!

  3. Suzanne Green

    Tabs, brilliant article. So inspiring – I’ve sent it to another friend recently diagnosed with MS to give her some hope. Keep it up! xx

  4. Always a Mum

    Finding the answers is so difficult. The important lesson is to persevere, look outside the box and stay positive… three important qualities you have drawn on.

  5. Elaine @ foodbod

    Thank you for sharing your story, I’m so glad you have found some answers and a path for wellness.
    It amazes me on a daily basis that people, and doctors, do not make the link between what they put in their bodies and their health, people care more about the fuel they put in their cars than the fuel they put into their bodies! Well done for persevering and finding your answers xx

  6. Sarah

    Wow, what an intense journey! We watched Terry Wahl’s TED talk and listened to her on podcasts. She’s pretty amazing. Can’t believe the power of food to heal broken bodies. I bet your family is seeing benefits from the food choices you’re making too…I feel I’ve been doing right by my two little girls. Have you made any changes in other areas (besides food)? Like home cleaners or cosmetics? Just curious 🙂

  7. The Intolerant Gourmand

    There’s only one word that I can use that sums up your story…. Inspirational! It is so important to trust your gut instinct, time and again it is proven to be the right path! Well done you for trusting your instinct and seeking out a solution!
    And thank you for sharing your recipes, they’re lovely! 🙂 x

  8. Guest Post - Tabitha's Gluten Free Dishes - NatureDoc

    […] Tabitha has been on a tough health journey and has overcome some very significant neurological problems. With genetics stacked strongly against her (Tabitha’s mum died aged 52 of Motor Neurone Disease (ALS) and her grandmother had Multiple Sclerosis), she has been on a mission to keep her health in the best space possible. She has two young daughters, which has made her even more determined. I love her enthusiasm and her true British grit. She is living proof that the right diet and targeted nutrition can make a huge impact on health outcomes. You can read her beautifully written story here. […]

  9. Poppy’s Chocolate Cake | Tabitha's Gluten Free Dishes

    […] During my pregnancy with Poppy I had a period of illness where I was unable to walk.  At the time I was told it sciatica, although none of my symptoms were compatible with sciatica.  Then I was ill immediately after giving birth (I lost my vision and ability to speak for 30 mins and had numbness in my legs)  and then quite severely ill just after her first birthday, when again I  had periods where I couldn’t walk, severe fatigue and a host of weird neurological symptoms I found out were caused by nerve damage.  See Heal My Story here. […]

  10. Selma Al-Abbas

    Can you share more details about the genetic testing and other testing your NP did and what the equivalent might be in the US? Is this the 23andme test? Also, wondering if you eat eggs- and if you saw a signficant difference from gluten free and grain free-What is typical daily diet for you? How much fruit do you eat? thank you!

    • tabithasglutenfreedishes.com

      Yes 23 and me is the genetic test o has I can’t remember off hand the names of the other tests I had but I know they were UK based labs. It’s funny that you mention eggs I’ve recently found out I have a problem with eggs even in wine! The biggest difference by far was eliminating gluten from my diet the difference going grain free has given me is a huge reduction in inflammation in my body -one small example is the swelling in my fingers I’ve had most of my life but now has gone unless I’m ill. A typical days food me is bullet proof coffee or a juice (I have breakfast 2-3 days a week as I try to fast, and then it’s avocado and bacon or something simulator a smoothie) lunch is often roasted veg salad, soup, baked sweet potato or organic white potato, lots of different veggies, goats cheese, walnuts, Spiralized courgetti, carroeti, so many different things I try to post on my blog. Dinner very similar often organic grass fed beef, organic pasture raised chicken, hot salads, stews with bone broth, currys with coconut milk and bone broth. I only cook with coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil. Fruit wise I only eat organic apples and berries. I hope that helps?

  11. Robin

    What a sweetheart! Thank you for being willing to help others. I admire your courage and vulnerability.


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