My beloved chocolate gave me ulcers, heartburn and caused me to lose half my body weight
22:46 GMT, 14 May 2012
22:46 GMT, 14 May 2012
Sophie Jewett is a true chocoholic.
As a child, she was so hooked on Dairy Milk she had to have a bar every day.
She even decided to train as a chocolatier, opening her own business, York Cocoa House, last November.
Sophie Jewett is a chocolatier, despite her diagnosis of Crohn's. When she eliminated chocolate from her diet, her symptoms dramatically reduced
‘I come from a big family and was always making chocolates and biscuits for everyone,’ says Sophie, 31.
‘By the time I was 12 I was trying to work out how to make chocolate glossy, and became fascinated with the science of it.’
But two years ago, Sophie made a discovery that seemed like a cruel joke.
When she was a teen, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease — an inflammatory bowel disease characterised by pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss and tiredness — that can often be managed by working out what triggers the symptoms.
In 2010, Sophie finally worked out the trigger for hers: chocolate.
She says: ‘I was studying chocolate and I learned it is a muscle relaxant, which means it can cause acid reflux.
'I’d suffered reflux — a burning sensation in my throat — since I was a teenager because of my Crohn’s, so I conducted my own experiments.
'I found great irony in my conclusion.’
Sophie, who married her partner Stephen last year, found when she eliminated chocolate from her diet, the reflux and other Crohn’s symptoms were dramatically reduced.
‘My symptoms have always been around my throat. If I eat a bag of Maltesers, then within an hour I develop lots of ulcers in my mouth.
‘I’d never made a direct link with chocolate so carried on eating it.
'Every Easter when I was in my teens, I got ill — I should have twigged what was happening.
‘Of course I was disappointed. I was frightened I’d never be able to eat chocolate again.’
'I've learned to listen to my body to find out how to get the best of it. I don't avoid certain foods, but I try to balance my fibre intake,' said Sophie
More than 60,000 Britons are thought to have Crohn’s disease.
‘It causes inflammation anywhere in the gastronintestinal tract,’ explains Richard Driscoll, chief executive of the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK.
It most commonly affects the bowel but can also affect the mouth, where it triggers inflammation in the form of ulcers, and the throat, causing acid reflux.
Sophie grew up as a healthy child on the Isle of Wight but started experiencing unexplained symptoms when she was 14.
‘Just after Easter I started to get a burning sensation in the back of my throat, and I became really tired, too,’ she recalls.
‘I got better, but then it came back the following year.
'My dad took me to A&E one evening because I’d collapsed — but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong.
'I got sent home and my symptoms seemed to vanish.’
However, Sophie continued to suffer flare-ups of acid reflux as well as terrible mouth ulcers.
‘By the time I took my GCSEs I had 40 of them in my mouth, the size of 10p pieces,’ she says.
Sophie, who is 5ft 2in, lost 5st, going from 10st to half that in just five months. Concerned doctors put her on milkshakes fortified with nutrients.
‘One day a doctor started putting some really personal questions to me and I realised they thought I was anorexic.
'I wanted to scream I wasn’t doing this to myself or making it up.’
Just as she was about to start A-levels, Sophie was back in hospital, where doctors kept her in for two weeks, determined to make a diagnosis.
‘I weighed just 5st at this point,’ she says.
‘About halfway through my stay they discovered I had Crohn’s disease.
'It was a relief, to be honest. I left hospital with lots of medication, feeling much better and able to get on with my life.’
'Of course I can't eat chocolate every day like I'd love to… It's hard sometimes when you're surrounded by the one thing you're not allowed to have,' said Sophie
There is no cure for Crohn’s. Eight out of ten patients require surgery at some point to remove the diseased part of the bowel.
There are medications, including steroids — to reduce the inflammation — and immunosupressants, but many have side-effects. And often treatment is a case of trial and error.
It is crucial patients identify anything that may exacerbate their condition.
These can include stress and certain food types, says Alastair Forbes, a Crohn’s disease expert and professor of gastroenterology at University College London.
There are no consistent findings about trigger foods — each patient is different — but wheat, dairy and coffee are often implicated and chocolate’s often cited,’ he says.
‘The real test is a patient’s experience. Keeping a food diary can identify patterns.’
Sophie tried several drugs with varying success while continuing with her ambition to start a business.
She was prescribed Infliximab to suppress the immune system, and it allowed her to complete her degree and a master’s, and even climb Table Mountain in Cape Town.
In 2008, Sophie was prescribed Humira, an injection to block TNF-alpha, a signalling molecule that plays a role in inflammation and is abnormally high in people with Crohn’s.
Within a year, she became almost symptom-free, and has not needed to take any drugs since 2009.
‘For the past three years I have never felt so well,’ she says.
She has also benefited from having a designated gastro nurse who helps her manage the condition and its triggers.
Sophie says: ‘I know I will never be free of Crohn’s — and I would hate to be without the support of my nurse.
'She’s a friendly voice to discuss treatment options and symptoms with.
‘I’ve learned to listen to my body to find out how to get the best of it.
'I don’t avoid certain foods, but I try to balance my fibre intake.’
Of her discovery two years ago that her favourite food might be making her ill, Sophie adds: ‘By then all my other symptoms were under control but the reflux was so bad my doctors were considering operating to tighten the opening from my oesophagus to my stomach.
‘I discovered the possible link and stopped nibbling on chocolate — and for the first time in 16 years the reflux went away.
'I don’t think chocolate caused the Crohn’s disease, but maybe it exacerbated the onset of it.’
Her experiences haven’t put Sophie off chocolate — indeed, this year she organised York’s first chocolate festival and made truffles in honour of the Queen’s visit to the city.
‘Of course I can’t eat chocolate every day like I’d love to,’ she says.
‘And it’s hard sometimes when you’re surrounded by the one thing you’re not allowed to have. But after eliminating chocolate for a while, I can now allow myself a bit here and there.
‘I just stop if my throat starts niggling. It’s nice to know it won’t land me in hospital.
‘I do still crave a bar of Dairy Milk of course. And sometimes I can’t resist a little square.’
For more information about Crohn’s, see the Crohn’s and Colitis UK website at www.nacc.org.uk