CHARLESTON, WV -- Lesa Eskew once suffered from severe stomach pains and weakness.
Draza Peck said she was too fatigued to function as her weight rapidly dwindled.
Both women tremendously improved their health through dietary changes.
They are members of the Charleston Gluten Intolerance Group where participants learn to live in a gluten-free world as they share information and recipes.
The group got its start in 2009 when only a handful of people showed up for meetings at the Healthy Life Market on Patrick Street, said manager Alexa Peck. The group has steadily grown with as many as 30 attending the sessions.
The next meeting is Wednesday, from 6 to 7 p.m. at Healthy Life Market, 1603 Kanawha Blvd. W. Meetings are free and open to the public.
Some who attend are sensitive to gluten while others have been diagnosed with celiac disease. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness defines the condition as "an autoimmune disorder triggered by consuming a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye."
The protein interferes with the absorption of nutrients leading to a number of health problems.
The Gluten Intolerance Group was launched by Alexa Peck after her mother, Draza Peck, was diagnosed with celiac disease.
Draza Peck began having symptoms in 2005 and was diagnosed in 2006.
"I had fatigue and nausea," said Draza, 65. "I lost 30 pounds. I was too sick to eat. We thought I was dying."
After her diagnosis, she cleaned out her cupboards of anything that contained gluten and found it in everything, from soups and salad dressings to seasonings. Her daughter Alexa Peck, 37, began preparing some gluten-free foods for her mother who gradually regained her energy.
After launching the group, Alexa met people like her mother who suffered from celiac disease and took some time to improve with dietary changes. Others with gluten sensitivity changed eating habits and improved immediately.
"When I see someone with problems with gluten, they are scared," Alexa said. "It's overwhelming at first. I can show them everything in the store and put them in contact with the group. I want them to have a community."
Lesa Eskew, 45, a registered nurse, was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009.
"I had diarrhea, bloating and severe stomach pains," she said. "I started doing research. My symptoms matched with celiac."
It took specific bloodwork and a gastrointestinal biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, she said.
Her daughter, 7-year-old Ellie Eskew, also has the dieases, which is hereditary. She was diagnosed when she was five, after she was not gaining and growing as a child her age should.
Now Lesa packs all of her daughter's school lunches and the family prepares gluten-free meals at home.
Mother and daughter also attend the meetings of the Charleston Gluten Intolerance Group where Ellie is the youngest member. The group includes men and women from all walks of life from age 7 to 70s.
"I have more energy now," Eskew said. "I have learned so much, even through our meetings. Now I have a good idea where to eat out. It's not difficult for me anymore."
About a year and a half ago, she began helping with the group along with her friend, Anne Strawn.
People share tips along with recipes and samples, she said. They talk about challenges such as holiday functions and parties and which restaurants are best to accommodate them with gluten-free foods.
Eskew raves about Sugar Pie Bakery in Kanawha City where she can pick up gluten-free goodies.
Restaurants with gluten-free offerings recommended by the group include Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille, Panera Bread, Applebee's, Wendy's, Bob Evans, TGI Friday's, Tidewater, Chili's, Outback, Longhorn, First Watch, Pies and Pints, and Olive Garden.