This Actress' Chronic Illness Was Misdiagnosed for 25 Years and It Nearly Killed Her

Jennifer-Esposito
(Photo: Getty / Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff)

Jennifer Esposito is an award-winning actress in films like Crash and television shows like Spin City. But outside of this glamorous life in Hollywood, Jennifer silently suffered from exhaustion, constant stomach issues, raging panic attacks and pains she could barely handle.

Doctors diagnosed her with a plethora of problems over a 25-year span: multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, hormonal problems, stress and mental imbalance. She dealt with decades of misdiagnoses, prescriptions to treat issues she didn't have, and even psychiatric treatment. "All of these misdiagnoses suggested that my symptoms weren't real—that I was making them up," Jennifer recounts on mindbodygreen.

MORE: Clean Eating 101: Change Your Body the Healthy Way

But it was in 2007—when a tooth flew out of her mouth on a film set—that Jennifer was convinced 'stress' wasn't the cause of her lingering issues. In the end, it took one female doctor who spent two hours listening and learning, followed by the words "I don't know how you're still alive," to discover the truth behind Jennifer's pain.

This doctor (finally!) diagnosed Jennifer with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten leads to damage to the small intestine. In simple terms, the disease concerns the gut and the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food. Without this absorption, the body begins to feed on itself for fuel.

In Jennifer's case, she'd spent decades treating her body poorly (without knowing it, of course), so her kidneys and liver were in complete distress. She credits her active lifestyle for keeping her stable during these painful years.

And while the path to recovery wasn't easy, she says it was a "beautiful road." She's now using her platform to tell her own journey through her book Jennifer's Way and by starting a gluten-free bakery to advocate for people with celiac in everyday life. "I'm happy and helping people," she shared.

As part of her mission for advocacy, Jennifer shares advice to become your own biggest advocate, celiac or otherwise.

Her main point? Trust and honor yourself above all other opinions.

"Something happens to you when you go unheard for so long. Your soul starts to die a little, and you believe your words don't matter. I'm here to tell you that they do. If you have something going on in your body that you know in your gut is not what you are being told, you must take a stand for yourself," she writes in Jennifer's Way.

She also has some healthy advice on one simple way you can treat any illness: diet. "Look to food to help you heal," Jennifer says. By feeding her body clean, natural foods her body could process—'power food,' as she calls it—the actress was able to rid her body of all the negative side effects and fuel it for healthy, sustained living.

This isn't a new revelation, but it's often a hard concept to grasp until you experience it for yourself! Fellow actress Tia Mowry has been an advocate for clean eating since she used it as 'medicine' to treat her endometriosis.

"We are self-regenerating creatures, just like nature," Jennifer says. "Let the natural healing potential of the world around you do its work."

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