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Network Splits With Actress Over Gluten: Is Celiac a Real Malady or a Dietary Choice?

The reactions to Jennifer Esposito’s story can be neatly divided between those who empathize and those who think this is some spoiled actress’s crazy diet issue.
 
 
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It’s not unusual for an actor to go off on a Twitter rant, to instigate a feud in 140 characters. Hell, it’s pretty much expected behavior. But “Blue Bloods” actress Jennifer Esposito’s recent feisty display of tweet rage is unique. First, it’s because she dared to break the first rule of show business and publicly engage in a dispute with her network, calling CBS “shameful” for placing her on an unpaid leave from the show. And second, because this may be the first recorded war over gluten.

Deadline reported on Saturday that the actress was  taking a leave from her series, and quoted a CBS statement that “Jennifer has informed us that she is only available to work on a very limited part-time schedule. As a result, she’s unable to perform the demands of her role and we regretfully had to put her character on a leave of absence. She is a wonderfully talented actress and we hope that she will be able to return at some point in the future.”

Esposito immediately shot back in  a series of tweets, “CBS put me on unpaid leave and has blocked me from working anywhere else after my doctor said you needed a reduced schedule due to celiac. CBS didn’t listen to my doc and I collapsed on set. Which everyone saw! After a week off my doc said I could return to work but CBS implied that I was NOT truly ill and this was a scheme to get a raise! It’s been almost two months without bringing me back to work + keeping Me from working anywhere else!… Absolutely shameful behavior.”

Esposito has been very public about her experience with celiac disease, an immune system disorder caused by gluten intolerance that affects the small intestine. She maintains a blog devoted to learning “ to live again – gluten free,” and sells her own flour and pancake mix. On her site, she describes her years of serious and debilitating symptoms, “waking up exhausted, constant stomach problems, raging panic attacks, joint pain, knees buckling, extreme weakness, yellowing of my skin, extreme sinus headaches, numbness, tingling, and hair and nails so weak they would just break off from a simple touch.”

She’s not alone. A 2009 New York Times story confirmed that celiac disease is on the rise, with diagnoses  quadrupling in recent years. Thanks to celiac — as well as trendy best-sellers like the Paleo diet — gluten, found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains, has in the process become the dietary bad guy du jour. The gluten-free industry is now a $4.2 billion business. Adding fuel to the fire, just last month, plain old wheat made headlines when cardiologist Dr. William Davis called it a “perfect, chronic poison.”

Yet on the Web, the reactions to Esposito’s story can be neatly divided between those who empathize and those who think this is some spoiled actress’s crazy diet issue.  At Deadline, she’s either being “a baby” trying to “get sympathy for being a celiac” who’s acting “unprofessional, entitled” or she’s like those who concur, “I almost died from this thing. Celiac is a multi-system disease and can be devastating.” On TV Line, another commenter with celiac noted,  “Try being in pain all the time. Let me know how that goes for you.”

Reports Monday that the actress and CBS were trying to  reopen work negotiations were unconfirmed by both sides. Of course, now that the 39-year-old, who’s been on the show for three seasons, has gone public with her network dispute, an amicable return to the fold seems less and less likely. Didn’t we all learn that, in different ways, from  Katherine Heigl and Charlie Sheen?

 
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