Before getting into my experience with gluten sensitivity let’s talk very briefly about what gluten is, its sources, possible symptoms and how it causes problems.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a sticky protein and its subset gliadin is what is harmful to some people.
It’s mainly found in wheat, barley and rye. It is also found in oats but the gluten in oats does not contain gliadin.
Products made with white or whole wheat flour, barley or rye contain gluten.
Some common ingredients used in cooking contain gluten like corn starch and soy sauce.
Most packed foods contain gluten. Gluten free is a huge selling factor so if it doesn’t say “gluten free” then it more than likely it has gluten.
How does gluten affect your body?
Gluten invades your intestinal wall allowing toxins to be absorbed through the wall into cells in your body.
“Modern wheat is very high in gluten, and baking increases its ability to react with the gut wall”. The Optimum Nutrition Bible, by Patrick Holford.
Common Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity
- Brain fog (unable to focus or think clearly)
- Chronic faigue
- Migraine headaches
- Joint pain or numbness
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating (distended stomach)
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Interferes with digestion thereby thwarting absorption of nutrients
- Crohn’s Disease – Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Should You Eat Gluten?
People who have celiac disease should not consume gluten because it can cause a serious allergic response.
Others may be sensitive to gluten, and have mild immediate allergic reactions. Some people may have no immediate reaction to gluten but after long term consumption they may have experience symptoms.
If you don’t have celiac disease but are sensitive to gluten there are two things to consider about consuming gluten.
- Your level of sensitivity – strong, mild, type of symptom.
If it’s a strong reaction I recommend staying away from gluten. For a mild reaction I recommend monitoring how you feel and limiting your intake. If your symptoms are difficult to tolerate (migraine, diarrhea, constipation, intense inflammation, intense stomach pain, indigestion, etc.), I recommend eliminating it from your diet.
A study in Spain done on people who eliminated gluten from their diets for a month showed that eliminating gluten may negatively affect gut flora and immune function by feeding bad bacteria. For this reason whatever decision you make, whether to eliminate completely or just limit intake, you should take probiotics regularly.
- The cumulative effect of consuming gluten. You may not experience an immediate reaction but instead experience symptoms from eating gluten over time.
This is kinda a long story….many years ago, every day, I was experiencing stiffness and pain all over my body. The doctors said it was arthritis from lupus-like symptoms. I was never diagnosed with lupus, only with having lupus-like symptoms (Ya, “lupus-like”, it sounds weird but that’s what they said), which included having a positive ANA (Anti-Nuclear Antibodies) and arthritis.
Basically my body was attacking its own tissues, A.K.A. auto-immune disease. This started out with pain in a finger in my right hand which gradually spread to the rest of my body. Usually upon waking in the morning my entire body would feel stiff with pain practically everywhere and I would have to thaw myself out (was not cold but felt stiff as if I was partially frozen). I appeared and felt normal throughout the day, but when I got home and relaxed, which at the time meant not moving around much, my body would start to become rigid with pain again.
I was prescribed plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) and voltaren (pain killer). For two years I took these pills twice a day every day. Eventually my A.N.A was no longer positive or only mildly positive and the pain and stiffness went away but not totally. Every now and then I would feel the stiffness and some mild pain. It always happened when I felt stressed. Usually it would start in my fingers and then somehow move its way into my arm like an evil spider crawling about leaving behind its poison everywhere it went. It was never severe so I would just ignore it, but then I started to consistently feel the pain again.
At that point I was a lot more conscious about what I was putting inside my body and did not want to start taking medication again so having heard about gluten sensitivities causing inflammation, which can result in arthritis, I decided to really research gluten. Having done my research I decided to give a gluten free life a try for 3 weeks. 3 weeks is a decent amount of time to find out if a change in your diet is having any effect at all. It also takes only 3 weeks to create a new pathway in your brain to form a new habit and since this was going to be a change I knew I had to commit for at least 3 weeks. So I committed to the 3 weeks and the pain went away….no drugs…hallelujah! I extended the 3 weeks to a couple months, result…still no pain.
Another way of testing the effectiveness of a change in your diet is to reintroduce the substance you eliminated to find out if there is still a reaction. So I started eating gluten again by introducing it back into my diet slowly. For months while putting the gluten back in my life I felt no pain, but then I went home to Jamaica and turned into a shameless gluttonous gluten eater. Oh did I indulge! 5 days in and voila, the pain was back.
Truth be told I did not stop eating the gluten laden food while I was there because everything tasted so damn good, but as soon as got home I eliminated the gluten from my diet again and in a few days the pain and stiffness subsided. I eat gluten now but rarely since I have very limited processed foods and my carbohydrate intake is mainly from vegetable sources. I also avoid cooking with ingredients that contain gluten, like soy sauce and corn starch.
Apart from getting rid of arthritis, I no longer feel extremely tired in the afternoons. You know that extremely sleepy feeling you get, the one where you feel like if you don’t get to close your eyes you may just pass out. Well it stopped…Bonus!
What my experience tells us is that though you may not have an immediate allergic reaction to gluten you can still have a reaction from consuming gluten over time. These reactions can be varied. One of the ways to test if gluten is the cause of your symptoms is to temporarily eliminate it from your diet. If it helps, put it back in your diet to find out if the symptoms return. Then you can be sure of the cause. If they return either eliminate gluten completely or moderate like I do, i.e. find out what your tolerance level is.
Eliminating Gluten Does Not Work for Everyone
Eliminating gluten may not work for some people. I have a friend who suffers from migraine headaches. Since gluten is known to be a common cause for migraine headaches she eliminated gluten from her diet for about 6 weeks but still got headaches. Another friend eliminated it for her and her family and they all felt awful. Everyone is different.
How About All Those Gluten Free Products?
I’ve tried a handful. Some are good and some are horrible. There are tons of them but as with everything else you buy you have to be careful about ingredients and nutritional value. The gluten free version is not necessarily healthier than the regular version. Let us compare PC brand “Gluten-Free Multigrain Loaf” to their “Ancient Grains Multigrain Bread”.
The ancient grains multigrain bread looks healthier to me. It has less calories, less fat, less carbohydrates, more protein and less sodium. It also has Omega 3 and 6. The gluten-free bread has no Omega 3 or 6 but it does have some of the B vitamins. I’d prefer to get the omegas because you can easily get the vitamin B from many other sources.
The best thing to do when going gluten free is to make your own gluten free food. I baked a gluten free lemon pound cake a long time ago. Everyone loved it :).
One thing I find ridiculous are products that could not possibly contain gluten but they are marketed as “Gluten Free” for example, a package of red meat or rice…..so silly but people fall for it.
Not everyone is sensitive to gluten. If you experience no allergic reaction to gluten there is absolutely no reason for you to cut it out of your diet. In fact totally eliminating it is potentially harmful to your health. However, If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed earlier you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try to find out if gluten is the cause.
Have a live healthy be happy day!
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