Gluten-free is all the rage right now. I guess I’m the lucky surfer riding that wave, since it has resulted in many new products and labeling that makes life easier for those of us who cannot tolerate gluten. I guess I’m a trend-setter. What’s gluten? It’s a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It used to be that only celiacs avoided gluten, but they’re discovering that there is a whole range of people whose lives are easier and more comfortable if they follow a gluten-free diet. Now there is more accurate testing for the various gluten related ailments. Still, many doctors are completely ignorant of the symptoms and the treatment for folks who are gluten intolerant. I don’t blame them, the symptoms can be wildly diverse and confusing. The only real solution is a gluten-free diet, which isn’t easy in this world of processed foods. Still, since I quit eating gluten (and in my case, cow’s milk products, too) my life has completely changed. The first 46 years of my life I struggled constantly with many, many health problems–but my doctors just shrugged. Now, as long as I watch what I eat, I am one of the healthiest people I know.

What are the symptoms? They are wildly different for many people. I guess I’m lucky that my symptoms were “classic” celiac. They included gastro-intestinal problems, a chronic rash, aching joints, infertility, chronic upper respiratory problems and a continually growing list of foods and drugs that triggered allergic reactions. I remember feeling frustrated that, at some point, it felt like I’d be allergic to everything. I was afraid to end up like the boy-in-the-bubble. I always was the sickly kid. Little did I know I was the poster-child for Celiac Disorder. (aka Celiac Sprue, aka Celiac Disease)

I wish I could say that a kind and conscientious doctor listened to my complaints and did the detective work to find out what was wrong with me. Nope. Despite the fact that I presented with all the classic symptoms, and even endured years of unsuccessful infertility treatments, nobody ever suggested that we take a look at my diet. Long after childbearing was an option, I discovered I was a celiac, while driving down the road, listening to NPR. That’s it, my medical provider of choice, National Public Radio. It was December 27, 2004 and a talk show host was interviewing a man about his mysterious ailment. He went through his symptoms. I pulled over to the shoulder. By the end of the program I was weeping behind the steering wheel; this had been my problem all along. I stopped eating wheat the very next day.

Thank god for the internet. I did all my own research and completely reformulated how I eat. At first my family thought I was crazy, but within a month or two, even the doubters could see the improvement. I never looked back. My doctor initially resisted my self-diagnosis, but it’s hard to argue with a sudden attack of good health. For a while I was angry. I could have felt good decades earlier if the medical people had listened, and had known about the condition. Maybe I could have had children. Often with celiacs, especially younger celiacs, a year or two gluten-free can reverse all the symptoms. A niece of mine, also suffering from infertility issues, was able to conceive after changing her diet. Many gluten issues are hereditary. My discovery has changed everyone in my family. Three of us have gone completely gluten-free, with great results. Others are considering it–but it’s a big step and requires some sacrifices. (One just isn’t willing to give up her fancy micro-brew beer! Sheesh! Believe me, even though I like beer, too–it’s worth it.)

Why am I coming clean now? Someone I know through blogging has complained of similar symptoms. I occupy only a tiny corner of the blogosphere, but if, by writing this blog, I can lessen the suffering of just one person, then I should make that effort. I’m not NPR, but since my recovery I have made it part of my mission to help others transition to better health when the learn that they, too, have won the gluten-free lottery. So, Nick, look into it. Find out and choose health. It’s worth it.

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