So its been an interesting month for me. Over the past few months I’ve been feeling very fatigued, and no matter how much sleep I got I couldn’t get energy. I thought that I was just getting older, trying to do too much, or just not sleeping well (i’m a very light sleeper). Then about a month ago my joints started to be really painful, stiff and cracking a lot more. I also noticed that I kept feeling like my body needed water, even though I was drinking enough (I wear contacts so my eyes are a good judge of if I need water as they dry up faster). I had zero energy and my mind couldn’t focus and felt clouded.
So I started reading into these symptoms myself online, got some blood work done, talked to health care providers and naturopathic doctors and the end result is that I have suddenly developed a gluten intolerance. Now this came as a shock since I’ve loved my gluten all my life and never had an issue, but the symptoms explained it. The only way to get better was to cut gluten out of my diet.
From that day I worked on eating completely gluten free. I also went dairy free and refined sugar free to help with the joint inflammation (for now – I really like my milk).
Its been a hard road, totally changing my eating style. I was the person who ate a homemade breakfast sandwich or cereal for breakfast, salad or sandwich for lunch and lots of gluten-filled things for dinner (pasta and whatnot). So its a total change in our household now.
I’ve also experimented with gluten to see what it does and what it effects once i’m off it for a few days. After the first 3 days of non-gluten I feel a lot better. No grogginess, joints feel better, head’s clearer. But as soon as I touch gluten, I’m out. This past weekend I had gluten-filled pizza and beers (birthday party where that was the only food). By the next day I was hurting, and it took three days to get back to feeling better again. So now I know my timeline for recovery is about 3 days.
I know that it could take months for my body to ‘heal’ itself from the gluten attack. Essentially, my intestines need to recover to work better and get more nutrients into me. I’ll explain my new diet in following blog post, but I’m going as nutrient-rich as I can to help push be back to normal.
But enough about me. Here’s a bit of an explanation on how you can suddenly become gluten intolerant.
What is a Gluten Intolerance?
Essentially, gluten intolerance could be three things: the onset of celiac disease, non-celiac gluten allergy, or a basic wheat allergy. Overall, these are all a response to eating gluten and your body not liking it. Gluten itself is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. People who are gluten intolerant have an abnormal immune response when the gluten is broken down through digestion.
When you’re gluten intolerant, your body sees gluten as the enemy, and when its in your digestion, your body goes to war on it with a number of antibodies. In this process, the walls of your intestines can’t absorb as many nutrients as normal. In cases of Celiac Disease, the walls of your intestines can then allow bad things to go through them, which cause more problems. When we’re talking about non-Celiac intolerance, this ‘leakage’ allows antibodies to escape your intestines and they go onto attack things that they shouldn. This then causes the rest of the body to react as if its been infected, which causes the joint pain, fatigue, inability to concentrate and more.
That’s right. Blame your parents. If you’re finding yourself on the losing side of gluten, there’s a good chance its been passed down to you. This doesn’t mean your parents are suffering too, it sometimes needs a ‘trigger moment’, but its likely that they carry the gene that can make you gluten intolerant.
What does this mean for your own (current or future) children? Get them eating healthy from the start. Keep gluten out of the diet or just as a minor part, unless they show signs of the intolerance as well.
For sudden onset gluten intolerance, normally there was a trigger point that caused your body to change. This isn’t literally a moment in life, but can be a number of things put together. Bad eating habits, stress, sudden worry (ie: losing a loved one), a relationship change, illness, etc, are all possible causes for your body to wreak havoc on itself as it tries to adjust to whatever is happening. There is also a chance in pregnant women to develop gluten intolerance.
For myself, I believe it was a month of travelling that I did in May – not sleeping well in weird beds, not eating healthy (you have to try all the local foods!), long days of walking, etc. My body had to cope with these stresses and most likely this is when my trigger moment happened.
As I stated above, my symptoms included severe fatigue, joint pain and stiffness, dryness and lack of focus. These are fairly common symptoms of a gluten allergy. There are an estimated 300 different symptoms that can be associated with gluten intolerance. Beyond what I experienced, here’s a few more symptoms that are most common:
- ‘foggy mind’
- consistent diarrhea (especially in the days after eating gluten)
- headaches or migraines
- sudden weight loss or weight gain
- depression-like symptoms
- ADHD-like symptoms
- lack of muscle control
- and the list goes on.
Testing for Yourself
If you think you may have a gluten intolerance, its best to check with your doctor, nutritionist or a naturopath, but if you have to wait, the easiest way to test is to totally stop eating anything that contains gluten and see how you feel. This could take a few days to a month to really feel better. If you can do it for a full month and you’re feeling better, then test by consuming gluten and seeing if you react to it. If your body goes back to the same symptoms then it is a gluten intolerance. Because of the severity of Celiac Disease, be sure to get tested by your doctor. Especially if you’re experiences severe stomach pains, bloating and diarrhea.
Research, research, research. There is a lot of great Gluten Free Reading Resources available. And a lot of websites that list what foods contain gluten. There is a really big push in society to make things gluten free, and you’ll find that most supermarkets have a full gluten-free section. Restaurants also now include a gluten free menu (or symbol on their menu).
Starting a good, balanced diet is key here. You don’t have to limit yourself to just eating celery for the rest of your life. You just need to be conscious about what you buy and eat. There are many gluten-free websites that list great recipes, and a lot of good alternative foods are now available to help with the cravings for bread and cookies.
Update: I’ve written a few more posts about my journey going gluten free and healing your gut while gluten intolerant:
I’d love to hear if you’re new to gluten-free eating, and what your experience has been. Or if you think you may be gluten intolerant and you’re planning your next steps. Let us see your comments below!
Header image by Sonja Pieper
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