Friday, September 17, 2010

The Gluten Experiment: Part 1

A couple of months ago I shared that I'd had a blood test reveal the presence of gliadin, which is the antibody to gluten. In other words, I tested positive for gluten intolerance. The standard procedure for that is to begin a gluten free "GF" diet.

I did not jump in immediately, partly because making the switch requires some effort, but mostly because I didn't have symptoms. (We had no reason to suspect an intolerance, the test was part of a standard battery we were doing because of something else, and the result was something of a surprise.) Many people experience bloating, gas, or irregularity. Many experience fatigue or joint pain. Some sources do suggest symptoms as differentiated as headaches, giddiness, loss or gain of weight, skin inflammation, nervousness, anger, impotency, irregular menstrual cycles, and miscarriage. That last one of course stood out to me, but it's one I did not find on most of the symptom lists, and I'm definitely a bit skeptical as to how a food allergy would be implicated in miscarriage.
My reading indicated that when dealing with a food allergy, an 'elimination diet' (ie, eliminating the offending food) is typically done for two weeks to observe whether or not there are any changes in symptoms. I spoke with several friends who have allergies to either wheat or gluten, and while a couple said that they needed to be GF for 3 or 6 weeks to see results, many also said that they noticed changes within just a few days. So two weeks seemed like a reasonable test to me. Also, several people told me that they did not notice anything particular when they went off gluten, but they did notice a change for the worse when they went back on it. So my experiment is really twofold: observing myself for two weeks off of gluten, and then continuuing to observe for the next two weeks as I go back on it.

Today's report is about my two weeks gluten-free. (Just so you know, there's a bit of "TMI" in consider yourself warned!)

The first couple of days were really hard, as I had known they would be. I was overwhelmed with constantly checking labels or looking things up ( is a great site for checking whether things have gluten in them). It seemed that most of what I wanted to snack on had gluten in it... I felt hungry, not because I wasn't eating, but because I had to be so discriminating about what I ate. I think the difficulty was mostly emotional, but it was certainly difficult. The second day was especially hard.
I did get a mix to make GF pancakes, and one to make a loaf of GF bread, and I did make a flour mix which I substituted into a couple of other things, so in those few instances I had my separate food from everyone elses...but otherwise I simply prepared GF foods for everyone. We ate several dishes over rice--Indian, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican foods. We ate several meat & potatoes type meals. I ate a lot of eggs for breakfasts and fruit or cheese for snacks. It was a little annoying, but I did get the hang of it, and it wasn't too hard.
On two of the days when I was eating every (GF) meal, I found that I felt weak, woozy, and even a little nauseous. One of these was day 2, and I credited it to the change...but the other day was more than halfway through the trial, and it caught me quite off guard. I was eating meals with the same frequency and of the same size as always have, and that ill feeling is not something that happens except occasionally when I am pregnant or if I have fasted a full 24 hours. (I actually did a partial fast one day during the trial--I don't do full fasts when I'm breastfeeding--but, I felt fine during that time.)
I'd heard that my often-poor sleep might improve. This is hard to gauge as I had a teething baby during part of the time and he was not sleeping well so of course I was not sleeping well either...however, I didn't notice any particular differences in that regard either.
I also observed was that there were a couple of days when I was quite gassy. I was keeping a food diary, and there doesn't seem to have been anything in common between those days that might have caused it. Also in regard to the gastro-intestinal situation, I have never gotten so backed up in my life. These two issues I suspect may have to do with the lower fiber content of my diet when I went off wheat--we do consume quite a bit of wheat in our household, but it is almost all whole wheat. I probably should have thought about that ahead of time and sought additional alternate sources of fiber...however, I felt that the most realistic way to do the trial was to simply get rid of gluten, without making any other dietary changes.

So, my conclusions at this stage are that going gluten free did not improve my quality of life at all, and may have actually decreased it a bit.
I did develop a fairly awesome cookie recipe though: Stardrops.
We shall see if I notice anything in the coming two weeks as I go gluten-full again (I'll let you know of course!)

One friend, upon hearing that I was trying gluten-free, mentioned that in her experience gluten-free is not usually as helpful as staying on gluten and simply adding digestive enzymes to the diet. I need to research this option more fully, but hope to try it out as part 3 of the experiment.
If I do notice adverse results as I go onto gluten again, then I will also add on a gluten-lite trial, and see how that goes.


Chandelle said...

I'm not sure how much of the packaged GF mixes you were eating, but I feel horrible when I eat that stuff - not as bad as I do with glutenous foods, but pretty close. Mostly they make me feel really tired. So you might want to try GF with all whole foods instead.

Also, one thing that's tricky about gluten is that many people actually feel addicted to it, and at first they feel worse instead of better while they're healing. This is the case with many food allergens, actually. In training I was taught that whatever a person feels they couldn't live without, that's where to start looking for allergies or intolerance.

Laura said...

I have read that soaking your grains before cooking with them can help. Look it up.

Mama Ayla said...

We soak, sprout or ferment our grains and I've had much more success with that then being gluten free. I'm interested though did you take sacrament while GF?

Mommy Bee said...

The first week I had the sacrament in my mouth before I even thought about it. The second week I was on my last day so I didn't worry about it. I figured it was small enough (and close enough to the end) that it wasn't going to affect the overall experiment.

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