Gluten Intolerance: The Culprit Behind Many Chronic Illnesses
Do you ever find yourself feeling achy and fatigued for no apparent reason? Are you experiencing headaches, muscle and joint pain, irritability, bloating, or digestion problems? The symptoms you are experiencing may be an adverse reaction to the foods you eat. These are just a few of the many indicators of gluten intolerance, a condition gaining recognition as a contributing factor behind many chronic health issues.
Gluten is the complex protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats. For many, our bodies are unable to digest these proteins properly. That headache you experience after a meal of pasta may be an indicator that you are gluten intolerant. If you feel sleepy and lethargic after a French toast breakfast, your body may be having too hard a time trying to break down the food you are consuming.
New evidence suggests that as many as 1 in 7 are gluten sensitive, or gluten intolerant. Many chronic illnesses are associated with gluten intolerance: Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorder, and diabetes. It is also thought to be the cause of infertility in some women. Gluten intolerance should not be confused with the less common and more severe auto-immune disorder, Celiac Disease.
If you suspect you may have sensitivity to gluten, consider eliminating it from your diet. All gluten intolerances are easily identified by an elimination diet. Start for a period of two weeks and remove all wheat, barley and rye based foods. It is helpful to keep a fibromyalgia food mood journal during this time, and log what you eat along with any symptoms you experience. If you have intolerance, improvements may be felt in just a few days. For myself, eliminating gluten from my diet quickly lead to massive improvements in the many symptoms I experience living with Fibromyalgia.
The first thing I noticed was an increase in energy. I began feeling less fatigued and sluggish. Then I noticed my head was feeling clearer, less foggy. Eventually I also noticed my back muscles were no longer on fire with pain, and my shoulder muscles seemed less tense. The thing that cinched it for me though was the improvement with my hands. The joints in my hands had become so painful I was certain I was developing arthritis. I had a hard time gripping and opening things, my coordination was off – I dropped things often, and my hands frequently woke me up throughout the night with throbbing and aching pains. After just ten days on a gluten-free diet there was a noticeable improvement. I needed no further proof that I am gluten intolerant.
Blood tests are available to test for gluten intolerance, but it is possible to test negative and still have sensitivity to gluten. The easiest way to test if you are intolerant is to simply eliminate it from your diet. It takes a commitment, and careful food preparation, but the benefits of improved health and wellbeing far outweigh the disadvantages. And if you are worried you may miss your favorite gluten based foods too much, don’t. With growing recognition of gluten intolerance comes a growing variety of substitutes and options. Eat well, be well.
Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote for Optimal Nutrition’s monthly newsletter.