Gluten has become somewhat of an obsession for me in the past year. I have spent a long time researching the effects of gluten and how it causes all these different health issues. When I did my low carb diet, I’ve seen the huge improvements in my health so I knew that gluten was definitely not working well for me. It wasn’t until my last pregnancy that gluten seriously started to bother me. I would cough and cough for hours without being able to figure out what the problem was. I don’t want to deceive you into thinking that gluten free diet is easy or something that I enjoy. It is really hard work and involves a lot of self control and support from people around you. I wanted to share with you on how gluten free diet helped me improve my health drastically.
There is lots of controversy out there about whether gluten free diet causes more damage then good. Well in my case it has definitely improve my health. I’m not talking about off the shelf gluten free products as they may contain a lot more damaging properties than good.
Cough, oh Cough!
As I mentioned, this awful cough started during my last pregnancy. It was so bad that I was seriously worried for my baby as my stomach would wobble up and down during the cough attacks. Sometimes it would go on for hours and I couldn’t find any way to sooth it. I was very limited in terms of medication and cough syrups I could use, even those herbal syrups are not recommended. After few visits to the lung specialist, diagnosis was that I was allergic to something and therefore the mucus would form which later caused the cough.
I immediately suspected gluten as I noticed that cough would get worse after consuming bread. I was hoping after my delivery that the cough would miraculously stop for some reason, but no! Here I was in the hospital, with my C-section wound coughing until my stitches almost burst open. In order to prove my gluten theory I decided to go for an allergy test. However, all the tests came back negative and even my igE was so low that my doctor said 99% I don’t have any allergies. I must say when I received the results I was rather disappointed, I was back to square one and couldn’t prove my theory. After further investigating the allergy specialist concluded that I most probably have mast cell activation disorder and after he explained to me what this was I was even more confused. In short this is a rather newly discovered disorder where your mast cells go crazy and over produce histamine. Therefore, according to the doctor, I was showing symptoms of allergy through excessive mucus, due to this excessive histamine floating around my body.
Mast Cell Activation Disorder
Say what?! As soon as I left the doctors office of course I immediately started panically searching what is this mass cell activation disorder about. And what I found was pretty shocking. Basically the only way to manage this disorder is to eliminate all the foods containing high levels of histamine. To my horror, the list of these foods was never ending and basically you are left with very, very limited things to eat. Not to mention I was devastated. So besides my thyroid going crazy, now I was left with another immunity-gone-wild issue. I knew immediately I was not going to be able to eliminate all those foods from that scary list so I decided to go with my instinct and remove gluten completely from my diet. I even discussed it with my doctor and he said try it out and tell me how it goes. He was rather honest and said that doctors don’t have the time to research all the new findings when it comes to natural remedies and food allergies/sensitivities.
Gluten is everywhere!
If you ever tried going on a gluten free diet I’m sure you would have realised that gluten is EVERYWHERE. Two things proved really challenging for me; breakfast and eating on the go. I had to quit all my breakfast staples such as bread, cereal, oatmeal, pancakes…So what do I eat?! Well you need to put a lot more work into it and make your own stuff. There are many different gluten free bread options out there, but of course non of them come even close to that fluffy, soft and tasty regular bread. My breakfast mostly consisted of fruits, eggs and some gluten free cereal options which I could find. Grabbing a bite while you are on the go is even harder because somehow all the on-the-go food options are full of gluten, well at least in Malaysia where I live. If you go to a grocery store, your only options are nuts and dried or fresh fruits. I quickly realised I either had to pack stuff from the house or organise my days so that all my meals are at home. Not to mention that my family and friends thought I was a bit coocoo, as gluten free life became my obsession. After a couple of months it got a bit easier and I was getting a hang of it. You could even put a box full of donuts (my favourite!) in front of me and I wouldn’t even blink.
Gluten Free Diet in Europe
Summer came and it was time for my entire family to go for our annual trip back home to Croatia. You must understand, just like any other European country, Croatia is a gluten heaven and all the staple food is made from it. Unexplainably, I managed to stay so strong and stayed off gluten throughout my two and a half months there. I must say, I was soooo proud. By this time I felt great, I was loosing weight and never had that bloated feel and most importantly my horrible, annoying, persistent cough was GONE.
Having no cough and feeling better was the only encouragement for my family to support me on this gluten free craze. They simply had to acknowledge that it did help and it was worth it in the end.
Just pass over the bread and pastries
As I got back to Malaysia, this terrible urge for bread and pastries came over me. It was as though my body was in starvation mode and the only way to survive was to stuff my face with gluten rich foods. And there I was, watching myself fall off the gluten-free- wagon. It started with one croissant, then it was half a donut, and the next thing you know I was eating half a pizza. The worst thing was, with every bite I took more and more guilt came over me. I could feel my insides and colon screaming for help, but at the same time there was no way to stop myself. In order to minimise the guilt time, I would eat very quickly as though if I ate faster it will seem like it never happened. I felt like a drug addict on a relapse. After the binge, I started breathing heavily again and felt as though my lungs are slowly closing in and even my face was showing the side effects of my relapse. I looked like a teenager who just hit puberty with big pimples on my face and neck. I just couldn’t believe I was poisoning my body again and I knew the exact consequences.
So how did I move on and find a way to eat, but not obsess. Well, I’m still struggling finding the balance as I’m not able to live my life completely without all these wonderful products that gluten has to offer. I don’t want my body to get back to that binging mode so I do have occasional pastries and of course the amazing donuts my mum makes, but the rest of the time I design my diet without gluten. Of course after finding out that my body doesn’t react well to gluten I should eliminate it completely from my diet, but I also realised that is not possible at this stage of my life.
Why is Gluten so damaging?
The most famous problem with gluten is celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction provoked by gluten and treatable with a gluten-free diet. However, lately there are more and more cases of gluten or better said wheat sensitivity which are non-celiac gluten sensitivity. So why does this happen? The proteins in wheat are gut irritants: they’re like that papercuts or splinters digging into the lining of your gut, causing an inflammatory response. Inflammation in the gut messes up that system of border control. It loosens the junctions between cells in the gut wall so too much stuff can pass through. This is often described as “leaky gut”. So stuff like viruses, bacteria and chemicals which are suppose to be contained within the intestinal walls get passed into the bloodstream through these holes.
Another dangerous thing about gluten is that it contains a protein which our immune system recognises as invader and starts to attack it. But because this protein looks very similar to our tissue, our immune system starts to attack the tissue as well. And this is how auto-immune diseases develop. This is one of the theories on why Hashimoto’s thyroid forms as well. Again another reason for me to stay of gluten, to save my thyroid.
From all the research that I have done, it is still not clear why certain people react worse to gluten than others. However I do believe that everyone should eat gluten/wheat in moderation in order not to cause some serious health damage. The damage is not noticed immediately, but over time and it showcases differently in different people.
As for me, I decided I can’t make this into an obsession and like I said finding a balance is important. If I do have that occasional bread or pastry I have to accept it and eat as healthy as possible most of the time. What I practice is having lots of vegetables at home and having ingredients to spice up my salads on stand by so that if I need a quick bite I can make a delicious salad. Eating out can prove as a challenge and you don’t always want to order salads. I will usually order a main dish and then request for additional vegetable instead of the carbs or I will eat only half of the portion of carbs. I do love rice, growing up in Asia that is the staple, so I do indulge in the rice dishes once in a while.
I make sure to take probiotics on a daily basis in order to protect my intestine as the good bacteria will balance the bad. A daily probiotic can improve your intestinal health, support immune function, increase absorption of vitamins and minerals…and a whole lot more. If you are a big red meat eater, you would need to drastically reduce the consumption and focus on more vegetarian diet. Another damaging factor for your gut is stress. I always used to take these stress warnings lightly, until recently when I felt on my own skin what is the difference with managing stress and just living with it. I will write in another post more detailed about this, but my health and mental state has improved greatly since taking control over my stress levels.
There is still a lot we don’t really know about gluten and why it affects some people so terribly, while others seem ok. Unfortunately some made a whole industry out of this and instead of helping people who are struggling with these sensitivities, some food producers are making it even worse. I hope with sharing and examining different symptoms and diseases we will get a better inside on how to live a healthy and enjoyable life. Please do contact me if you have any questions or if you need any advice regarding this, I’ll be happy to help.