i’m becoming a glutton for gluten-free

gluten free

 

Since discovering I tested positive for an autoimmune disease in December, I have gone the way of the gluten-free diet.

The rheumatologist I visited thinks this is a fad diet, but research is on my side in that gluten can trigger autoimmune reactions whereby healthy cells are confused for non-healthy cells and their nuclei are attacked by our own immune systems. It’s been proven in the case of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that manifests in the small intestines. It has also been proven in certain forms of dermatitis, such as dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), ¬†that, according to Providence Hospital in Oregon and Washington, “is a form of celiac disease that triggers the immune system to attack the skin, rather than the small intestine. . . . If people with DH continue to eat gluten, they also may run an increased risk of developing intestinal cancer.”

If this is true with celiac and its forms, why wouldn’t it be true with lupus, which can cause a rash, balding, and even organ failure; scleroderma and connective tissue diseases, which affect the skin, including¬† the linings of organs, as well as joints; and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) that attacks the lining of the intestines, for example?

To me it makes sense. It makes sense to my neurologist too, who is an innovator in vertigo and has landed on many best-doctors lists.

What to Eat?

So here I am, now buying gluten-free pasta, breads, soy sauce, pancake mix, and even Girl Scout cookies. I’m staying away from sugar as much as possible too, so sweets are just occasional treats. If I have a chip, it’s made of corn, like tortilla chips, or I reach for my favorite snack, popcorn, instead. My cholesterol was a bit up, too, recently, so off the table goes the greasy stuff, like potato chips and fries, as well as red meat and other culprits. Any diet takes discipline, but you don’t have to hit me over the head to get me to change if it means living a less-painful, longer, happier life.

What have I noticed since the new diet started? My waistline has gone down, my migraines have decreased a lot (I’ve had one in four weeks!), and my grocery bill has gone up some. Plus, I’m finding foods in areas of the grocery store I’ve never ventured in before.

Food is fuel, period. We forget that at times. It needs to give us energy and keep our bodies functioning properly. Yes, I love food as much as the next guy. I’m a decent cook and I make a lot of different dishes, from cashew chicken to spaghetti and meatballs to yellow curry and basmati rice. Some I’ve had to eliminate, but most I simply have had to modify, like using gluten-free pasta (Barilla makes a great one that’s readily available in major grocery chains; and there’s another brand, Ancient Harvest, that uses corn and quinoa, which doesn’t hold up as well or look like wheat spaghetti when cooked, but has a delicious sweet and nutty flavor).

Take note: There are lots of good-tasting foods one can eat that don’t involve wheat products or wheat-like products at all, although you wouldn’t know this if you subsisted on the regular fast-food diet. Wheat is cheap, and that’s why McDonald’s and Burger King can sell a hamburger for about a buck. But there are alternatives. Rice flour is very close to wheat flour in consistency. I use it now to coat fried chicken, which I make with olive and avocado oils with maybe a bit of corn oil to make it stretch.

I am fortunate to have a couple grocers nearby that stock plenty of options when I am craving a slice of bread. Just this morning for breakfast I had Udi’s cinnamon raisin bread that tasted very close to the real thing, if, that is, wheat is considered “real” and everything else is not, which we’ve been led to believe all these years.

Yes, a lot of these products cost more, Cream of Rice, for example, instead of Cream of Wheat, but if your health isn’t worth it, what is?

do i have an autoimmune disease? my first visit with a rheumatologist

After a blood test for autoimmune antibodies (ANA) ordered by my gynecologist turned up positive, I went about hunting down a rheumatologist. I settled on one nearby and saw her this past week.

question mark

She started by telling me that 15 percent of positive ANA tests are false. And she questioned a bit suspiciously why I even had the test. From what I’ve read, many people present to their doctors with aches and pains and doctors won’t typically call for an ANA test. Maybe because it can be alarming to get the result? I told her my doctor has known me for thirty years and thought it unusual for me to complain of pain. I didn’t mention that this OB/GYN has witnessed me give birth with absolutely no pain meds.

She did an exam, noting my stiffness and slightly swollen knees. She ordered up eighteen blood and urine tests to narrow down this thing. She ran through my family history. I had a grandmother whose ankles and knees were crippled for as long as I’d known her, a mother who developed a thyroid condition late in life as well as breast cancer and who had high blood pressure, and a father who died of a heart attack and had angina and high blood pressure. My bp has always been good, as has my heart rate and oxygen levels. My cholesterol, however, has been slightly higher than it should be.

Not sure how I feel about this doctor. I started a gluten-free diet a month ago and mentioned it to her, but she shrugged it off, calling it a fad. I don’t agree. From what I’ve read, autoimmune diseases are linked to irritation. If gluten causes irritation, why not cut out gluten? I told her my neurologist, someone she had just commented was a good doctor, suggested a gluten-free diet. So, there!

I started going to a gym just yesterday, and I actually like it. There’s a gentle yoga class at a nearby branch I’m going to observe today, if that’s possible, to see if it’s something I want to or can do. I’ll also hop on a treadmill and a cycling machine for about an hour’s worth of a workout. I’m determined to hit this thing head on and not wait it out, hoping for the best, putting my faith in conventional-doctors’ hands, praying that it’s nothing, doing little if anything concrete to put it in check.

I’m eager to find out what the next set of blood tests reveal. I’m hoping for all negatives, but I’m too realistic to put much trust in that hope.