Maddy’s story begins like so many others – born into a middle class family in the midwest, she has had the privileges of most teenagers her age and is now a freshman Criminal Justice major at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
Maddy has found that eating is a rather difficult thing, especially at college, even though they have a gluten-free menu, because of all the temptations on the regular menu. She has a gluten intolerance, on the extreme end. It makes it hard to take care of herself away from home, yet she’s working hard to do it, realizing that eating gluten is just not worth the pain.
Maddy says, “First off, you can tell as you are eating it you start to feel full but you aren’t sure if you are bloated or if you are actually getting full. After you’ve eaten, about only 30 minutes later, you start to get indigestion. You get really bad issues that come with extreme gastrointestinal stress, extreme nausea, heavy fatigue, you become moody and irritable and it can even result in vomiting. You also have energy depletion and headaches that include throbbing, making it hard to focus. Speaking of focus, your attention span is decreased, making it hard to work, study, pay attention in class, and go through daily activities that would normally not be an issue for you. You also feel heavy, muggy, miserable, and all around sickly. I also get hot and cold flashes sometimes – that’s when I know it’s really severe. It wasn’t until I talked to Dr. Baucom about my symptoms that I realized why I was having trouble every time I ate. She had me read various articles on gluten, making me realize I was on the extreme end of this issue.”
What is gluten? It is a protein that has been engineered as a component of wheat that provides the elastic qualities for baked goods. But the protein is also difficult to digest. And even a healthy intestine does not completely break gluten down. For those with celiac disease, the undigested gluten essentially causes the body’s immune system to lash out at itself, leading to malabsorption, bloating and diarrhea — the classic gastrointestinal symptoms — but also, at times, joint pain, skin rashes, etc.
Joseph A. Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota says of gluten-intolerance, “It truly has become more common.” Comparing blood samples from the 1950s to the 1990s, Murray found that young people today are nearly five times as likely to have celiac disease, for reasons he and others researchers cannot explain. And it’s on the rise not only in the U.S. but also in other places where the disease was once considered rare, like Mexico and India. “We don’t know where it’s going to end,” Murray says.
Mark Hyman, M.D. practicing physician and founder of The UltraWellness Center is a pioneer in functional medicine. He’s done some extensive study on the effects of gluten. He says that a review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. (iv) These include osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, (v) and rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric (vi) and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, (vii) schizophrenia, (viii) dementia, (ix) migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). (x) It has also been linked to autism.(ix)
Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. It can be the single cause behind many different “diseases.” To correct these diseases, you need to treat the cause–which is often gluten sensitivity–not just the symptoms.
How can you know if you are gluten-intolerant? Try going off food that causes the symptoms – breads, pastas, sauces made with flour, chips, french fries, chocolate, anything with wheat or barley in it, etc. Even body and hair care products can have gluten and can be absorbed through the skin. See how you feel. If you have less symptoms like intestinal distress, bloating, etc. you know that gluten was at least a culprit. Most importantly seek a medical professional educated in restorative medicine or naturopathic education. Unfortunately, most MD’s are not aware nor educated on the effects of gluten, although society’s awareness is pushing the medical community to become more aware.
How do you relate to Maddy’s story? What symptoms cause you to think you may be gluten intolerant?