CELIAC DISEASE, A BLESSING
GLUTEN IS AN ALIEN LIFE FORM
Dorothy J. Chambers
Celiac disease, the result of a serious immune reaction to gluten, has increased dramatically in the last half century according to recent research by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
I am one of those statistics. About two years ago, after surgery for a spinal problem, a breast cancer scare that proved to be an error, and in the midst of my mother’s final decline, I developed serious gastrointestinal issues.
As in, whatever I ate produced the feeling I had swallowed the Alien from the movie of the same name. And the monster was attempting to crawl out through my chest wall. Furthermore, unlike Sigourney Weaver, I did not have the strength to fight the Alien if it should emerge. I was fatigued. Every body part, even my eyes, hurt.
The first episode occurred after eating Mexican food at a new restaurant. I considered the usual suspects. But food poisoning was unlikely given my then three-year-old granddaughter had been eating off my plate and was as bubbly and healthy as ever.
Repeated doctor visits and medical tests indicated a stomach irritation and the appearance of some tell-tale signs of celiac disease. However, the biopsies for ulcer and celiac came back negative, as did the test for reflux. The doctor suggested, since celiac disease would mean a major life-style change, we should first try to rule out other things. He put me on an expensive acid reducer, of which my insurance company reluctantly reimbursed a portion. The doctor also suggested a low-acid diet, which I followed. All to no avail. I continued to feel as if the Alien had taken up residence in my chest cavity and I was barely crawling through my life.
Of course, I denied any of my stomach problems could be the result of stress or the fact I was making regular long distance trips to visit my dying mother while I still had not fully recovered from the problems necessitating the spinal surgery. But with all the things going on in my life, my psychologist-husband thought stress as a possible cause should not be overlooked. I figured, of course, what would a psychologist-husband say?
After several months, the medications and low acid diet still did not show any results except my getting closer to meeting my deductible. My gastroenterologist suggested I try a gluten-free diet. Even though the biopsy had not confirmed celiac disease, he said the best way to find out if gluten was the culprit was to avoid eating gluten. I said, “What, no medication, no magic pill to cure celiac disease, if that is what this is?”
His reply was “No. It is entirely treated with a gluten-free diet.” The doctor suggested I check on-line and I would find plenty of information about celiac and gluten-free eating. I thought I knew what gluten free meant and stopped eating bread, pasta, and anything with wheat obviously in it. I followed that diet for two weeks. I still felt awful. The only good thing was I was losing weight. I was afraid to eat anything because everything I ate fed the Alien life-form within me.
So, I did what I should have done to start with. I undertook more thorough research on gluten. Turns out gluten free does not just mean no pasta and bread. Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other common grains, is in almost everything packaged or canned, unless it specifically says “Gluten Free”. Campbell’s canned chicken broth contains gluten. As do many salad dressings, sauces, mixes, soy sauce, vinegars, beer, alcohol….You name it. If it comes in a box, can, or jar and does not say “gluten free” it probably contains gluten. So again, I began a two week gluten-free trial. But, this time, it really was gluten free.