Saturday, August 08, 2009


Stricken as I was this past week by acute gluten poisoning (my term, not an accepted medical notion that I am aware of), I got to wondering why my body never had such a violent reaction to gluten before.

For most of my life, I went along blissfully eating wheat and wheat products (indeed, I was what many considered to be a carb-junkie) without incident. Or so I thought. Unknown to me, my immune system was mounting attack after attack on my intestines in an attempt to rid my system of the offending proteins. Some thirty-plus years of this resulted in relatively few stomach aches or bouts of indigestion but reduced the lining of my small intestine to mincemeat. It wasn't until I visited a naturopath in an attempt to address some nagging, albeit fairly benign, issues I had (severe dandruff, eczema, slight hair loss and depression) that she began putting together some of the other issues in my past medical history and ultimately I was found to be seriously gluten-intolerant.

Stopping gluten consumption cold-turkey was tremendous for me and Lola. Lola's stomach aches disappeared overnight. I suddenly had energy after 2:30pm and didn't come home desperate for a power nap before cooking dinner every night. My dandruff eased and the hair loss completely stopped. I have been able to wean myself SLOWLY off of the antidepressants I have taken for the past four years. Wahoo!

Unfortunately, navigating restaurant food (or any food purchased and prepared outside my own home, for that matter) has become a bit like walking barefoot through a china shop after a hurricane while blindfolded. I'm never quite sure where my enemies are but I know that I'll be stepping on broken glass somewhere in my journey. It puts a bit of a damper on vacationing.

Last week I had the luxury of spending two entire days on my own in one of my favorite cities in the Northwest. The girls were off camping with their grandparents and Bubba was working in California. I had lunch with a beautiful friend, took long walks with the dog, perused bookstores for hours on end, slept in and poisoned myself inadvertently. Yup. Despite efforts to avoid gluten in all its manifestations, somehow I managed to get some into my system. The first clue was the metallic burning sensation in my esophagus when I awoke Tuesday morning. I have only had heartburn two times in my life: pregnancy #1 and pregnancy #2. Since pregnancy is clearly not possible at this point in my life for multiple reasons, I figured I could just flush the pesky gluten out with loads of water.

By Wednesday the heartburn had morphed into a smoldering campfire worthy of hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks that refused to bow to water, milk, ice cream (hey, it was worth a try!), and being ignored. That afternoon I decided a roll of TUMS was in order, still firmly believing that I had the situation under control. (Can you see the seasoned viewers shaking their heads? I wish I had).

For the three-hour drive home on Thursday, I enlisted Bubba to do all the work while I slept fitfully in the passenger seat trying desperately not to hurl - my least favorite of all things to do. By the time we finally reached home, I was ready to poke my fingers down my throat to induce vomiting just so that I wouldn't have to endure the nausea and burning anymore.

By Thursday evening, a light bulb appeared in my brain. A Google (well, okay, actually "Bing") search yielded a great big thwack on the head. TUMS contain gluten. Why? Don't ask me. They're not the only ones. Most antacids do. In fact, when I'm feeling sufficiently put-upon and pouty about my food intolerance, it seems to me that everyf**kingthing contains gluten.

So, now we come to the pondering part of this blog post. I know. I embrace my long-windedness and call it "providing appropriate background information."

Why, when for 30+ years did my body not react so violently to gluten, does it choose to do so now? Now that I've eradicated most of the vestiges of this nasty stuff from my system, when I get the tiniest smidgen of it, why does my body throw such a fit? I don't know. But I do know that the same thing happened when I quit smoking cold-turkey. Within three months of being "clean" I couldn't stand to be in the presence of anyone who was smoking. The stench of cigarette smoke on someone's clothing or hair was enough to make me gag. Funny, considering that back when I smoked I could stand to put my butt out in an overflowing ashtray or, worse yet, a Wild Turkey bottle half-full of water and other cigarette butts.

Is it that once I wrap my mind around the fact that I'm "done" with something my body follows suit? There must be some physiological basis for the gut-reaction (literally) I get, so if anyone has any answers, please share!


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Wait a minute, you used to SMOKE? I can't even IMAGINE!

And Tums has gluten? WTF?

SO sorry to hear your vacation was affected like this! This is all going to be super funny someday. Super funny. But not today. Tomorrow doesn't look good, either.

Scott from Oregon said...

I know nothing of gluten allergies.

Fact is, I barely know what gluten is.

But your body obviously does.

I get violent reactions to attic dust, which is made up usually of fine glass and dead bug dust. But for me it is just a mucous thing.

I get an explosion of mucous pouring out of my face.

Deb Shucka said...

I think our bodies eventually say, "Enough!" Yours certainly is communicating clearly. Sorry it was such a strong reaction.

This makes me think of bee stings. People who are allergic can tolerate a certain amount of the toxin - no one is sure just what the tipping point is - and then at some point one single sting can kill.

It is so hard to be out in the world and eat gluten free.

honeysmoke said...

i'm not scientist, but i read somewhere at some point that the body changes every seven years or something like that. about a year ago, i became ill after eating some shrimp. now i love shrimp, but i can stand the site of them or anything after that run-in last year. i could have developed an allergy or i could have gotten some bad shrimp. i'll never know because i'm not going near those things again. also, i think the body has a way of protecting itself from poison it knows. At any rate, i just wanted to offer up some possible reasons you and gluten no longer get along.

evf said...

Like you, I adore carbs. So far we get along, so I have sympathy for your situation. I think what Honeysmoke said is right. I also think that when you take a toxin out of your life your body is quick to recover and it is grateful. Perhaps that also makes it rebel harder if its assaulted again? Just a guess. Good luck.

Full Soul Ahead! said...

Low level chronic feeling bad crept slowly up on you, but once you started feeling good, feeling bad became intolerable. You my dear have become allergic to discordant vibration!

I had no idea about TUMS having gluten.

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