Let’s Start at the Beginning
I have had stomach problems since I was a teenager, but I took me a until I was in my thirties to figure out the cause of my issues was actually Celiac Disease. As a teenager, I always had terrible cramps and acid reflux. By the time I was sixteen, my doctor put me in acid blockers to try to control my symptoms. I took the medicine every day for years and it helped, but my symptoms still persisted. Being that I was sixteen, the doctor’s attributed the cramps to my monthly cycle and figured the acid blockers would resolve the rest. But they didn’t. I eventually just learned to live with the symptoms and go about my life. I thought this is just how my life would have to be. After all, I was feeling better, just not good.
When I was about twenty, my cramps became even stronger and more frequent and I was having trouble coping with the pain. I once again returned to my doctor, and he suggested that I do an elimination diet to see if what I was eating may be contributing to my symptoms. He suggested I replace the multigrain bread I normally ate with plain white bread or spelt which would be easier to digest and that I should eat a lot of yogurt, which has good probiotics and is easy to digest. He also prescribed a medication to help with the cramps. I made the dietary changes, took the medication, and it helped a little, but I was still suffering.
It’s Hard to Work when You’re Chronically Ill
While I was trying to figure out the cause of my gastrointestinal issues, I was also working a full-time job at a call center. This was the type of job that required you to clock in and out every time you took any kind of break. Even if you were just going to the bathroom, you were required to clock out when you left and back in when you returned. My symptoms had gotten so bad that I would have to go to the bathroom six or more times a day and I could be in there for ten minutes each time. Well, my employer took notice of this and I was called in for a meeting. As much as I tried to explain that I was legitimately ill and couldn’t help it, all my employer saw was the time and my contract was not renewed. After about six months, this extreme flare finally calmed down. My stomach ache and acid reflux were just a part of my everyday life, but we’re not so bad that it was disruptive to my day or my life.
On Vacation, but not from my Symptoms
Some time passed and now I was about 26 and I went on a vacation to the Azores, Portuguese islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I looked 4 months pregnant! My stomach was extremely swollen and it hurt a lot. I had been been living on antacids and other medicines, but nothing was really working anymore. At the time, I thought my body may be reacting to the different foods I was eating. In this area, they tend to prepare everything using a lot of butter and I had stopped eating butter years ago, so I thought I must not be used to it anymore and that’s what was probably causing my reaction. I was convinced the butter was the cause of my problems. Even when I just ate a salad, which obviously had no butter, I still felt really badly. It was so extreme. I was only there for a week or two, but when I showed people pictures from my trip, my physical transformation was so drastic that people would ask me if I really was pregnant.
I didn’t know what was going on. As chronic illness life goes, you get some bad days, then you get some good days. Every year you have is different. Still, I was undiagnosed and I went on with my life. All the while, I kept taking stomach liners, acid blockers, and other medicines for my bowels. This became my daily regimen in order to live without constant abdominal pains and cramps.
Some more time past and now I was 31 or 32 years old. I started researching more into my health and looking into natural remedies and the holistic way of living. I wanted to change my lifestyle to try to feel better. I had stopped eating sugar years prior and it made me feel so much better, but I noticed after a couple of years, the effects of that wore off or something. I decided to make some other changes I hoped of regaining that feeling. I knew I had to do something drastic. That’s when I started the autoimmune protocol diet. For this diet, you cut out all sugar, lactose, gluten, rice, seeds, and beans and then slowly start reintroducing them back into your diet to see which ones are aggravating your body. For me, cutting out gluten was the hardest. I’d literally dream of bread and croissants and pizza. It was crazy!
After being on the autoimmune protocol diet for about 3 or 4 months, I really did start to feel better and I tried to introduce things back into my diet. During that time, I would get together with a group of friends monthly, and we would cook and eat dinner together. This day, we each brought something to be grilled and so we would all prepare the food and then share it amongst the group. One of my friends made something breaded. I don’t remember what is was, but it was being cooked on the same grill with everything else. As I was still not eating gluten, I did not eat the breaded food, but instead partook in the other options. but it was in the same grill.
By the time I got home and I was so sick! I got cramps and I had major brain fog. I couldn’t think straight. I was sweating profusely and was sick and exhausted for three days. I thought this was an extreme reaction, so I started doing research into what could have caused it. That’s when I discover the cross-contamination that can occur with gluten. Still, I was surprised that I had such a strong reaction. I learned that this is actual quite normal when someone is exposed to gluten after long periods of time without it.
My Daughter is Following in my Footsteps
About six months later, I noticed my daughter, who was about four at the time, was very tired and cranky all the time. She was a picky eater and would only really eat bread, potatoes, doughnuts, and of course candy. This seemed strange to me, so I brought her to he pediatrician thinking she may have picked up a bacteria or parasite somehow. We went to the doctor and had her tested, but the tests were negative for any bacteria or parasites. Still, I knew something had to be wrong, so I asked her doctor what else could be done. He told me there were two things we could try. The first option was to virtually turn her inside out running tests to look for anything and everything. Since she was still so young, her doctor thought that would be extreme. The second option was far less invasive. He suggested eliminating gluten for about two weeks to see how she responded. This made a lot of sense to me in light of my own experiences with gluten, so we decided to give it a try.
Going gluten-free was very upsetting to my daughter at first. She had seen the strict autoimmune protocol diet that I had been following and thought that was what she would have to do too. I explained to her that what she was doing was not nearly as strict. She would not have to give up everything, only the gluten. Over the next three days, we finished all the bread and doughnuts and other gluten-containing foods in the house and went 100% gluten-free. The rest of my family wanted to support, so they stopped eating gluten too so she wouldn’t feel so badly. Her dad, my mom (her grandma), and my sister (her aunt) all gave up gluten so my daughter wouldn’t feel alone.
After four days, I had a different child. She had energy and was not so cranky. I could hardly believe the difference! Just by not eating bread, cookies and other gluten-containing foods, I had my daughter back. I still let her have some treats, like cake, but she ate the gluten-free kind instead, as I wanted her to still be able to eat similar foods to what she was used to. After a month, we went back to the doctor to report how it had gone. The doctor said that her improvements indicated that she has celiac disease.
It’s in my Genes!
By this time, my daughter was feeling better and had gotten accustomed to eating the gluten-free foods, so my mom and sister thought it would be okay for them to go back to eating the regular bread and other foods they had given up to support my daughter, but their bodies had other plans. When they ate regular bread again, they got really sick. Unbeknownst to all of us, we all had celiac disease.
It all made sense now. As a baby, my daughter had the worst acid reflux. She couldn’t hold her milk down and she never wanted to eat the porridge. It was difficult to make her eat stuff because she couldn’t keep it down. Thankfully, now we know why. She had been diagnosed with celiac when she was 4 and now we know that it tends to run in the families.
Everything is Starting to Make Sense Now
It took me over 30 years to figure out that I have celiac disease. I believe that many of my autoimmune issues stem from me having undiagnosed celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which your own immune cells track the gluten enzymes within your small intestine. Your body is basically attacking itself. Looking at my timeline of all my diagnosis, I think this could be the cause of many of my chronic illnesses. I started having my Graves symptoms at 16, but I only got diagnosed at 19. Then at 28, I had Hashimoto’s Disease that went undiagnosed for about 6 years. After my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I started having Raynaud’s disease, which is also an autoimmune disease that effects blood flow. If you don’t figure out what’s causing autoimmune conditions, they have a tendency to accumulate. Since I discovered my celiac disease so late, I wonder if that may have been the catalyst for my other conditions. I may never know.
I hope my family’s story helped you in some way. I know by sharing my experiences with my own family, my mom and sister have given up gluten and are now feeling better. It’s not for everyone though. Some people have experimented with going gluten-free to try to lose weight or think it’s the cure for any ailment, but it’s not. Going gluten-free is not necessary for everyone. If you think you may have celiac or be gluten intolerant, talk to your doctor and consider trying an elimination diet to find out. Some people can eat gluten with no problems, but for those with celiac, it is a real and serious autoimmune condition that effects their daily life and not just another dietary fad.