A Gluten Free Journey
How and why I go on a gluten free diet has always been an interesting topic. It is definitely a conversation piece whenever I get invited to a dinner party. Guests on a gluten free diet can be a nuisance because they require the party host to re-imagine their dinner menu to accommodate the gluten-intolerants. Luckily, I do not have celiac disease, just merely gluten intolerance. Nonetheless, the symptoms caused by gluten intolerance can be crippling.
If you ever wonder whether gluten intolerance is a trend or fad that will just go away. Think again. According to the statistics provided by the Mayo Clinic, % of Americans PWAG (People without Celiac Disease Avoiding Gluten) on a gluten free diet have risen from 44 % during 2009-2012 to 72% around 2013-2014. The main reason could be that the wheat we consume today are a different type called hybridized wheat. In U.K., one in 10 people now avoid gluten. In fact, the progressive big chain grocery stores are adding more shelf spaces to Gluten free products.
Here is the story of my gluten free journey. About 5 years ago, I began experiencing tingling sensation in my arms and legs. At first, they felt like ants crawling in my skin. However, the feelings grew gradually to numbness. The tingling and numbness were not confined to one area. They moved around. I would feel them at my upper back, left arm, right arm, legs. At first I thought nothing of it, until the night when I fell on my way to the bathroom. My right leg had suddenly gone all numb. Now I got scared.
The first thing the doctor told me was that my symptoms were of a neurological nature. However, it was puzzling because they have to do with the brain, the tingling and the numbness would only happen on one side of the body, not both, and certainly not of the travelling type. When he mentioned that a brain tumour can cause tingling and numbness, I asked for a brain scan immediately. In Canada, we have universal health insurance, and a brain scan is free. However, I will need to wait six months before I can get my turn. Knowing that my health is more important than money, I chose to pay for the brain scan which costs Can $900 which is around US$700. Sure enough, the next day, I got a full brain scan. 24 hours later, I had the result. No tumours, my brain looks good.
Meanwhile, my symptoms got worse. The tingling became so intense and widespread that it felt like pain. This pain was confined mostly to my legs. I would use a hot water bottle on my leg to counteract the pain sensation. Every half hour, as the hot water bottle cooled, I would replenish the hot water bottle with boiling water.
Many symptoms for gluten intolerance such as indigestion, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pains, headache, fatigue are similar to auto-immune diseases. I did not have any of those symptoms, except maybe for fatigue. Yet, which overworked person does not hope for more energy after a 10 hour work day? I went for blood tests, but it showed nothing of concern. Finally, I went for a nerve conduction test, to check for damaged nerves. Once again, the doctor congratulated me for having passed the test. no damaged nerve.
“No brain tumour, no damaged nerve, no multiple sclerosis, no lyme disease, no cancer, but we do not know why you have these symptoms”. That was the conclusion after several tests and doctor visits.
Then one day, I started having skin rashes on my legs. I took a Benadryl tablet, and surprisingly, all the tingling and numbness symptoms also went away. At the same time, I read online that around 10% of gluten intolerants can have tingling and numbness sensations. This is when I started to put things together, and wonder if I may have gluten intolerance.
So, I began my gluten free journey by eliminating all types of gluten in my diet. After two weeks, I felt great, and the symptoms slowly disappeared. Of course, once symptom-free, I remained skeptical and started eating gluten products, and YES, the symptoms began coming back. It seems that there is a certain threshold when gluten start to accumulate in the body, then the symptoms would return.
Today, I am completely gluten free. I carry digestive enzymes with me in case I accidentally ingest some gluten. If ever I doubt whether my self diagnosis is right, I just need to eat wheat again and my body will tell me.
Ever since I became gluten free, my world has opened up to new possibilities. I experiment with all types of flour and pasta substitutes. I read food labels carefully when I shop. I research restaurants with gluten free menus. Here is a photo of my kitchen. I have learned to use recipes that call for alternative flours. I became aware of gluten as a hidden ingredient in many prepared sauces and foods. I learned to cook gluten free recipes, and am simply happy to be healthy and free of symptoms.