When Your Gluten Free Diet Goes Pear Shaped

 
 

You’re being really good. Doing all the right things. Yet your symptoms- the gas, bloating, general discomfort, joint pains, brain fog, headaches or feeling low; are still present. They did improve for a little while. But now they are creeping back.

You’ve been diligently looking at the labels of everything that you eat. You even started to buy organic wines now (which actually helps with the hangovers!). You can feel the desperation creeping back in. You’re terrified of being in that place again! Especially now that you’ve regained some control back and a sense of normality….

So what’s going on? Here are some potential reasons when this happens:

  • You are consuming gluten without knowing it. Its hard. Really hard. Even ketchup has gluten in it. Most commercial sauces have it and they mostly don’t have to list it as an ingredient.

  • There’s cross contamination. One reason I tell my patients to avoid gluten free oats. There’s almost always some degree of cross contamination. Even in restaurants where they are able to serve gluten free foods, cross contamination can and does happen.

  • An interesting possibility and the reason I wanted to write this blog…. Over-consumption of newly introduced foods or grains. The things that in the past, you may either never have eaten, or only ate sporadically.

Look back on your diet and have a think about what it used to look like and what it looks like now. I’ve been on this track and back. Feeling rather smug with the beautiful array of new grains and colours in my food. But secretely actually not too thrilled about the taste of some of them. At least the plate looked right and I felt great for following through on eating better 

The problem is when most people go gluten free, they frequently immediately look for substitutions in search of the same-looking plate of food. They still want to eat a cookie. But its now a gluten free cookie (with lots of other additives). Or bread (with gums to add elasticity that can be allergenic). Some common examples are these:

  • Buckwheat

  • Sorghum

  • Amaranth

  • Sesame

  • Quinoa

  • Hemp

  • Tapioca

  • Teff

  • Potato

  • Rice

  • Millet

  • Corn

Then there’s the somewhat poor understanding of what gluten actually is, with quite a few people avoiding bread but happily consuming rye, barley, spelt and oats.

Cyrex labs does a test that tests for these components. I normally ask for my patients to include this particular array (Array 4) when they are doing intolerance testing. I’ve found this test to be incredibly useful and is frequently an eye opener for my patients too. 

So the next question…. What can we do about it? Doesn’t it leave us with NOTHING to eat?  

It does if you think of food in terms of grain+veg+meat. However, if you think of how a paleo-like meal looks like, it comprises of veg+meat. Plus lots of good fats. Grains take a long time to harvest/soak/cook. Our ancestors were not capable of doing this. They were hunter gatherers. They didn’t have that kind of luxury. Our gut is not designed (yet) to consume the amount of grain that we do today. Is it any wonder that as a grain consuming nation, we are becoming sicker and sicker?

 What I personally do is this:

  1. I’m a rice eater. I don’t really want to go completely paleo. But I have reduced the quantity of rice drastically over the years. And I don’t need it for every meal. So my plate today looks different from years ago where it was rice heavy. These days, you struggle to find the rice which is hidden underneath the veg or meat and a good amount of fat.

  2. I practice a not-so-strict intermittent fasting. This is now a lifestyle and I don’t ever want to go back to eating so often. I feel very good, don’t get energy crashes and only crave sugar when I’m particularly stressed. I usually eat in an eight hour window (12pm to 8pm). It works for me as I simply push my breakfast later and later. I do have a cup of tea with a little milk. As milk is considered food, this is not strictly fasting. But I can stick to this and it works for me.

  3. I don’t snack normally. I simply don’t want to in the same way I used to. I like giving my gut a break from having to work so hard.

  4. I disagree with small frequent meals mostly (there are times this is necessary esp in adrenal fatigue). I also disagree with breakfast being the most important meal of the day (again, this rule is lifted in adrenal fatigue). I can’t really imagine our hunter-gatherer ancestors getting up to a nice breakfast every morning. It probably started about with the agricultural revolution where the farmer had to eat for energy before going out to the fields. These days, we generally go to a sedentary job.

  5. I tend not to eat things where I need to read the label. So its mostly veg and meat. Close to no boxed foods.

  6. I break these rules often enough so I still am able to live a relatively socially normal life. But I always miss my own way and always, always go back to it. Simply because it makes me feel better

LDN Stories- Down and Depressed Amir

Amir, 43, came to see me after being referred by his nutritionist who was seeing him for adrenal fatigue. He is a professional who came upon some hard times which affected him badly.

He was on quite a few supplements for his fatigue and showed some signs of hormonal imbalance. I also thought that his diet was quite poor which would affect him quite significantly. He had brain fog, constant fatigue, struggled to recover from exercise, was moody and depressed and could not sleep well. Here's his story in his words.....

"Hi Dr Bains,

Thank you very much for your help and support. It has been a real life saver.

Prior to this adrenal fatigue, I was very fit and healthy, exercised 4 times a week, and was successful. An abusive marriage, mom dying and extreme stress caused me to become ill and life has been a struggle since 2003. Three years ago, after finishing an MBA,  I crashed completely and started work with a nutrionist making slow progress.  Prior to the LDN, my energy levels were very very low to non existent,  my mood was very low to depressed, I struggled to get 5-6 hours very poor quality sleep, and woke up feeling unrefreshed with high adrenaline levels. I felt like a zombie ,put on weight, was unable to think straight, had very bad brain fog, and was unable to do anything due to very low energy levels.

The turnaround with LDN has been nothing short of miraculous, and a real game changer.

We started the dose at 3mg, and things got worse before they got better. The LDN really ramped up an already primed immune system, increased my adrenaline, caused flu and cold like symptoms, i.e. phlegm from nose and chest, aches and pains, especially back ache, skin was horrendous and sleep was very poor due to the increased adrenaline.  However, 2 weeks after this, the immune system settled and my sleep went from 5 hours to 7 hours, and sleep quality improved from 5 to 6 out of 10. After letting the body rest and recover for 2 weeks, we increased the LDN again, causing the same cycle, but each time resulting in slightly improved sleep. Now at 5mg and after 4 months, the turnaround has been dramatic. I can sleep for 9 - 11 hours, of good quality sleep ( 8 out of 10 ), and things are improving at a faster rate. Energy levels are higher, brain fog has lifted, and most dramatic of all, my mood has improved 100%. I no longer feel depressed, despite being sub-optimal. I wake up happier, relaxed, and with a positive mindset, excited about the future. 

The key to LDN was definitely perseverance. Each stage caused initial upset, and then the reward phase followed. The big pay off being 4 months down the line. Definitely worth the wait.

Without your help, I would not have made this breakthrough.

I am now hoping to proceed to the next level of the program with my nutritionalist, and start the anti-microbial phase, and to be able to tolerate it well, due to the LDN and enhanced sleep. 

I have taken the advice you provided 4 months ago and incorporated healthy fats into my diet, started cooking with coconut oil,  watched YouTube videos and vastly improved my cooking skills. I'm struggling to add in fermented foods, and this is something my nutritionist is keen to do at a later stage.

I will now look into SIBO and get back to you."