Monday, May 24, 2010

a brief public service announcement

I get really exhausted with people who have some crazy new diet or food obsession or who want me to subscribe to becoming macroneurotic or only eating foraged food or whatever. So it's with a gigantic grain of  hand harvested fleur de sel that I am going to say this. If you are bothering to read this, please consider trying to go without wheat or dairy for a month. Really, you can do anything for a month. When you reintroduce these foods (one at a time), you will know immediately if you have a good reason not to consume them. And there are very good reasons to want to know this.

There's a very high likelihood that none of us digest wheat glutens very well. On the evolutionary timeline, although we think of bread as an ancient food, wheat is on the teeny tiniest little end bit of the timeline. Wheat and corn are the earliest engineered crops. Our bodies don't really know what to do with that. But there's more to it than just some digestive problems.

Even in people who have zero digestive symptoms, gluten intolerance causes increased gut permeability, which means that on a molecular level the foods you eat start leaving the appropriate place and roaming about in your abdominal cavity and sensibly enough, your body starts producing antibodies. As a result, other food sensitivities, intolerances, allergies result. It takes time. You won't know this is happening straight away.

Your doctor will likely be no help at all. Celiac disease/gluten intolerance is one of the most misdiagnosed and overlooked problems ever, primarily because there is no drug treatment and therefore no incentive to do research, testing, continuing education or in any way to pay attention to it. In fact, it's far more profitable to misdiagnose with conditions for which there are drugs.

One of the most common presenting symptoms of this problem is panic or anxiety disorders. In populations chosen for the diagnosis of schizophrenia or autism, the incidence of gluten intolerance is around 90%. There are obvious neurological associations then, also an increased risk of T cell lymphoma, colon cancer, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, organ failure and loads of other charming things - all even if you have no symptoms at all. And even if physicians could be persuaded to look for this problem, the tests are fairly lame. A positive result does tell you something but a negative is not conclusive. And the only truly conclusive test is a surgical biopsy of the small intestine and when all that's done, the only treatment is to not eat foods with gluten.

So what I'm saying is, give yourself a month. Really, you will know when you reintroduce foods if they are causing you a problem. You will save yourself years of accumulating health problems which will only become apparent later on. You will save money on therapy for problems which are actually physical in origin, your skin will clear up, you'll stop having headaches and you will be a pain in the ass at restaurants. It's okay, it's well worth it. Just give it a shot.

I was lucky in the sense that I had digestive symptoms - which were consistently misdiagnosed, including by several gastroenterologists. I took medications which had no useful effect, went to therapy for panic disorder, took xanax, tried ssri's, had every typical presenting symptom of gluten intolerance. And if I hadn't done an elimination diet on my own I never would have figured it out. If I could go back twenty years, the only thing I would be intent on changing is to do that much sooner.

And I want to say again, it's very likely that this affects almost all of us on a continuum. So really, give it 30 days. I wish someone would've said that to me, but I'm grateful to have figured this stuff out. Even if I'm a pain in the ass at restaurants and miss eating lovely chewy bread.