Autoimmune Disorders and Gluten Intolerance

Autoimmune Disorders and Gluten Intolerance
For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from what you might call a “sensitive stomach”. A meal out at a restaurant often resulted in serious stomach distress. A visit to a favorite pizza spot could quickly result in a trip to the restroom with no thought of leaving anytime soon. Asian, Italian, Indian, Mexican, American – all were equal offenders. After a meal out, I would often have immediate digestive issues that would knock me down for the next day. I became very wary of eating out, but was never able to pinpoint the exact problem. What was the common element?

While my digestive problems always seemed to be amplified after a meal at a restaurant, I also would have occasional problems when I ate at home – mostly extreme bloating that would make me look four months pregnant by the time I went to bed – when I actually have a slender figure. I am also a professional chef, so while I might blame sanitation standards at a restaurant as the source of my issues, I knew everything I cooked for myself was prepared under very strict sanitation standards.

When it came to having a cocktail, I have always been able to tolerate wine or liquor fine, but one beer and I could feel it. Two beers and I could be in big trouble. Coffee was another beverage I’ve never been able to enjoy – I love the aroma, just not the jitters and stomach upset I would get from drinking it.

When my doctor gave me instructions for dealing with my autoimmune thyroid disorder, gluten was among the list of foods to avoid. Avoiding gluten means avoiding all foods that have wheat as an ingredient. Initially this seemed impossible to me – after all I love pasta, bread and crackers! But, I also knew that since I have suffered with so many digestive issues, I should give it a try. After just a few days, I started feeling better. Could wheat have been the cause of so much distress? When I look back, some type of wheat product was always part of the meals that made me sickest.

The more I learned about gluten intolerance (and possibly Celiac disease), the more I now believe it has been responsible for much of my discomfort over the years. Evidence now suggests gluten intolerance and celiac disease can be the cause of thyroid autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s and Grave’s Disease. When gluten is removed from the diet, the autoimmune disorders often reverse and the dose of thyroid medication needs to be adjusted to reflect the improvement in the thyroid function.

During a recent visit to my dentist, I told her about my gluten discovery. She also suffers from thyroid issues and digestive problems. When I returned to see her for a follow-up visit, she told me she had started a gluten free diet and that her bloating and digestive problems had abated. However, I found it very interesting that she had not yet told her husband, a physician, for fear that he would give her grief about her decision to avoid gluten. What does this say about the medical community’s recognition and acceptance of gluten intolerance as a serious medical issue?

In my own experience, I had a doctor comment about my extremely bloated belly during a medical exam. When I asked why she thought I was suffering, she dismissed the issue and told me to ask my primary care doctor. She never thought to test me for any food intolerance or even give advice on foods to avoid.

Recently, I was reading through diaries my mother wrote when I was a baby. Interestingly, she wrote about feeding me cereal when I was only four days old. She commented about how much I hated it, but that the doctor said to feed it to me, so she did. Who ever heard of feeding a baby of four days old cereal?! My sister was born 3 ½ years later. When I read through the diary my mom kept for my sister, she was not fed cereal until she was several months old. The pediatrician my sister had was different than the one I had – he told my mom not to feed too many foods to babies at a young age because it could cause food allergies. Bingo!!

If you are experiencing any form of autoimmune thyroid disease, please consider eliminating gluten from your diet. It could mean the difference between feeling better or continuing to feel ill. Avoid all gluten for at least a month, but preferably six months. Then try eating something with gluten. Monitor how you feel. It is possible that if you are able to avoid the gluten for six months, you may be able to gradually incorporate small amounts of gluten products back into your diet. Let your body be your guide.

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