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Gluten Sensitivity A Possible Cause Of Unexplained Health Issues

Do you have unexplained and sudden bouts of exhaustion? Has your doctor been unable find the reason for the constant, life-altering pain? Are you depressed, have anxiety for no seeming reason? Are you having issues with your digestion or stomach pain? Does brain fog alter your ability to think, remember, or recall words? Have you gained and continue to gain weight no matter what you do? Is your stomach always bloated and your body shape changed from earlier days?

I have no medical experience and am not giving medical advice. This is sharing personal experience and what I’ve learned from making a life altering discovery in hopes that it will help someone else who is suffering from health issues that defy diagnosis. Going gluten free is something to consider trying.

Gluten can cause a system wide problem and show up in so many devastating ways. Often, doctors have no idea what is causing the issues and end up treating just the symptoms. These symptoms will continue until the actual cause is addressed. Going gluten free was the key to the castle for solving my unexplained and debilitating fibromyalgia. I had been asking doctors for years for ideas as to the cause with no success. Dietary issues are barely covered in medical school so you have to see a doctor that is interested in and has done their own research on food as medicine or poison. That sounds a little dramatic, but it was definitely the case for me.

What kind of unexplained, systemic health issues are you having? This could be the answer. Or not. But there isn’t a downside or risk to trying a gluten free diet. It has been the single most life changing health event in mine and many of my friends’ lives. Partners who have gone gluten free, but weren’t gluten sensitive have reported feeling healthier without it. They say they can tell the difference when they eat gluten again.

It may not work, but isn’t it worth a try if it could be the answer you were looking for? Are you feeling so hopeless that there seems to be no sense in trying the next possible thing? That should tell you something. Things are bad and you long for healthier days.Think about the celebration if this ends up working for you. Isn’t it worth changing how you eat for a couple of weeks? And it may not be the answer, but you can go right back to where you were in one way or another—to eating how you did or back to feeling like your old self before life seemed to crash in on you.

I barely limped through my last year of teaching, retiring a year earlier than I really wanted. Every day had been an exercise in ignoring pain, pushing past fatigue, and fighting hopelessness. I would come home and spend all night sitting in a chair watching senseless tv or grading papers. Weekends were spent recovering so I could pour whatever energy I had back into teaching. I had trouble keeping up with grandkids and was constantly looking for benches to rest. Here is an unflattering picture that shows how unhealthy and hopeless I felt.

I found this new thing called fascia blasting and I was able to go off pain medication as long as I kept doing it. There is another post that talks about this. I was on serious pain medication for many years, just to be able to function. Without them the pain was so bad I couldn’t think, be happy, or have the energy to move because pain is exhausting. Breathing would have been difficult with the feeling of being squeezed intensely from whatever force that was causing the pain. Fascia blasting broke the agony.

But I still had aches, brain fog, a bloated stomach, and fatigue that would appear out of nowhere. I joined a group called Foodschool Holistic teaching during 2020. I learned to eat healthy and detox my body. This helped so much. It was in the beginning of Covid and restaurants were shut down so I was cooking incredibly healthy meals, exercising, fascia blasting, meditating and doing yoga. But I could tell I was still missing something. I should have been feeling so much better than I did.

One day I made some homemade naan bread and ate the heck out of it. Out of nowhere I had a crushing round of exhaustion. I could barely move and the aches intensified. For comfort I ate more naan bread—gluteny and starchy goodness was like a warm hug that made me feel good for the moment. It also tormented me for many hours afterwards.

There were several people in the group who were gluten free, so I made a post and described what had happened. These amazing and supportive women encouraged me to experiment by eliminating gluten to and see how it affected me. Through their expertise I learned that allergy testing isn’t the only way to figure it out. It’s not always an allergy to gluten. Sometimes it’s a sensitivity that won’t be caught on a test. There’s celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in varying degrees.

I was devastated, instinctively knowing that I probably had a problem with gluten. I had relied on bread, man-n-cheese, chocolate chip cookies, and all those lovely sauces and gravies for comfort. Give them up? Are you kidding me? What would I even eat? Where would I get that big, warm food hug?

So in rebellion I spent three more weeks eating that last pizza, a last batch of Mac-n-cheese with many bowls of leftovers and other starchy “goodness.” In my grief, sandwiches, subs, cookies, pizzas, and unhealthy stuff that I hadn’t been eating recently reappeared. Giving up meat? No problem. Dairy? Not a big problem. Gluten? PROBLEM!!!

Eventually I went back to my group to see how to do this thing and found that it was even more complicated than I realized. You CANNOT just cut down on gluten. Going completely free of gluten is the only way to test the issue. That fact has been driven home time after time in the last 2.5 years. If you attempt to just cut down, your symptoms may decrease but not subside and you’ll be fooled into thinking that you have a different problem.

I think this is what happens. Gluten doesn’t just cause an immediate problem, it also ignites inflammation and digestion issues and causes systemwide troubles. So maybe you stop pasta and bread but soy sauce and  hidden wheat fillers in many packaged foods will keep the whole mess alive and thriving.

Some salad dressings, many sauces, and things thickened with flour like gravy contain wheat. Some people are so sensitive that they can’t eat French fries fried in the same oil as breaded items or eat items where a knife was previously used to cut bread. And this doesn’t take into account fries that are made crispier because they are coated with a gluten containing mixture. Make sure you read every ingredient. It has the added bonus of seeing what kind of horrendous junk is in pre-made foods.

There is so much information on the internet now! You can look for hidden words that mean gluten, but really it isn’t too complicated. Look for ingredients like wheat, soy sauce, flour, cream of whatever soup, barley, rye, and research any grains included to see if they have gluten. Also alcohol is another surprising gluten problem, even many wines can cause issues. This is not an exhaustive list, but is a good start. You’ll find your way.

Google knows my searches for restaurants, and adds gluten free as a possible search after I put in the restaurant name. Be careful because some restaurants even have seasonings that contain gluten on their meats, baked potatoes (ugh seriously?!)  and in salad dressings.

Keep in mind that a very good trial period is three weeks. You can do anything for a few weeks. And the rewards may be incredible! I cannot believe how many people are unwilling to try, have given up hope. Or they are so attached to how they eat that feeling healthy by changing what they eat is dismissed as an impossibility. “No way I could go gluten free, what would I even eat?” Is what you eat more important than being able to have decent quality of life? That answer is a resounding no from me as I look back. If what I put in my mouth will cause hours of misery, if continuing it will make me go back to the horror show of years past then it is definitely not worth it.

After a three week grieving process I was not really ready, but closed my eyes and jumped in. I instinctively knew gluten was an issue for me, but was unprepared for the incredible success.

I didn’t even notice at first, the changes were so gradual. I was so involved in what I couldn’t eat that I forgot to look for what I didn’t feel. Headaches, stomachache and body aches, the lure of falling asleep in my chair, borderline depression, miserly dispensing the trips from my chair to get something, debating on going on a fun activity with my kids and grandchildren started going away. The replacements were energy (what?!), feeling great, happiness, hope, being active, bike riding, and so much more. I started losing weight. This didn’t happen overnight. It grew and blossomed and was celebrated along the way.

I’m not going to lie though. There was a lot of confusion over feeling better. I didn’t know what to do with the ache-free energy. Sitting was my specialty, my superpower. I was used to waiting for the next crappy thing to happen, unsure of how to be completely happy. But that is a topic for a different post.

Two weeks into the gluten free challenge I was still lamenting and grievously missing bread and pasta. I felt ripped off, deprived. And then I ate a pre-packaged meal without checking the ingredients. Within a few minutes I felt completely exhausted and had the shivers. In the middle of that summer day I dragged myself to bed, burrowed under the covers and slept for hours. I pulled the box out of the trash and read the ingredients. Soy sauce was one of them. That is when I became positive that gluten was not for me and was faithfully gluten free for months.

I continued to long for the things I was not eating. After about five months I was feeling so good and the memory of pain and fatigue were dimming. I decided to experiment by bringing home a rogue sub from Boardwalk Subs, a particular obsession of mine. It had been so long since I’d felt horrible that the memories were not as strong. So I tried it and felt like total dog crap for several hours. And I thought “hmmm if that’s all there is to it I can just decide which is worse, missing gluten or feeling bad for a few hours.” I didn’t push my luck too far or with too many things, just half a sub a week for three weeks.

Two weeks in I started having those aches that made me want to reach for leftover pain pills. I had a weather change fibromyalgia flare up and started getting fog brain again. Because it wasn’t immediately after eating the sub sandwiches, unbelievably it took a while to trace it back to gluten. Duh! When I realized what was happening I knew that I was choosing between eating what I wanted or feeling healthy. I did not want to go back to the endless cycle of bad health and fibromyalgia when the difference was a food choice.

My brain finally made the connection and having gluten became a hard no. Let others who can eat birthday cake. No thank you, I’ll just sit here and cherish not being in pain.

We live in a fabulous new time period where there are a ton of gluten free options. They are more expensive, so learning how to cook them yourselves is another option. There are so many recipes on the internet. For regular recipes you can search for gluten free replacements items. I make my own gluten free “bisquick” sometimes. Health food stores and even big chain stores sell gluten free bread, bagels, veggie burgers, etc. Restaurants are getting the message and are starting to have more gluten free options. Lettuce “sandwiches” are refreshing, healthier and delicious. I’ve even convinced my skeptic, vegetarian daughter that vegetables encased in romaine lettuce leaves can be satisfying and delicious. Hahahaha Kerri, this one’s for you! Listening to your mama can be beneficial sometimes.😂😂💯

My husband didn’t understand how I could “all of a sudden” have a problem with gluten after eating it for over five decades. I understand that thinking, but realized that I had been suffering for over a decade with generalized health problems—debilitating fibromyalgia. And as the pain went away I saw that the devastating consequences of gluten had been with me for so long but hadn’t been connected to the suffering. It can be linked to skin problems, mood effects, digestion issues, memory issues and more. It causes generalized issues and pinpointing the cause is confusing.

I’ve had several accidental experiences over the years, miscalculations at potlucks, ordering restaurant foods that should be naturally gluten free but weren’t, salad dressings, McDonald’s fries, trying to just remove croutons from a salad and underestimating the crumbs, and eating items that may have been  cooked in a pan that after a glutenous item. How sensitive I am seems to come and go randomly.

There is a difference between a gluten free label on items vs. checking for ingredients. Things like oatmeal and rice, which don’t contain gluten, may be processed in factories that make items containing gluten. This allows for cross contamination. Some people are super sensitive and others not as much. I’m lucky that I don’t have to have the gluten free label, food just can’t contain those types of ingredients. I can often eat fried food from restaurants that don’t have a designated gluten free fryer. I think it depends on how often they change their oil.

I’ve had various symptoms and degrees of severity with accidental gluten consumption. I get two or three of the following symptoms: breathing issues, stomach pain or cramps, headache, light headedness, confusion, muscle aches or pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, dizziness, chills, or extreme fatigue. The last accidental contact sent me right to bed at 7 pm until after 8 am the next morning with a really bloated stomach. Other times I just feel yucky for a bit and replay my food choices as to the cause. But I no longer  deliberately eat gluten.

Two and a half years in, I’m living and learning. Google is my friend. When I eat at friends’ houses I ask people what ingredients they used or ask to see the package. I’ve become comfortable ignoring people eating crackers, cakes and cookies. I bring my own food sometimes—gf crackers, fruit or sometimes I just drink coffee or water. It has gotten so much easier since my psyche so strongly attaches memories of how I feel when I’m not careful.

A very impactful quote for me has been “Attachment is the root of all suffering.” (Buddha) I was attached to bread, pizza, cookies, pasta, gravy and sauces. They would bring short term comfort, but they were actually the cause of the suffering. Once I wrapped my mind around that, I am at peace without gluten and don’t feel deprived.

Note the incredible differences between the first picture and the one shown below. This is why I continue to eat gluten free. The feelings of being deprived are only echos now that get very little attention. Nothing tastes better than healthy feels.

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