Tag Archives: gluten sensitivity

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A Glimmer of Hope (for Increased Awareness of Gluten-Related Problems)

I recently came across a discussion concerning celiac disease on a physician-only internet forum.  Here are some of the (anonymous) comments which were posted:

“Ugh. Is there any disease more boring and worthy of turfing to the GI guys than Celiac Sprue?”

“Celiac disease – so little known, so much to know, so important to know”

“Celiac disease is easy to diagnose ONCE SUSPECTED! We can easily suspect in a child with diarrhea and an adult with the same in chronic state, but in the face of generalized inanition, neuropathy, or other intestinal disorders, or teen age diabetes onset, it doesn’t readily pop up in one’s conciousness. Yet recent studies have suggested that as many as 1 in 5 with celiac disease will have a variety of neurologic and other symptoms. I know in my practice I can look back and see a number of patients whose symptoms might nowadays suggest a strong need for screening. It is with regret that I look back on their years of suffering without a chance for their improvement with a gluten free diet or study of the nutritional factors disturbed by gluten deposition.”

“Most physicians are missing the Celiac Disease because they diagnose it as IBS.”

“Its very hard for patients to stick to a gluten free diet, unless the entire family goes gluten free, which most don’t. I am seeing many more gluten free products in the stores, though, especially baking mixes and crackers/cookies – makes it easier. But I have tasted some gluten free cookies. I decided that gluten is good.”

“Hey, did y’all know that most American soy sauce is mostly fermented wheat?”

And then I came across this comment, a true treasure, which made me feel like the time I had spent reading through the other comments was actually worthwhile. I wish that I could meet this physician in person and give him or her a huge hug!

I diagnose and successfully treat many children with gluten intolerance who do not meet the typical diagnosis of celiac. I screen all kids with neuropsychiatric and immune dysfunction for the HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genetic markers. If the patient is positive, I inform them they do not necessarily meet celiac diagnostic criteria, but the gold standard is a trial off gluten. IF the child is way better ( which they often are), the family is sold on the diet, even if it takes a lot of work. 

As for the kids who get worse gluten free, (many are autistic), they are usually soy or corn sensitive, and as they remove gluten they increase their soy and corn consumption and get worse. There are many families that seem more sensitive to soy and corn than even gluten, (GMO?), any trial off gluten, a family must be warned of this potential adverse effect so they are not surprised. Also, patients dont feel better for up to 2-3 weeks, in the beginning they have gluten withdrawal and get worse.

For all of you that believe the gluten free life is hard, it is far harder to have a severe autistic, anxious, depressed or ill child. Most families are more than willing to endure the trouble when they see their kids thrive. Don’t assume they will do poor.

As for those who say that they will have nutritional deficiencies, GIVE ME A BREAK, many cultures all over the world are free of gluten, it is not needed for human life. It just takes education, plus they eat less processed foods, which all Americans could benefit from.

Looking for this in my patients has changed my whole practice, and the lives of my families. We dont have IBS in our office, no functional abdominal pain, no chronic fatigue. Gluten intolerance is not all that we do for those conditions, but it is a good place to start. Children are suffering for reasons that are treatable, not “stress”.

This last post gave me hope that awareness of gluten-related disorders is finally increasing within the medical community, especially in pediatrics. It’s about time!

 

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Happy Sulfite Intolerance

I started to develop chest tightness and wheezing out of the blue in the middle of running with one of my neighbors last spring. I figured that I was out of shape from my pregnancy and the strange sensation slowly resolved as I walked. But then it came back again and again, each time a little bit worse, and sometimes with chest pain. I had a chest CT to evaluate for a pulmonary embolism, since I was at risk due to being postpartum, and it was normal. My chest x-ray was normal too. My heart tests, including an EKG and Echocardiogram, were unremarkable.

One night at work I had to go to the ED because I was having so much difficulty with breathing. I was diagnosed with possible asthma, given albuterol, and sent home with a prescription for a course of oral steroids. Despite the treatment, over the course of the next few weeks my breathing declined. I went from being able to run a 10K to getting winded and short of breath walking across a Target store. I wracked my brain trying to figure out why asthma would just “pop up” suddenly when I was in my mid-thirties….

I had pulmonary function tests and a methacholine challenge, to look for exercise-induced asthma, about 6 weeks after my symptoms first started, and everything was normal (I did not have asthma).

I began to notice that my chest tightness/wheezing would occur shortly after eating. Around this time I was back to work and eating a lot of Apple Cinnamon Chex and KIND bars for both snacks and meal replacements. I began to keep a food journal and discovered that all the the following foods were triggers for my symptoms: Apple Cinnamon Chex, raisins, wine, Juices, KIND bars, eggs, certain bottled waters, balsamic vinegar, shrimp, and anything that contained molasses as an ingredient. I looked at a box of Apple Cinnamon Chex over and over until I saw the words “contains sodium sulfite.” I did a web search for foods that contain sulfites, and I found that ALL of my trigger foods were on the list. I discovered that I had a sulfite intolerance, which is also called a “sulfite allergy.”

FAQ about about sulfites:

What are sulfites?

Sulfites are sulphur-based compounds which are added to foods and supplements as a preservative and/or flavor enhancer. They may also occur naturally. Sulfite sensitive individuals need to avoid all of the following:

  • sulfur dioxide
  • sulfurous acid
  • sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfate and sodium metabisulfate
  • potassium sulfite, potassium bisulfite and postassium metabisulfite

What foods contain sulfites?

  • Baked goods
  • Beverages (including beer, wine, hard cider, fruit juice, vegetable juice, and tea)
  • Bottled lemon and lime juice (concentrates)
  • Condiments
  • Cornstarch
  • Dried fruits
  • Dried and/or processed potatoes
  • Fruit toppings/jams/jellies
  • Gravies
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Molasses
  • Sauerkraut
  • Shrimp
  • Soy
  • Vinegar
  • Wine

The most comprehensive list and forum to check out regarding sulfites is the website: www.holdthesulfites.com.

Sulfites can be present in medications. A lot of generic acetaminophen tablets and other OTC meds contain sodium metabisulfite.  Cornstarch, which is sulfited during processing, is a filler in a lot of pills, and depending on the degree of one’s sulfite sensitivity, may trigger a reaction.

Why do people develop a sulfite intolerance?

We do not know. Most of the scientific papers about sulfite allergies are case reports which were published back in the 1980s (most are in French). Some theories I have come across on the internet regarding why a sulfite intolerance develops include that sufferers may have a partial sulfite oxidase deficiency (a full deficiency is fatal, so perhaps we are “carriers” of the gene and express some symptoms), or that symptoms are due to a deficiency of molybdenum, which is a mineral cofactor in the breakdown of sulfites. Other lines of thought are that the intolerance is related to an environmental exposure of some sort and/or is immune-related (a non-IgE mediated food allergy). In my interactions with others with this problem it seems like a lot of us have either Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity. But, this is all anecdotal, as there is no research out there (and as far as I know, no one doing any research into the problem of sulfite issues).

How is a sulfite intolerance treated?

The most important thing is the obvious: avoid sulfites! However, this is easier said than done! The only mandatory labeling is for foods and drinks with a lot of sulfites added in, such as wine,  beer, and hard cider. Other foods which contain sulfites, such as dried fruits and KIND bars, do not have mandatory labeling. I have been unable to find any GF, sulfite free beers or hard ciders. The main sulfite free wine makers are Frey and Orleans Hill. I am partial to the Orleans Hill’s Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet, and am slowly getting used to bringing my own bottle with me when I socialize. Many people report a lessening of symptoms while taking Molybdenum. I tried Molybdenum, and, unfortunately, and it did not help me. Other supplements which I have seen recommended include Vitamin B12, Magnesium, and Probiotics. It also never hurts to have an Epipen (or 2) around, just in case of a severe reaction.  Ironically, though, Epipens do contain sulfites as preservatives!

How are sulfites metabolized?

Sulfite Metabolic Pathway (from http://pathman.smpdb.ca/pathways/SMP00041/pathway):

Sulfur_Metabolism_a

Update January 2014: Since writing this post last spring I discovered that my sulfite intolerance is the result of an immune system disorder called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) and I have since started on a treatment regimen.  Please see my recent post on MCAS for more details. Thank you.

References/Links:

1. www.holdthesulfites.com: This is hands-down the most comprehensive resource out there for those who are suffering with sulfite issues.

2. “Allergies and Sulfite Sensitivity.” www.webmd.com. 2012.

3. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Nutrition Care Manual (accessed 8/10/12)

*Also, a quick reminder that this is a blog. I am summarizing medical literature, but also adding in my own thoughts and opinions on what I have read. I am not trying to tell anyone what they should do for their own health, nor am I giving medical advice through this page. Thank you!

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Why I Love Being Gluten Free

As a Celiac, going gluten free was nothing less than a rebirth for me.  I did not realize the toll that Celiac Disease had taken on my body and mind until after my diagnosis and treatment with the gluten free diet began. For the first time in my life since childhood I began to feel “normal” and like I was lifted out of a fog. The overall improvement in my life has been incredible. In addition to a total resolution of my chronic GI distress and arthritis, I experienced several other unexpected benefits of being off of gluten.

One of the first things that occurred after removing gluten from my diet was that I had a rapid increase in my energy level.  Although I ran track in high school, and continued to run while in college for fitness, I had struggled to run more than 2 miles at a time in the years leading up to diagnosis.  Like most aspects of my life, I chalked my exercise intolerance up to stress. Looking back, my real problem had been untreated Celiac Disease. Within 8 weeks of being on the gluten free diet I was able to run a 10K and within 16 weeks I completed my first half marathon.

The second thing that was noticeable within weeks of starting my gluten free journey was a marked improvement in the integrity of my hair, skin, and nails.  All of the “gross” stuff that I had experienced for ages, like adult acne, dandruff, breaking nails, alopecia (hair loss), and easy bruising, disappeared.  My hair grew back in and I actually had to get it cut regularly. I started to have to trim my fingernails on a weekly basis again (prior to going gluten free I cut them maybe once a month).  As I write and reflect on this now, I realize how malnourished by body actually was.

My depression has dissipated and I feel a joy about life that I did not feel when I sick with diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and joint pains on a regular basis. There have been several studies showing that there is a higher incidence of depression in patients with Celiac Disease, and I believe them. In my case I think that the improvement in my mood is multifactorial. Once I removed gluten I began to physically feel better and eat in a more nutritious manner, which led me to get be able to run and exercise, which in turn led to a decrease in my stress level and an improvement in my overall well-being.  Although there have been stressful experiences in my life the last few years (deaths, a miscarriage, familial stress, a multiple sclerosis scare, etc.) I have not had my depression recur like it used to prior to my diagnosis.

Miscellaneous other things which improved or disappeared when I removed gluten include the following (some seem utterly bizarre and I still cannot figure out if or why they are connected with gluten and Celiac Disease):

  • gray hairs on my head
  • ringing in my ears
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain and clicking
  • difficulty seeing at night
  • mouth sores and ulcers
  • hay fever and seasonal allergy symptoms
  • bad menstrual cramps
  • sensitivity to sounds and loud noises
  • styes
  • having to pee all of the time (although my husband may debate this one!)
  • low white blood cell count

I hope that with increased awareness and diagnosis of Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity that others will begin to experience the fabulous gluten free life. I can attest that it is much better than the alternative!

The Latest and Greatest on Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Yes, this is a real diagnosis, and it effects between 6 to 8% of our population, or approximately 18 million people. Many doctors and patients are unaware that it exists. Most of the papers on this topic have only been published in the last 2-3 years. The British Medical Journal published a case study and review of gluten sensitivity in their November 30, 2012 edition. It is the first case study I have come across in a major medical journal in which a patient self-diagnoses based on information which he found on the internet. The review article gives a good overview of our current understanding of this disorder.

Gluten sensitivity is a catchall term for a bodily reaction to eating gluten. It is not a food allergy, and the autoimmune process differs from celiac disease in that there is not destruction of the villi of the small intestine. People with gluten sensitivity may experience any of the following symptoms after eating gluten:

1. Gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, and/or “irritable bowel syndrome.”

2. Fatigue, depression, or difficulty concentrating. Feeling like one has a “foggy brain.”

3. Joint pains, stiffness, and/or leg numbness and tingling.

Anemia and osteoporosis have also been associated with gluten sensitivity. Some recent work has also shown neurologic problems, such as ataxia and peripheral neuropathy, in gluten-sensitive individuals.

Many of these symptoms overlap with celiac disease, but patients with gluten sensitivity do not meet the diagnostic criteria for celiac disease. Some may not have either of the two major celiac genes (HLA-DQ2 or DQ8), some may not have abnormal celiac antibodies, and most have normal, or almost normal, small bowel biopsies.

There are no tests for gluten sensitivity. Once celiac disease has been ruled out, if your symptoms go away when you stop eating gluten, and they return when you start eating gluten again, then you know that you are “sensitive” to it. You can diagnosis yourself.

We do not yet have information on the long-term effects of continuing to eat gluten if you have a gluten sensitivity. In this recent article, Dr. Fasano, one of the leaders in celiac disease research, states that he doesn’t believe that there are long term effects on health if you choose to do this.

I am a bit uncomfortable with this, as just a few decades ago it was believed that patients could “outgrow” celiac disease. The bottom line is that if a food makes you feel terrible, don’t eat it! You can definitely survive and live a full life without gluten-containing cupcakes, pizza, pancakes, etc. My fellow Celiacs and I are proof of this and we can help you on this journey.

For additional reading on this subject I would suggest Melinda Beck’s article, “Clues to Gluten Sensitivity,” published in the March 15, 2011, Wall Street Journal Health Journal.  There is also some helpful information about gluten sensitivity on the website www.celiaccenter.org.