Gluten and I had a bad thing going, but I kept eating it anyway. For some people, eating gluten free may be a fad diet, but for others it’s necessary for good health. I didn’t give up gluten easily. I gave it up kicking and screaming. I had to go through hard times with gluten before I gave it up for good. Here’s the story of how it all happened.
A Little Bit About the Thyroid and the Symptoms
In order to understand why I dumped gluten, I need to give some background about my health condition.
The thyroid is one of the main glands that regulates body temperature and metabolism, assists with the immune system, and affects every organ. It sits at the base of the neck and is shaped like a butterfly. How whimsical!
A few years ago I began to show signs of low thyroid but every time I took a blood test, my results showed I was within the normal range. I went to different doctors, even saw several specialist Endocrinologists, but no one could explain what occurred.
Here’s a list of low thyroid symptoms (see reference below):
- Fatigue, weight gain/can’t lose weight despite a low calorie diet, very sensitive to cold temperatures/feel cold in general, depression, constipation, hair falls out easily/dry brittle hair, nails break/don’t grow, dry skin, prone to illness, edema (water retention), especially in face. This type of edema (water retention) is called myxedema.
My hair was falling out in clumps, I had lizard dry skin, I couldn’t lose weight no matter what I did, my face was puffy, digestion was excessively slow, and the worst part, I was exhausted. All the time. I was so tired I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning and was wiped out in the afternoon. My body felt heavy and no matter how much I slept the rest wasn’t enough.
This mystery health problem dominated my life every day and went on for months with no answers. I felt despair and wondered if I was going to feel bad forever. My instinct told me something was wrong and that I needed to continue searching for a solution.
Though I know doctors are not supposed to solve all our problems, I was frustrated when I explained how terrible I felt only to receive “I don’t know how to help” type responses. Over and over.
Since I wasn’t receiving the help I needed, I wondered if I imagined everything. It was very depressing to go through all of this, feel crazy, have no answers, and still suffer every day.
But the good thing is, I didn’t give up, even when I was down.
One day I took a nutrition class about gut and digestion health. The teacher talked about main foods that cause allergies, sensitivities, and/or inflammation in the stomach or other parts of the body. Somehow the conversation turned to gluten. The class was small so it was more like a conversation. I had a chance to vent about my symptoms and the lack answers I had so far received.
Several people in the class, including the teacher, explained there is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The body attacks and destroys its own thyroid gland causing the person to feel a variety of thyroid symptoms. However, the blood test results can still register within the normal range.
Eventually, I confirmed that I had the disorder through a medical blood test for thyroid peroxidase antibodies called TPO Ab (see reference). To find out if one has Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, this is the most important test because it shows if the body produces the antibodies that occur with the condition.
I didn’t have a thyroid problem. I had an autoimmune condition that affected my thyroid.
Many people who experience low thyroid symptoms have this condition, but like me, they have never heard of it, and sometimes neither has their doctor.
Hashimoto’s symptoms display like low thyroid PLUS these can also be present:
- Heart palpitations, inward trembling, increased pulse rate even while resting, emotional distress/irritability, hot flashes/face flushing/night sweats, and sometimes, not able to gain weight.
In my case I experienced a lot of unexplained irritability, heart palpitations, and my face would flush red, like I had a sudden sunburn.
So what does all this have to do with my break up with gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, spelt, barley, rye, among others. Many people are sensitive to it and have negative reactions when they eat it. Several friends and the nutritionist told me that eating gluten exacerbated my issues.
The body can recognize foods it finds irritating as an invader. For example, my body is sensitive to gluten. When I eat it my head hurts, I get a stuffy nose, my face swells and flushes, and my low thyroid symptoms return. In my case, the immune system sends out defenders to destroy it.
The real problem is that gluten is similar to the cellular structure of the thyroid, so the immune system gets confused obliterating both the gluten and my thyroid. That means when I eat gluten, my body kills my thyroid gland.
Like a bad relationship, friends tried to warn me things were going downhill, but I didn’t want to listen. Gluten was too appealing. Fun and delicious, I had too many good times with it to say good-bye so fast.
Even when they told me that gluten makes Hashimoto’s worse, for the first year, I pretended things were fine. I STILL kept eating gluten!
It’s terrible, but I was addicted. I later found out that gluten has a similar effect as morphine on the brain. Wow. That made a lot of sense.
For a while I would say, “If I just eat a little bit. I’ll be okay”. Or I’d quit for a few months and then something I really wanted to eat would come along and I would lie to myself. “It’s not that bad, just eat it. Nothing will happen.”
Things like donuts from my favorite donut shop, pizza at a place where there was no gluten free crust, pasta…goodness, it was so hard to say no to the food! Pesky denial!
From there it was a slippery slope, because once I opened the door, I would keep eating this and that “little thing” until I was sick again.
Part of my denial had to do with the doctors themselves. I take 100% responsibility for what I stuff in my mouth, but most doctors do not recognize that gluten can affect the body in a negative way. In fact, a few of them told me that gluten had nothing to do with my problem. But that hasn’t been my personal experience.
I used their ideas as an excuse to eat it anyway. Like I said, in the end, it was me making the bad choices, but the situation didn’t make it easier to say no, either.
What made me break up with gluten?
One day in December 2015, I woke up and my face was quite swollen, more than it had ever been. The face flushing was happening more often and with worse intensity. This was after a period of denial in which I’d eaten quite a lot of gluten. It was worse around the holidays because there were so many goodies around.
Well, seeing my face like that scared the crap out of me. I mean, I was really scared, and very sad. I thought, what if my face stays swollen? I didn’t like the hot flashes either. Sometimes small red bumps appeared on my skin with the face flushes. They would go away after a while, but it still worried me.
I suppose some of you may wonder how I know it was the gluten that had the negative effect on me. I’ll tell you the answer—because I was my own science experiment.
During the year, the only thing I changed was eating or not eating gluten. Everything else in my life remained the same.
Every time I ate gluten, the same exact thing would happen. The terrible symptoms returned.
And every time I did NOT eat the gluten the symptoms stopped and I felt healthier and happier.
In the end I was harming myself by staying with gluten, but for a long time I didn’t want to see it. Only when I went through the worst part did I wake up to the fact that I was making a mistake.
Since December I have rarely eaten gluten. Yes, I occasionally cheat, but it’s really not a cheat because it is still harmful no matter what. Before I used to eat a bit of gluten, the denial would creep back in, and I would start it eating it all the time. Now if I have it, I just eat it that day and not continue with a bad diet.
Truth be told, I don’t even crave or want to eat it anymore. I am much stronger now, and 99% of the time I say no. Something clicked in me when I decided gluten just wasn’t for me anymore.
How did the break up benefit me?
I lost 20 pounds that I could not lose before. Yes, I shed 20 pounds when I stopped eating gluten. I will admit, I did eat pretty well in the first place, but still, when I ate the gluten no matter how well I ate, I couldn’t lose the weight. I know compared to a swollen face or the destruction of my thyroid, losing the weight may seem superficial, but it was important to me.
Since I lost weight every time I stopped eating gluten, I felt motivated to stay away from the stuff. And honestly, after struggling with a merry-go-round of denial, anything healthy to keep me on track was welcome in my book.
- Other benefits: I have way more energy, my skin looks better (I believe it was indirectly making my acne worse), the facial swelling has gone down, though it’s not totally gone, the low thyroid symptoms have receded, and I have way less brain fog. I also don’t have the hot flashes and my hair doesn’t fall out anymore.
The reference that I used is Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? (When my Lab Tests Are Normal) by Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS.
I am not done with the book. When I finish, I plan on doing a short review as a follow up to let people know how much it’s helped me.
One thing I will say is, so far it has validated me because Dr. Kharrazian explained that Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is not a figment of my imagination. He verified it is imperative NOT to eat gluten. Like I’ve said in a couple other blogs, we all need allies.
Plus, I want to emphasize it’s ok to learn, make mistakes, fall down, and get up again. Progress, not perfection is one of my mottoes.
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Have you experienced something like this? How did it turn out?