I’ve spent the last 3 years going gluten & dairy free. I found the dairy bit much easier than the gluten bit and managed to do that almost straight away. However, I only went fully gluten-free in January 2016.
I have been doing a lot of things diet-wise this year, to get my imbalances back into range and begin healing my gut and immune system. However, to get a clearer picture of what is going on internally, I have started to run functional lab tests on myself through my functional medicine doctor. The first, was an‘intestinal permeability’ test, which helps identify key digestive issues from lactose intolerance to nutrient absorption, intestinal damage and gut / gastric permeability. The latter is highly prevalent in autoimmune disease and is what triggers the immune response and attack on our own tissues (I hope to explain this in another post one day).
Anyway to cut a long story short I have both gut and gastric permeability caused primarily by stress on the HPA (hypothalumus / pituitary / adrenal) axis, but gluten would have exacerbated this. After 5 months on the paleo diet, 3 months on the AIP diet (that’s 8 months altogether!!), taking zinc, glutamine and drinking copious amounts of bone broth, I didn’t see complete healing unfortunately. Gut permeability can be healed in 1 month – 1 year and so to speed the process up I have decided to take a food sensitivity test. This is an IGg test, which aims to find out which foods are triggering my immune system. These are not allergies, but a sensitivity that is preventing my gut from healing.
This meant returning back to a full diet of eating anything and everything for two weeks. After working hard on eliminating gluten & dairy, I felt quite apprehensive about eating these foods again. Would they damage any healing so far? Would I find them difficult to give up again? Would I not notice any difference and find out all my hard work has been for nothing? Not at all, although any damage done could be rectified in a couple of weeks – not a huge deal if it offers that all important piece to the puzzle! So what did I learn?
1. Gluten and dairy are often eaten together, so if you can go gluten-free (and not eat those fake rubbishy replacements) going dairy-free is pretty easy. A lot of what we eat is habit or even addiction (I explain below) but you can change your habits and your taste buds pretty quickly.
2. Removing gluten from your diet forces you to eat a wider range of foods, which are much more nutritious. Instead of eating sandwhiches I ate soups and salads. Instead of eating pasta I ate courgetti (and all of the other vegetable variations) and instead of eating cake and biscuits I ate fruit and nuts etc.
3. I felt light and digestion was easy. When I reintroduced gluten-containing foods, they went down like a lead balloon, seriously filling me up and leaving me with no room or desire to eat nutritious foods. My IBS symptoms came back too (constipation, gas & bloating). No human can digest gluten with their own digestive enzymes, therefore it is left to ferment in the colon by our gut bacteria. This changes the make-up of the gut microbiome, which I suspect is not for the better (although I have not studied this in full detail yet).
4. These foods reactivated an addiction, where even though I was full and didn’t want to eat nutritious foods, I still wanted to eat gluten, dairy and sugary junk. Not only was I chasing a sugar-high from eating easily-digested high carbohydrate foods, which left me needing to reach out for quick convenient and often processed foods, but I had that addictive motivation to reach for the foods that were giving me a pleasurable ‘high’. Gluten and dairy products contain molecules called gluteomorphins and caseomorphins. Both are morphine-like opiods that have been likened to drugs like LSD. They can be very sedating and addictive and help to explain why 75% of the calories in the standard American diet (S.A.D.) come from wheat and dairy alone. Food addiction is a very real thing and these opiods play a huge role.
Gluten, dairy, corn & soy are capable of damaging the lining of the intestinal tract and leading to the malabsorption of calcium, iron, B complex, C, and trace minerals (e.g. zinc, magnesium, lithium, boron, and more). This malabsorption or leaky gut syndrome contributes greatly to the ill health of the brain (and immune system), setting the stage for the action of these food-derived opiods.
5. Gluten-containing foods tasted empty. They had a satisfying ‘mouthfeel’ (a term often used in food marketing) e.g: soft, crunchy or crisp, but that was it. I got nothing else from eating them. Empty is the most accurate word I can think of. I literally felt like I had eaten something fake. This may sound weird, but when I started eating whole unprocessed foods, I got a real satisfaction from eating them because they tasted ‘real’ and as if they contained something worth eating. They were light, digestible and I felt nourished. I felt as though I had actually fed my hunger. It’s simply something you’ll have to try for yourself, but I feel I can taste the difference between what’s nutritious and what’s not. It’s amazing!
6. I felt more alert and my gut didn’t feel constantly ‘heavy’. Gluten can also be responsible for poor cognitive function, sometimes described as ‘brain fog’. From experience it’s hard to know if you’ve got it until it has been and gone away. I had poor memory, a lack of clarity and concentration and a general feeling of not being on the ball. My lack of thyroid hormones would also have contributed, but non-celiac gluten sensitivity is well-know for causing this. My new food choices didn’t have any after-effect on me, which sounds crazy but this hadn’t been the norm for me previously. I now know that feeling heavy (like I’ve swallowed a rock), tired, bloated and gassy is not a normal product of eating.
7. And finally, I began to glow. Not jaw-dropping, can’t take my eyes off that kinda glow (well not yet anyway), but for the first time in my life, I did begin to look more glossy and radiant. Probably because I was eating a wider range of nutritious foods and my digestive function was improving. Getting this ‘glow’ is something that I have been striving for my whole life! Always well aware I looked the worst in photos, not looking alive until I had my make-up on and always catching myself in the mirror – thinking perhaps it was my skin type!? Ha!
So, I’m still waiting for my results, which I’m very excited about and intrigued to see. The tests are not only helping me resolve my health issues and helping me understand how my body works, but I feel this is a fun and interesting way to develop as a nutritional therapist too.
So what about the results? What will I do if they come out negative? To be honest, like I said I enjoyed the ‘mouthfeel’ and convenience of gluten and dairy products (they’re addictive remember!), however, the feeling I got afterwards was nothing short of negative. I didn’t feel great and I continued to not eat as well. And that’s the bigger point. It’s not just the detrimental affects of eating gluten and dairy, but the impact it has on the rest of your diet. I don’t care what the results are, I won’t be going back. But I do suspect I have a problem with these foods anyway. Only super social situations could convince me and that will only be if they don’t trigger my immune system.
Here’s an article detailing more symptoms associated with gluten intolerance
Have you tried going gluten free? What did you learn? If you’re interested in going gluten free but need some suggestions on how to do it, let me know in the comments below!