My husband Jon has always had what he calls a bad gut. His mother says that his digestive issues started at around age three, and he’s been plagued by them ever since. There have been times when Jon’s digestive issues were milder or more severe. Sometimes there were obvious triggers that set off a particularly rough patch – like undertaking massive renovations to our house, and all of the associated expense, work and stress. But through all the ups and downs, he’s always had a touchy stomach.
Over the course of his life, Jon has undergone a whole lot of diagnostic tests and seen a whole lot of specialists. He’s seen family doctors, gastroenterologists, allergists, dietitians, psychologists and alternative health care providers. He’s taken various medications, exercised, worked on his mental health, kept food journals, read books and adhered to special diets. Some of it seemed to help for a time, but none of it really solved his problem.
Since no obvious cause could be found for Jon’s stomach issues, he was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. As I understand it, this diagnosis means that you regularly suffer from lower abdominal pain associated with diarrhea or constipation, but that no physical cause can be found. People with IBS are often told that it’s “all in their head” – or at least made to feel that’s the case – because nobody can identify a clear reason for their digestive issues.
Suspecting Celiac Disease
At one point about eight years ago I read about Celiac Disease, and recognized some of the symptoms from my daily life with my husband. Jon went for a blood test, and his test can back negative, which was both a relief and a disappointment. It was a relief because I was concerned that removing gluten from our diet would be hard, and a disappointment because it would have provided both an explanation and a solution. At no point, though, did we actually try eliminating gluten.
The past few months have been hard on Jon, for a number of reasons, so his IBS has flared up. We were out of ideas for what to do about it, though. And then about a month ago I was on a playdate and my friend Roxanna made an offhand comment about how diet can affect us. I was in the middle of my two weeks sugar-free at the time, so I was going through a dietary experiment of my own. This meant that I was in a place where I could see that eliminating certain foods may be difficult, but it’s also totally do-able if you’re motivated enough. I thought maybe it would be worth experimenting with some dietary changes to see if it helped Jon’s IBS symptoms.
I did some reading, and found some more information on gluten sensitivity, and proposed to Jon that he try going gluten-free. While he did have a negative blood test, there is increasing evidence that some people are sensitive to gluten, even if they don’t have a Celiac diagnosis. So he committed to going gluten-free for two weeks to see what effect it would have, and I (mostly) joined him.
We are now past the two week mark and it has made a definite difference for Jon. His digestive issues have significantly improved. He’s even noticed that his sinuses cleared up. For my part, I’ve found gluten-free cooking is far easier than I anticipated. Since potatoes, corn and rice are all gluten-free, dinner is really quite easy. My first experiments in gluten-free baking – chocolate chip cookies and brownies – worked out beautifully. My kids can’t get enough of them, and I’m honestly not sure you could tell the difference if you didn’t know. That’s all positive.
Of course, there are some sacrifices in going gluten-free. There are fewer convenience foods that Jon can eat, and we can’t just call up and order pizza or run through a drive-through. Gluten-free baked goods and baking supplies are more expensive and harder to find. But really, we can do this.
Hoping for Continued Improvement
Going off gluten hasn’t completely solved all of Jon’s problems, but we’re still the relatively early days. Many people report that it takes weeks or months for all symptoms of gluten sensitivity to clear. Perhaps a month or two from now we’ll be saying that it really is a miracle cure. All that I know for sure is that right now, for Jon, the slight inconvenience of going gluten-free is outweighed by the noticeable improvement in how he feels. He doesn’t need a diagnosis, he has personal evidence.
The kids and I still eat gluten, mostly because of the cost of gluten-free. By reserving the really expensive bread for the person who needs it, we can reduce the expense. Plus, I don’t personally believe that gluten is bad for everyone. Most of us can eat it without consequences. But for those who can’t, I think it’s really unfortunate that they can go decades without realizing that it’s causing them so many problems. Hopefully, as the research advances and more people go gluten-free, we’ll have the tools and the awareness to pinpoint gluten sensitivity earlier, so that people don’t suffer unnecessarily for so long.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. I’m still in the early days of gluten-free cooking and shopping, so if you have any tips on how to make it work, I’d love to hear from you! I’m also curious as to whether or not you would ever try giving up gluten. What would it take for you to pass up the French bread and opt for the rice crackers instead?