01 May Gluten and our Nation’s Declining Health; Part 1
Nine Years of Suffering – One Simple Answer
My wife, Cassie, has shown symptoms of gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease (CD) for as long as she can remember. She was labeled a “slow learner” in Elementary school (now they would likely call it ADHD), then migraine headaches into her teens, chronic gastrointestinal issues by 18, followed by an irregular menstrual cycle and severe anemia into her 20’s. Although Cassie herself knew there was some correlation with foods making her sick, she would try to avoid wheat or dairy for extended periods of time with no success. As we started dating almost one year ago, I noticed right away that she was extremely cautious about her food. I sometimes consider myself to be over-the-top healthy, but she wouldn’t even let me make her dinner or a protein shake without knowing exactly what was going in it. I initially took this as a little insulting and pretty weird, but to her, food = pain. This column exposes the years of wife’s unnecessary suffering and the correlation of gluten and our country’s declining health.
Her initial visit to a doctor was at age 18 for her “IBS” with an Internal Medicine Specialist. She was given a basic exam, told to take a fiber supplement, and sent her on way. By the age of 24 Cassie’s symptoms had progressed to severe bloating, stomach distention, brain fog, fatigue, insomnia, and menstrual irregularities. After another visit to the doctor, her iron and thyroid levels were checked and she was given some prescriptions for her insomnia and severe gas and bloating. There was not a single question about her diet or even a follow-up scheduled.
Having spent several years in practice working with food allergies and gluten sensitivity, I could see that all of Cassie’s symptoms seemed to be pointing towards some type of food sensitivity. In fact, she had much of the classic presentation for CD but showed sensitivities to other foods as well. I decided to order a 96 General Food Panel and was a little surprised to find that while she was showing reactions to eggs and diary; IgG antibodies showed no reaction to wheat, barley, or rye. Thinking that the eggs and dairy were the culprits, Cassie removed these allergens from her diet desperately seeking relief from her chronic symptoms. As a competitive bodybuilder, we also had her eliminate all wheat while training for her upcoming season, thus basically living on lean proteins, vegetables, oats, healthy fats, and fruit.
Months passed with no change in symptoms. Growing more anxious for a cure, I finally decided to perform a new saliva test which had just been introduced January 2011 and was said to be more reliable in determining early stages of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. Cassie’s results came back positive for elevated levels of Transglutaminase IgA and IgM and Secretory IgA. In other words, Cassie was finally diagnosed with gluten sensitivity with the probable diagnosis of CD. After switching to gluten-free oats, removing the (unknowingly) gluten-containing vitamin that she had been taking, and checking ALL labels for any form of gluten; Cassie finally had relief for the symptoms shed been enduring since a teen!
On average it takes 9 years for a patient to be properly diagnosed with Celiac Disease; this is exactly how long it took my wife. While it appears that the public is becoming more aware of this serious condition, it is still the most under-diagnosed and most chronic health disorder in Western Countries with an estimated 97-99% of cases yet to be diagnosed. Current statistics show that 1 in 100 Americans have Celiac disease; however, based on the shockingly high cases of undiagnosed cases, I would be curious to learn how many people are actually suffering with this specific illness as well as gluten sensitivity in general.
In the months to come, I will continue to expand on the topics of gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease in hopes of providing the information that I feel everybody needs to know about these disorders. Considering the high percentage of undiagnosed cases in this country and the dire consequences that gluten can have on some people’s health, I feel that it is vital to inform as many people as possible about these disorders. In upcoming issues I will be discussing the various symptoms, related illnesses, causes, treatments, and additional statistics linked to gluten-sensitivity and Celiac disease.
-Jason M. Kremer, DC, CCSP, CSCS