Gluten Sensitivity: Fad Or Fact?
Gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, causes quite an upheaval both in social media and in the stomachs of those who don’t seem to tolerate it well. According to a 2013 survey, approximately one in three Americans avoid gluten. This number is growing rapidly.
Despite the increasing number of people eliminating gluten from their diets, the general public seems eager to claim that gluten-free is nothing more than a fad. Perhaps the thought of giving up foods like pizza, bread, pasta, or most beers seems too challenging. More and more research links our gut health to the occurrence of disease in the whole body. Given the evidence, the question remains: how much do we actually value our health? Few people understand, or want to understand, how incredibly destructive gluten can be --- even without a celiac diagnosis. Non-celiac gluten-sensitivity is very real.
I know a woman whose daughter’s health was deteriorating. What started as chronic migraines had escalated to a trip to the emergency room, tests to rule out a brain disease, and treatment options no parent would want to choose for his or her child. Libby’s mother was terrified, as any parent would be. Was Libby having a stroke? Did she have a brain tumor? The road to the solution was a challenging one, but in the end, the fix was simple.
Libby’s story, as told by her mother
Libby experienced her first migraine headache after a school Christmas party. She was four years old. She came home complaining of a headache, but it soon progressed to a migraine. She was crying and saying, “Mommy I can’t see you! There are spots everywhere I look, and my hand and foot feels tingly.” This was the first of many migraines.
When she was 11 years old, Libby began getting migraines twice a month like clockwork. This lasted for over a year. The pediatricians assumed it was hormonal and gave her prescription medication to ease the pain. But after taking the medication, she would feel sick for the rest of the day. As she got older, the migraines not only came more frequently, they were also much more severe.
The severity reached its peak with the appearance of alarming symptoms. She experienced her normal piercing headache, throwing up, tingly hands and feet, but this time was different. Her tongue and face became numb. She began drooling, and her eyes were rolling in the back of her head. I rushed her to the emergency room. They did a brain scan and ruled out a brain disease. The doctor said for some people migraines have stroke-like symptoms and Libby was one of the unlucky people who would experience these types of symptoms.
Needless to say, she was devastated. I was devastated. It was awful watching our child go through so much pain, not to mention missing school and hanging out with her friends. One doctor suggested putting her on birth control, or an IUD, to help the hormone imbalance. I was all for helping her feel better, but putting an IUD in my 11-year-old daughter didn’t seem like a good idea.
This is where Kate came into our story. She suggested a gluten-free diet for Libby. Kate had also suffered from migraines and said this had changed her life. To be honest, I do enjoy eating healthily, but the gluten-free diet seemed more like a fad to me than an actual issue. However, with visions of my daughter seizing in pain, I decided to give it a try. We preferred a dietary change to her getting an IUD.
February 1, 2015: Libby was twelve. This was the first day of her going gluten-free. We were both skeptical that this would work, but out of desperation we were willing to give it a try. I was overwhelmed with the idea of cooking for our family of five and changing how we ate. But an amazing thing happened. Libby stopped having migraines! Not even one. She went from two a month to having none. It was a beautiful miracle.
For years, she also suffered with small, nagging headaches. Almost every day that I picked her up from school, she would complain of a headache. We had her vision tested, which was fine, so we were at a loss. Since going gluten-free in February even her small headaches have subsided. She is now totally gluten-free; our family has learned how to cook gluten-free (after one month it became easy), and Libby, who is now 13, doesn’t even miss donuts and cakes. She has found substitutes for the foods she loves and manages her diet on her own. She realizes that a healthy body is a happy body.
Kate, I truly want to thank you for passing along your experience and knowledge. You have changed my daughter’s life! Our family so appreciates YOU and your desire to help our daughter.