Going Gluten-Free – My Family’s Dramatic Response

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Going gluten-freeBy Marianne Kring

Removing gluten from my diet has been one of the most beneficial changes of my entire life.

My two children and I are gluten-sensitive. My 16-year old daughter and my 19-year old son have been off gluten for almost three years now.

Gluten-sensitivity is something you are born with, and it usually runs in families.  I have been having trouble with my digestive system off and on throughout my life, but could not figure out the cause.  When I was in my 30’s I figured out I was lactose-intolerant, which is pretty easy to diagnose.  But that didn’t get rid of my symptoms, which included gas, bloating, intestinal cramps and pain.  I guessed I had irritable bowel syndrome, which seems to be a catch-all for when they can’t figure out what’s causing your symptoms.  It took over 40 years for me to figure out I was gluten-sensitive because symptoms often show up 24-48 hours later.  I was eating gluten with nearly every meal, so my symptoms were popping up randomly.

My symptoms of terrible intestinal pain, bloating, and flatulence, which by my 40’s occurred on a nightly basis, finally drove me to figure out what was causing the “irritable bowel syndrome.”  (If they tell you that you have something that ends in “syndrome,” it means they don’t know anything about it.)  I read Dr. Mark Hyman’s book, The UltraMind Solution, which led me to suspect that gluten may be my problem.

When I eliminated gluten from my diet, it cleared up my intestinal symptoms, but even more importantly, it cleared up the low-level depression and anxiety I lived with my entire life.  I had seen a therapist in my late 20’s and again in my early 40’s, and it helped at the outset to be able to talk to someone about what was going on in my life, but after awhile it seemed that we were just circling around the issues and not getting to the core of why I was depressed.  In retrospect, it seems to me you can’t counsel or use behavior modification therapy to remedy a depression caused by ingesting something that negatively affects my brain and which my body considers a toxin.

It has been such a revelation to discover that I had not been “just born sad,” as I used to tell myself.  My depression was not so severe that I wanted to take antidepressants, except for once in my early 40’s.  I took them for about a year but quit when the 30 pounds I quickly packed on while taking the pills made me more depressed than the depression I experienced prior to taking them.

Gluten can affect people differently because it can irritate and inflame different systems in the body.  Some people have no digestive problems but have skin conditions that won’t clear up, or joint pain and swelling, or any of a number of neurological, hormonal, or autoimmune symptoms.

However, as grateful as I am for finding the cause of my symptoms, my daughter is even more so.  She stopped eating gluten when she was in the eighth grade and shortly after her undiagnosed mental and physical symptoms seemed to just fade away.

My Teenage Daughter’s Experience Going Gluten-free

My daughter was out of control.  She had harsh mood swings, to the point where I thought she might be bipolar, an assessment with which she agrees.  In my daughter’s own words, she would get a “surge of pure rage that I can only describe as a strong, painful jab coming up through my ribcage and into my heart.”  She would lash out at her family, walk into a room and fill it with a dark storm cloud, and cry frequently.  She felt so bad; she went as far as to burn herself regularly to feel something other than the plaguing, dull sadness that filled her life.  At other times she appeared happy and was a pleasure to be around, but I couldn’t stop worrying about her overall attitude towards her family and her own life.

In a regrettable chapter of her life, my daughter habitually smoked marijuana. It had been so easy for her to slip into a community who provided something that made her feel better.  But she doesn’t need marijuana anymore (hasn’t touched it for a very long time), and she’s made better friends than she ever could while she smoked.

Along with her wild mood swings my daughter had a very weak immune system, constant headaches, and felt inexplicably tired all the time.  She would tell me her entire body felt heavy (even though she was skinny), and whatever time she wasn’t doing schoolwork or out with her friends she’d spend on the couch, watching television.  This would anger me, since I thought she was manipulating her way out of doing chores, and if she had the energy to go out with her friends, then she had the energy to pull weeds or sort laundry or clean her room.  She wasn’t lying though.  She truly felt horrible and the time with her friends was simply her coping strategy.

Since she stopped eating gluten, my daughter dropped about ten pounds of fat, gained about fifteen pounds of muscle, and has a wonderfully positive outlook on life.  She has many more friends, deeper relationships with people, and most of all doesn’t feel sick all of the time.  She treats her parents with respect, is honest, and has become a reliably fun person to be around.

I have no name for what was going on with my daughter.  In fact, if we were living in any other time, she might have been passed off as crazy.  I am ever grateful that she has made choices that help her feel like a normal person again. Just by cutting out wheat and gluten she’s leading a much healthier life.

My Teenage Son’s Experience Going Gluten-free

My son was diagnosed with Inattentive Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) just before he turned 12.  He started taking Ritalin at the beginning of seventh grade to help him stay focused in class.  He took Ritalin on school days all the way into tenth grade.  It was at this time that I asked both my children to take a test for gluten sensitivity.  His test came back positive but he said he would not give up gluten because it would be too hard at his age to avoid gluten.  However, his father was able to convince him to give up gluten for a short while after showing him some research on the web about the connection between ADD and gluten.  After going off gluten for a couple of weeks, my son found that he could stay focused during the school day without having to take Ritalin.

My son also experienced depression, which went away after he stopped eating gluten. He later said that he did not know what he felt on a day-to-day basis wasn’t normal, because he hadn’t known anything else.  When he stopped eating gluten it was as if the world brightened for him.  So… what had seemed like an absolute impossibility to him within a few short weeks became an absolute necessity.

He has not looked back. The severity of his symptoms (migraine headaches, depression, brain fog for about three days) when he ingests some gluten by mistake has convinced him that life is much better without it.

It is clear that gluten had a neurological effect on my son. He did not have obvious allergy symptoms such as bloating or hives, nor did his symptoms come in waves.  Both of my children were neurologically affected by gluten, each in different ways.  They couldn’t have lived lives half the quality they’re leading now if they hadn’t cut gluten out of their diets.

A change in diet has uplifted my entire family dramatically. I encourage you to take a look at what you eat on a daily basis as a possible source of some of the puzzling chronic symptoms you or your children may be experiencing. Cutting gluten out of your diet does not guarantee a dramatic change in your life, but the important thing is to simply try it for a few weeks. Going gluten-free has been one of the greatest steps I’ve taken to improving my health https://ampills.com/ and the health of my family.

Here are some links if you’d like to read further on gluten-sensitivity:

http://www.healthnowmedical.com/blog/2013/08/05/90-of-those-with-celiac-disease-have-no-digestive-complaints/

http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/2011/07/who-is-dr-william-davis/

About the author: Marianne Kring is the mother of two teenagers and a CPA. She and her family live in Silicon Valley.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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