Going Gluten Free

Ann Bartlett Health Guide

    A surprising thing happened this past year: I lost my seemingly endless supply of energy!


    In May, I started to feel tired all the time. My endocrinologist checked my thyroid level and it came back at 3. That’s not out of range, but she said it was slightly low and we would keep checking.


    Throughout the summer, my mind felt foggy, and running, my usual form of exercise, became increasingly harder to do. By 4 in the afternoon my energy would bottom out, and I found myself drinking coffee almost every afternoon to find something to cling to for energy!


    To top it off, I woke up faithfully every night, just enough to disturb my sleep, and then I would roll over and try to find my dreams again. By October I was incapable of focusing at all and my body seemed so out of sync.

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    What was happening? Depression? Too much stress?



    My acupuncturist suggested a saliva test. While I agree with MDs that saliva is very inconsistent, I figured at least it was a place to start. I thought the doctors were missing something.


    The results were interesting. According to the test results, my cortisol levels was all over the place. I tested positive for Hashimoto’s disease (low thyroid), I was extremely gluten intolerant and anemic.


    The next question was: What to do with the results when saliva has a bad rap for false positives? The answer: Take blood. My acupuncturist suggested a test for Hashimoto’s and vitamin D.


    Results: I was negative for Hashimoto, but my thyroid level was 4.756 (too low) and my vitamin D level was way low!


    My acupuncturist suggested getting back to my endocrinologist for a prescription for thyroid medication. In the meantime, he would work on vitamin D, cortisol through acupuncture and supplements and that I remove wheat gluten from my diet.



    What I love about my endocrinologist, Dr. Caroline Huang, is she is a good listener. She is often baffled by my choices for all natural over pharmaceutical, but she trusts my decisions because I’m not rejecting one over the other, I’m simply trying to find a balance that works for me! She is open -- if she doesn’t know much about integrative healing, often she will read what I bring in and together we decide if the science is actually there.


    I like to go “au natural” first and if the results are not showing in 2-6 weeks I switch to traditional care. If she expresses something critical, I'm in agreement with her directive immediately. This is, in my mind, the mark of a great doctor!





    She was extremely skeptical of my saliva tests, but agreed that if the blood test showed a low thyroid of 4.756, I was due for some pharmaceuticals. I started a prescription synthyriod right away and felt the fog lift from my brain.


    My first plan of action was to study gluten-free living. What is gluten and what is Celiac disease? Why am I beginning to hear more about Celiac’s diagnosis and rate of people being diagnosed on the rise? And was there gluten intolerance without having Celiac Disease?


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    Celiac Disease is a genetic intolerance for gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale, kamut and spelt. Headaches, fatigue, achy joints, gynecological problems, anemia, and gastro-intenstinal problems are all symptoms. But they are so benign that doctors often over look the the diagnosis for Celiac for something major.


    (See Ginger's post on celiac disease and diabetes, and Amy's post on celiac disease).


    Celiac is another auto immune disease where the body reads gluten as foreign and attacks the small intestine, leaving it incapable of absorbing nutrition. My symptoms of anemia, low vitamin D, low thyroid and chronic exhaustion are all classic signs. Left untreated it will result in destruction of the small intestine, malnutrition, and potential vulnerability to colon cancer.



    Within a week of starting a gluten-free diet and synthroid I felt like a rocket! My foggy head went away immediately, my low energy started to dissipate and I felt like a massive load had been lifted from my shoulders!


    My endocrinologist warned me that gluten free would be very difficult and after reading Gluten Free Girl, hitting celiacchicks, and talking with a friend who has celiac disease, it takes knowledge to know how to do it.


    But it’s not difficult when the result is feeling fantastic! Even if I am not officially diagnosed with celiac disease, I clearly have gluten intolerance and avoiding it makes me feel better! What’s to miss? The bloating, low energy, and the feeling like I've lost something. There is more information on gluten every day and more restaurants and food stores are creating space for gluten free.



    As for my diabetes control, it’s been much easier. I’m feeling more like myself energetically and I’m able to focus on the issues better to advocate for the help I need.



    Discovering what is up with your body is hard work! I’m grateful to my acupuncturist for thinking outside the box and for his support to be integrated with my doctor. I’m grateful for a medical professional who allows me to think outside the box and explore wellness from a perspective that is not intuitive to her. Both were needed for this to have been recognized and treated. What a gift they have been!



    My new years resolution: because I feel so much better, my goal is to run my favorite 10-miler, the GWParkway Classic, in April. See you out there!


Published On: January 02, 2008