At 22 I started eating a gluten free diet.
My mother’s friend, Debbie, had heard all about my digestive issues and the complications they created in my daily life. During one of her visits to Maine, Debbie challenged me to stop eating gluten. I had never considered that I would be one of “those people” who have to know what’s in their food. Even worse, having to annoy others by asking for special modifications for my meal. I’m a people pleaser, I didn’t want to have to bother anyone to make exceptions for me. My attitude has since changed.
As a college student, I sometimes had to miss class because of my issues. As a whitewater rafting guide I always worried about being hours away from the closest bathroom. Even when I was without the digestive issues, I still never really felt “good.” Thinking back to this time, I am so grateful for the supportive friends and family who loved me through those years.
Dining out for dinner in Jackman, ME I listened to Debbie tell me that I shouldn’t eat gluten, but I did NOT listen to her advice and when I felt sick later, I started to think maybe Debbie was on to something. I have since stopped eating gluten. My major digestive issues eventually went away. Another benefit from changing my diet was improving my skin sensitivity. My anxiety also improved. A lot of people joked about me jumping on the “gluten-free band wagon,” but I knew how much eliminating gluten from my diet improved my quality of life. I knew, because I felt better.
Now I’m continuing my search for answers to better understand my health. Many of my questions are under the umbrella of one big question, why do I still get sick? I read the book Grain Brain to better understand how my diet influences my overall health. It presented a lot of valuable, research-based evidence to eat some foods and not others, but long before reading this book I had already stopped eating gluten, stopped drinking soda, and I rarely ate processed food. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, causes inflammation in the gut, and inflammation is trouble.
“Inflammation in the gut contributes to a problem called intestinal permeability. The gut has a very complex system of “border control” that lets digested food into your bloodstream (this is how you get nutrients from it) while keeping everything else out. Every day, you swallow millions of random viruses, bacteria, indigestible molecules like dust, and other stuff that needs to go out the other end, not into your bloodstream. Inflammation in the gut messes up that system of border control. It loosens the junctions between cells in the gut wall so too much stuff can pass through. This is often described as making the gut “leaky” (hence the popular name of “leaky gut”).” –Paleo Leap
Then I learned about the effects from taking medications for a long time. Antibiotics had destroyed my gut biome. “Everything about your health, emotionally and physically hinges on the state of our micro-biome,” from David Perlmutter’s Brain Maker. All of the antibiotics I had taken in my early 20’s to combat symptoms of inflammation (caused from my diet) set me up for even more problems.
“Anxiety disorders afflict more than 40 million Americans, and nearly 10 percent of the U.S. adult population has a mood disorder for which powerful drugs are prescribed. Depression, which affects one in ten of us, is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, and diagnoses are growing at a startling rate. Medications like Prozac and Zoloft are among the most often prescribed drugs in the nation. Mind you, these drugs treat symptoms of depression, not the causes, which are flagrantly ignored.” -Brain Maker
By the time I figured out the cause of my issues, I had caused a lot of damage to the one thing that could re-establish my health. “The state of your microbiome determines whether or not your body is fanning the flames of inflammation or squelching them,” Perlmutter says. There is great news that the gut’s microbiotic community can rebound with a dietary prescription. This regimen focuses on the cause of symptoms, something I had to learn outside of a doctor’s office.
The great thing about going to the doctor, however, is that when you get a prescription, it gives you hope that your issues will get better. Hearing someone say “change your diet, eat these foods, avoid those food,” is too broad of a course of action to provide much hope.
A big shift in lifestyle is necessary to restore one of the most influential factors of our health, our microbiome. This knowledge is empowering, but how is anyone supposed to do this? We need specifics! Luckily I have access to some amazing people in my life who are willing to share SPECIFIC “how-to’s” in order to make a big lifestyle shift into a manageable endeavor.
I look forward to sharing the next steps of my journey to better health with: recipes, supplement information, and how someone on a teacher’s budget can afford to eat healthy.
“Disease begins in the gut, so too does health and vitality.”- Brain Maker