By Steve Shirley, DC
September was a pretty crappy month for me. I had a kidney stone. For a month. Yeah, I still have a little PTSD from that one but you can bet money that I never miss drinking my 6-8 glasses of water a day. Because I had so much nausea, I quit eating most everything as food just sounded terrible. But during this healing recovery I made a rather remarkable discovery that I will share with you today.
I remember getting out of bed one morning and I realized that something was different. My knees no longer hurt! Having had numerous sports injuries with meniscus repairs to both of them in the last four years, I had grown accustomed to morning “rickety-ness” hobbling down the stairs. And this was after regular intake of Omega-3’s (fish oil) and trips to the gym. Throw in a family history of old arthritic Scottish grannies and I figured I was destined for knee replacements when I got old (no comments, please).
But on this morning, not only did my knees not hurt getting out of bed, but I could also scamper faster than usual down the stairs. Losing 15 pounds on the Kidney Stone Diet Plan certainly didn’t hurt, but there was something more going on here. I didn’t give it much more thought until several days later. After a scrumptious dinner of venison spaghetti and French bread, I awoke with a familiar aching pain and stiffness in my right knee. After having a quick piece of whole wheat toast and organic peanut butter for breakfast, I started having pain in my left knee too. Neither knee got much better as the day went on.
And then it hit me, maybe I have a sensitivity to gluten! My stomach could get grumbly at times. Could it be? After repeating a gluten-free trial diet and re-introducing gluten it was clear that I am gluten sensitive. It took me 54 years to figure this out. Yeah, I can be a little dense at times!
Gluten is a type of protein that is found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. In some folks, including those of Irish and Scottish heritage, gluten can act as a source of inflammation in the bowels. This can cause an immune reaction there which can migrate to the joints where it ultimately can cause joint pain. In some people, the joint pain can manifest before GI symptoms develop.
Gluten sensitivity can present with a wide variety of symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, asthma, unexplained fatigue and depression. Left untreated it can lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Celiac Disease. Patients can also suffer from bizarre, often unrelated-appearing symptoms that are difficult to diagnose.
Fortunately, the cure is simple in principle – quit eating gluten. There is a growing awareness of gluten sensitivity and intolerance and many food manufacturers have stepped up the availability of gluten-free products. First you have to start eliminating the most obvious sources of gluten including breads, baked goods, cereals, pastas and any major grain. Rice and corn are typically ok. Substitute more fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and rice.
Eliminating the hidden sources of gluten is more challenging. Use these pointers:
1. Look for gluten free labels.
2. Eat more beans and seeds.
3. Buy gluten free flours in bulk to save money.
4. Join the online gluten-free community for useful tips and sources of foods not found here in Spokane.
5. Avoid products that likely contain gluten as an additive. These include gravies, many soups and vegetables in sauces.
6. Avoid beer as it contains malt (openly weeping here!).
7. Chocolate and red wine are still good though!
There are lab tests available that may help you discover if you have a gluten sensitivity but the best test is an intestinal biopsy. An alternative approach is to do an elimination diet. Basically you avoid all gluten products for at least a three week period. Keeping a food journal is also useful here. At 2-3 weeks see if any of your symptoms have improved. If so, this is obviously encouraging. Then after several weeks, try having a gluten product for breakfast or lunch. Do any of your symptoms return or worsen? If you aren’t sure, introduce gluten at every meal for a day or two and see what your body tells you. You will likely know one way or the other.
After 3 months of a mostly gluten-free diet I now feel much more energetic and my knees are happy fellows. It took me a little getting used to the different texture of gluten free breads but I have enjoyed both gluten-free pasta and pizza recently.
Do yourself a favor, if you suspect you might have a gluten sensitivity, try an elimination diet. Don’t wait until you get a kidney stone to find out!