Gluten Sensitivity: Trust Your Gut

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Allie Lemco

For 23 years, I lived in fear of my stomach. Its reactions were unpredictable and uncomfortable and no one could tell me why. Symptoms like cramping, bloating, tremendous pain, and the need to immediately find a bathroom ruled my life.

I thought my problems were solved when I discovered that I was lactose-intolerant. I cut dairy out and felt much better. But the pain continued. I consulted several gastroenterologists, nutritionists, general physicians, and even psychiatrists. I did every blood test imaginable. I underwent colonoscopies; I tested negatively for Crohn’s disease and celiac disease; and I even took an antibiotic that rid my stomach of any “bad” bacteria, then replaced it with new, “better” bacteria from probiotics.

I was finally diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a catch-all diagnosis for general abdominal pain with bowel problems. But even though I had a diagnosis, there wasn’t really any treatment. I kept suffering.

My brain was another story. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had problems remembering. I was eventually diagnosed with ADHD at age 17, which explained a lot. And although I began taking medication for it, which helped, I still felt fuzzy most of the time. I was also diagnosed with anxiety, and the medication for that made me even foggier. I tried several different treatments and finally did find a pill that calmed me down without making me feel like I was trying to break through a mental wall. But it wasn’t the perfect fix.

So here’s where the two stories meet: I was feeling foggy, forgetful, and exceedingly bitter that my stomach wouldn’t cut me a break. Stomach pain hit me after almost every meal, ruining birthday dinners, post-lunch classes, and romantic dates. And I was overcome with frustration every day as I struggled to pay attention and keep up with my peers.

It was time to try something new.

When I was 23, my boss recommended I try going gluten-free. She’d been misdiagnosed with lupus because her joints would swell up; turns out, she’s just extremely sensitive to gluten. After months of putting it off, claiming that a diet sans lactose AND gluten would be impossible, I slowly began to phase gluten out of my diet. Suddenly, two weeks had passed, and I hadn’t touched gluten. I was feeling good. My mind was clearer, and my stomach was miraculously calm. So was it all thanks to the lack of gluten?

I decided to make stir-fried chicken and vegetables for dinner. I poured in soy sauce and teriyaki sauce, making it up as I went along. I gobbled up that meal in five minutes—and I was out of commission for an entire day. Soy sauce, I discovered, has wheat in it. It’s the second ingredient listed. I realized I’d been “glutened.” I felt like I was suffering from the worst hangover I could ever imagine. My body was achy and sore, my stomach was screaming at me, and I couldn’t think straight. So that proved it for me: I was sensitive to gluten.

Removing gluten from my diet has changed my life. I feel normal, and I’ve never been able to say that before.

Allie Lemco lives a lactose-free, gluten-free, pain-free life in Atlanta.

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Medical Reviewers: Williams, Robert, MD Last Review Date: Mar 29, 2013

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