Tag Archives: eating

One Step Forward…Two Back

The downside of being gluten free, aside from the complexity of eating out and cooking, is that there are people bound and determine to prove it is just a “fad”. I will grant that gluten sensitivity, and likely Celiacs as well, is a complicated pathology that involves more than just the gluten trigger.  This makes it no less real than say, schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, or any number of diseases with complicated, hard to test pathology.

There’s currently articles going around claiming that non-Celiac gluten intolerance does not exist based on a paper published by a Dr. Peter Gibson who decided his prior published work was suspect and so repeated it, which reversed the results.

As a scientist, I’d like to point out a few things. His sample size was 37 individuals. Those individuals were divided into four groups and each got a different diet. Their diagnosis was mostly self-diagnosed and confirmed via questionaire. So basically, 37 people who maybe are gluten intolerant but could also have something else going on (yeast overgrowth, food allergy, parasites to name a few) were picked. On one hand it demonstrates the need for a definitive method of diagnosis, but also, that the experimental setup is questionable.

That’s a whopping nine folks in each category. What measures were taken to ensure patient compliance? Anyone who has attempted a GF diet knows how hard it is to avoid gluten. Also, two-weeks is not enough time for severe inflammation to reduce and for the body to heal. It often takes MONTHS. Wikipedia explains the whole FODMAP thing. Do some of the things on that list bother me? Yes. Do they send me into days of gastric distress like gluten and casein do? Nope. Many Celiacs and GF sensitive individuals, due to the nature of inflammation, have problems with many other foods that can exacerbate inflammation.

Were some of those patients likely not GF sensitive? Quite likely. This does not mean that gluten is not a problem for some people.

The important point is that non-Celiac’s gluten intolerance is not a new thing.

Read here or here for starters.

If you aren’t sick, don’t buy the hype. GF is not a fad diet. It isn’t the next new awesome weight loss trick. It’s a lifetime commitment required out of necessity.

I felt like puking up my guts for a solid year and at my worst was curled up in bed with debilitating migraines and intestinal cramps. My GI doctor told me to eat more fiber since I wasn’t a Celiac. Yeah, that didn’t really help. Trust me, if there’s a problem, you WILL know, as your body will make it pretty darn clear.

If you eliminate foods and find that you feel drastically better, don’t be afraid to trust what your body tells you, no matter what research gets shared around the internet.


Diagnosis Ick!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, food and I have a complicated relationship.  For over three years I’ve been dealing with intestinal issues of one sort or another. I’ve read journal articles and blogs, cut various foods from my diet, and added an assortment of nutritional and herbal supplements.

It wasn’t until I added in the two herbal supplements I’ve been taking that I saw significant improvement. Being a scientist, I have a chronic case of “But, WHY?”

Why had my innards revolted in the first place? Why were other foods continuing to join the list? Why had my allergies gone berserk at about the same time my innards revolted?

As most scientific discoveries, I happened upon the answer quite by accident.

First, let me explain a bit about the difference between Celiacs and gluten intolerance/sensitivity. Both involve an inappropriate immune response from the body to a protein called gluten. Current studies confirm that Celiacs is autoimmune in pathology. This means that your body attacks itself. This is mediated via IgA (a type of antibody). I tested negative for IgA, which, while not conclusive, suggested that I did not have Celiacs, or at least not yet.

Gluten intolerance is a different creature altogether. It presents with much the same symptoms, but proceeds through all manner of immune responses.  Often, though, it is through the innate immunity branch of your immune system.

Adaptive immunity is what handles things like bacteria and viruses. Innate immunity is the first line of defense. It also happens to be the part of our immune system that is supposed to handle parasites, but those suckers are tricky and can sneak past our defenses.

There are a number of proponents that suggest leaky gut syndrome leads gluten sensitivity and other food intolerances. I suspect that’s on the money, but what causes the gut to be permeable may differ from one individual to another. Antibiotics and other drugs which irritate the gut, poor diet,  infections, and stress can all pile on top of each other. Maybe one day you pick up a stomach bug and that’s one too many things for your body to handle.

For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a nasty stomach flu virus which went around in Jan. 2010. Prior to that I had sporadic flare ups of intestinal upset, but after that my gut threw up its metaphorical hands and refused to function properly at all.

The key to healing any wound is to decrease inflammation, support the immune system, and ensure the body has the nutrients needed to facilitate healing. If infection is present, that should be treated.

Makes sense, right?

For the gut there are three major things to consider: bacteria, yeast and parasites.

I began taking probiotics several months back. The first three days were horrid. The package did not warn me about “die off”. When the bad bacteria die, they release endotoxins which send you running to the bathroom. I quit taking them and then after a week or so resumed at half the dose. I had no problems after that initial die off. Clearly, the bacterial population of my gut was skewed. I saw an improvement, but not anything to write home about. The probioitcs also aid in keeping yeast in check, so that’s kind of a two-in-one thing.

I added quercetin with bromelain and lastly, turmeric. All of these have either been shown or suspected to decrease inflammation and support immunity. What I did not realize is that the latter two also have mild antiparasitic properties.

Long story short, the unknown silent battle in my gut was caused by parasites. The typical western diet, high in carbs and processed foods, lacks the fresh herbs and vegetables known to eliminate or keep those suckers in check. The frequent headaches I’d been getting were due to toxin build-up as they died off. My tendency not to drink enough water didn’t help matters.

I purchased an herbal cleanse and my usually gurgly innards are much less gurlgy. I’ve gained a degree of regularity I haven’t seen since I was pregnant with Mr. Smarty-pants twelve years ago. I ate the quinoa/corn blend pasta without feeling queasy. Even better, I ate out at a sushi place we loved and had fried rice without feeling sick afterward!

These are tiny baby steps on the path to healing, but they are hopeful, positive signs that I’m not doomed to an ever decreasing diet. I won’t have to repress a surge of panic at the suggestion of eating out. One day, I might even eat cheese again.

Darth Gluten’s Troops

Foods represented: Wheat (gluten), Dairy products, Sesame, Corn, Potatoes, and Avocados

One of the hardest things to deal with when suffering from gluten intolerance or Celiacs isn’t living without wheat.  Why? A study cited by a popular advocate for a grain-free approach and others indicates that going gluten free isn’t enough. I suspect that by the time most patients are diagnosed, their bodies are in extreme chronic inflammatory mode and their intestines are as permanent as the US borders.

To date, current medicine does not understand the process by which acute inflammation (a process which aids in wound repair)  switches to a chronic and detrimental state. I’ve read studies which give tantalizing clues, but we are still piecing together the puzzle. As a result, the only current medicinal approach to inhibiting chronic inflammation involves suppressing our immune systems.  It doesn’t take a science or medical degree to figure out that isn’t a great approach, especially for long-term therapy.

It took about four months of a gluten-free diet for me to figure out that while I felt a little better, I still felt ill. Fast forward a few more months and without dairy I felt better. After several close encounters of the potato kind, I banished them from my diet. Since I could eat daal made from chickpeas, but hummus made me ill, sesame joined Darth Gluten’s troops.

Avocados are listed as agitators because it isn’t a gluten-like reaction. Rather, aspirin, also known as acetyl salicylic acid exacerbates the inflammation already present in my intestines. Avacados happen to have a large amount of salicylates,  chemicals very similar in structure to aspirin.

I’ve suspected corn for awhile as corn pasta does not sit particularly well and tortilla chips make me ill. I bought a gluten free cereal and have eaten it for breakfast all this week.

Ingredient (1) Corn flour

Unlike with wheat or dairy, the symptoms are not immediate, but rather build in intensity over several days. Yay? Corn starch seems sufficiently well processed not to bother me too much, but as I can’t see my intestines, I can’t say that with certainty. What’s it doing on the molecular level? I’m afraid to find out. As a medicinal chemist researcher, I know one well established fact: chronic inflammation increases the risk of cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Yet, the average doctor knows very little about Celiacs or gluten intolerance. I met a woman last week who nearly died because her doctors diagnosed her with everything from acid reflux and IBS to stress. The true diagnosis was diverticulitis combined with a raging case of Celiacs. The gastroenterologist I went to see told me to eat more fiber. I bought a high fiber cereal, which contained every gluten grain known to mankind, and by day two I felt like an alien was trying to claw its way out of my innards.

There are tests available to test serum or stool antibodies to find all the minions recruited by gluten, but a lot of good that does when neither the doctors nor the insurance companies understand the severity of gluten intolerance. If you can afford them, you might consider doing the tests, but the best thing I can recommend to gluten intolerant or Celiac sufferers is to remain cognizant of EVERYTHING you eat. If you have to keep a food journal, do so, as observation is free and probably just as accurate.

For people who fear that eating such a restrictive diet must be boring, here’s a recipe for my own version of  chicken tikka masala, with a few changes:

  1. 2 onions chopped and sauteed in olive oil (~3tbsp…enough to keep onions and spices from sticking)
  2. 2 tbs minced garlic
  3. 1 tsp minced or grated fresh ginger
  4. Spices: 1 cinnamon stick, 3 whole green cardamom pods, ground peppercorns to taste, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp cumin seeds (add to onions while sauteing)
  5. Add 1 small can of tomato paste
  6. Add 1.5-2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1in pieces
  7. Add 2 c of water and a tsp of GF chicken bouillon
  8. Add 1 tbs coriander, 1 tsp curry powder, dash of paprika and cayenne powder, and salt to taste
  9. Simmer for ~15 min or until chicken is nearly done. If desired, add 1c frozen peas and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  10. Add ~3-4 tbs “Better than cream cheese” (soy based vegan ‘cream cheese’) Add slowly over low heat and stir well to melt it. Add water if needed to adjust to desired consistency (should be a nice gravy).
  11. Serve over rice.

I think they’re defective…

Sometimes I really worry about my offspring. I think they’re defective. Perhaps they’re changelings, left by some strange other-worldly creature and mine are in some alternate dimension wondering why they don’t like the same things their baby-swapping parents like.

Why do I think this?

They don’t like pie.


Who in their right mind does not like pie? I can understand being partial to a certain kind or perhaps not liking pumpkin or sweet potato pie. Those are somewhere between sweet and savory, depending on the recipe.

Really, though, how can they look at these and say ‘no thanks’?

That’s not the only evidence I have. I adore a host of vegetables, like a great deal of others, with a very short list of uh, okay that’s gross. I had to trick mine into eating broccoli by calling them little trees. Not even coating them in cheese worked. Green beans had to bounce across plates and say, “No, don’t eat me!” in a high sqeaky voice (voiced by yours truly) in order for them to eat them. Only Mr. Smarty Pants has finally decided that cantelope is edible. What’s with them?

I could perhaps agree with Mr. Smarty-Pants that I’m the weird one if it were just the vegetable thing, but PIE?

Of course, the upside of having strange changeling children is that I get more pie!







Haunted by food

In my grown-up day job life I play with cells, chemicals, and little pretty pictures of chemicals on computers. It requires lots of reading, a steady infusion of caffeine (because let’s be honest, even those of us who like this stuff find it boring to read), and patience. Results can take years to materialize. Much like Thomas Edison, I may find hundreds of ways not to do a reaction before I find the one way that works. Fate or synchronicity, in either case I find myself continually intrigued by the connections between my life and health and the research field I stumbled into. In 2009 I re-applied to graduate school after a six-year hiatus. The lab I worked in back in 2003 focused on cancer, most specifically prostate cancer. I didn’t really care what I researched as long as I got back into school, so when I talked to the professors, only one had the funds to take me on. Tada, my current lab. I had no idea what nucleoside transporters were or what they did, and as most people would, I deduced that well, “They transport nucleosides.” Needless to say, after two years I’ve learned a great deal more than that.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with food? In previous posts I mentioned that I have Celiacs. Celiacs is an extreme intestinal disease state which results from a sensitivity to gluten, a type of protein found in grains, most specifically wheat, rye and barley. The sensitivity is hereditary. They have pinpointed the genes and confirmed the link. The confusion, whether it is a doctor or average every day person, lies in understanding that the genes are similar to the genes that say, give you brown hair. They simply are, and like brown hair, are very common. At the same time, there are many many shades of brown hair. Even educated doctors tend to misunderstand, believing that this auto-immune disorder (Celiacs) is a rare phenomenon. I can’t really blame them. I thought the same thing. I never even heard about it until eight years or so ago, and even after reading the article, following a brief “OMG what if THAT’S my problem?”, I went, “Nah!” There was no family history. Surely, if I had what these people described I would be sicker. Fast-forward eight years and oh yeah I was sicker and a family history did exist. We simply didn’t know it at the time. The disease state doesn’t happen over night. Dr. Osborne, a doctor who seems to be the premiere spokes-person for gluten sensitivity and research has compiled research and medical evidence showing that the prevalence of gluten sensitivity is more pervasive than people think and is likely effecting us in ways most people would never even dream. Given the severity of my condition, combined with the fact I seem to have a plethora of the recessive genes in the family, I got two copies of the “I hate gluten” gene. I had problems even as an infant. I groan thinking of the number of times I was told about how colicky I was, how much gas I had, etc. My pediatrician was an excellent doctor. He suspected there was something going on inside of me, but he didn’t know what and the tests for Celiacs were not well known back then. Even so, the blood test would have told him nothing, as I do not make IgA antibodies (what is tested), but some other type. Even at my sickest, I tested negative, as did my sister, and my grandmother. My grandmother is seventy plus years and for the last twenty at least has had stomach problems and ulcers. Her biopsy showed extreme damage. At four or five, I probably wouldn’t have shown any.

Wheat, the highest gluten containing grain, came into the farming scene late in the game. A mere two-hundred or so years ago.  Consider, the human race is roughly ten thousand years old. In comparison, we have been steadily consuming grains for only a fraction of that time period. Factor in the genetic modifications in the last thirty and mysterious ailments such as IBS are on the rise. Oddly enough, doctors seem oblivious to the possibility that diet could be the root cause. I was told that perhaps I had GERD or IBS, or maybe I just needed more fiber. They didn’t see how the stomach issues could possibly be related to increasingly annoying hormonal problems I was experiencing. No blood panel for vitamin deficiencies was taken. I was confounded until my grandmother was diagnosed. Then I realized, not only my problem, but why my son complained regularly of headaches and stomach aches, why my daughter experienced random bouts of vomiting without any other signs of illness.

So while Dr. Osborne spreads the word and awareness, by sheer fortune I seem to have landed into the ideal area of research to figure out how we might one day modulate a person’s immune response. I have always been driven to ask “WHY?” I seek answers even when it drove teachers nuts. As a result of my refusal to take pills without knowing the why, I found the root cause of my illness and diet change, while far from easy, has improved my health drastically. The last year and half I had to take so many sick days that my professor got worried I might by a poor investment. I’ve yet to take a single sick day this semester. I’ve had a couple of sniffly colds, but they never got very bad and went away within days. Setbacks still happen as my tolerance for any contamination is exceedingly low, however healing 32 yrs of damage takes more than a few months.

The common link between auto-immune disorders, chronic allergies, and even cancer, is understanding how the body regulates the signal it gets when it sees a particle (food, pollen, virus, bacteria, etc). Certain people, by chance of crappy genetic dice, over-respond. Couple that with pre-existing sensitivities and you have the perfect storm for auto-immune disorders. Toss in the sea of hormones women have in their bloodstream and you get the gender gap between males and females for autoimmune disorders.

It is eerie that as I read journal articles discussing nucleoside transporter expression levels and their connections to various diseases, I can draw correlations to my own health and the health patterns in previous generations. Further frustrating is the fact that so many grant reviewers out there have such little understanding of chemistry and the biology we are exploring that they dismiss it as unimportant. They don’t see the next block-buster drug. Is it going to lower cholesterol? Make people skinny? Give eighty-year old men erections? No? Eh,no, you don’t get funding.

The news blares the trumpet against rising obesity. Inactivity and poor lifestyle choices are to blame for much, but all of the additives, wheat and gluten being high on the list, could be doing far more harm than we realize.

Hopefully I can assist my professor in slogging through the disbelief and dismissal so that we may understand and thus reverse the disease states resulting in over-amplification of immune responses.