By Lisa Ayres, Guest Columnist
I would like to share with readers my life-changing experience after eliminating gluten from my diet.
I had spinal implant surgery for spondylolisthesis about 24 years ago. For those who don’t know, spondylolisthesis is a defect in the spine that causes vertebra to slip to one side of the body. You can have spondylolisthesis without even knowing it. Someone may experience little to no pain and not know they have a “back issue.”
In my case, it got progressively worse as time went on.
After the surgery, I had physical therapy and even became certified in personal training to learn how to care for myself. I also took hydrocodone for pain, up to 3 tablets a day depending on my activities.
About 10 years ago, I also started having arthritis in my hands. They would throb after a few hours of gardening or similar use. I was told it was erosive arthritis. My toes also were affected and caused me a great deal of pain when I was on my feet without thick soled shoes.
My 24-year old daughter suffered from intestinal problems most of her life. After having pizza with friends one day, she came home with stomach cramps and was basically ill. I do a lot of research on issues that crop up in our lives and gluten intolerance kept popping up online as a clear possibility.
As a declaration of solidarity, and to make meals and shopping easier, I joined my daughter in going gluten and casein free. I found out that if one has gluten intolerance, they almost always have casein intolerance also. Casein is found in dairy products.
It wasn’t easy for us to rid our diets of both gluten and casein, but to find out if my daughter’s illness was caused by them we had to start somewhere. On April 21, 2015, we cleared our diets and house of all gluten and casein products.
The first initial change was that my daughter appeared to get sicker. Stopping gluten is similar to stopping opioids for some people -- you go through a type of withdrawal. There are many websites, such as MentalHealthDaily.com, where you can learn more about gluten intolerance, withdrawal, and what you can and cannot eat.
For 8 days she had severe joint pain and flu like symptoms. She said her joints felt worse than the pain she experienced when she broke her foot years before. But, her stomach discomfort began to subside almost immediately after giving up gluten and casein. By the ninth day the withdrawal symptoms vanished and she was feeling wonderful.
I didn’t have stomach problems caused by gluten, but my daughter and I live together and it would be not only unkind to eat restricted foods in front of her, it would be difficult to prepare separate meals, separate work areas, etc. So I changed my diet when she did.
I had an unanticipated reaction. I had no withdrawal symptoms, but within 48 hours I had what can only be described as miraculous changes.
Due to the arthritis, my hands had a limited range of motion. My fingers were thick with swelling and I hadn’t been able to make a fist with my left hand in at least two years. My right hand also was swollen. The throbbing at night, sometimes without any particularly heavy use, was not only painful but depressing. Activities I had enjoyed were quickly running from my life. I was only 58-years old but felt decades older. The ongoing ache in my back was like an unwelcome guest that I could only get to leave with hydrocodone.
But 48 hours after going gluten and casein free, I awoke, stretched, and moved my hands freely. My ring felt loose on my finger, the clench of my hands strong and flexible.
This dietary change is a game changer for me. Plans I had put aside and tried to forget are now possible again. The pain in my back is now mainly managed with Tylenol and then only a couple of times a month. I have only taken hydrocodone twice since dropping gluten from my diet. My depression also has lessened.
The systemic inflammation caused by the allergic reaction to gluten should not be ignored. A two week elimination diet is the best and only way to see if gluten really is the culprit. Tests currently are not accurate.
My daughter had an emergency appendectomy and bowel re-section. It was advised by a gastroenterologist that she also get tested for celiac disease. Mind you, this is an experienced doctor. They did an endoscopy on my daughter and the results were negative. However, the test results page included a disclaimer that if the patient had already cleared their system of gluten and there was no inflammation, the test wouldn’t be accurate for celiac or gluten sensitivity.
The doctor didn’t tell us that eliminating gluten would “hide” her sensitivity. We only happened to have read the results ourselves. So the test wasn’t needed for her to know to avoid gluten!
Eliminating gluten and casein from your diet is the most accurate way to find out if you have an allergy or sensitivity to them. I think many people aren’t aware that gluten and casein can cause such reactions. They hear how people are getting tested and clearing them from their diets, but when the results are negative, it feeds into the belief that being gluten-free is just a fad.
If you are in pain, remember that gluten causes systemic inflammation which is pressing on sore joints and everything else in your body. You owe it to yourself to be as pain free as possible.
Lisa Ayres lives in South Florida. She suffers from spondylolisthesis, arthritis, and is gluten and casein intolerant.
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to: editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.