When I gave up gluten several years ago, I had no idea of its impact on the immune system. I never heard of the microbiome and I thought people who ate gluten-free were weird. I did it as a challenge and because I was desperate to feel better. Little did I know, removing gluten from my diet would change my life and alter the way I let MS affect me.
Before I went gluten-free I was miserable. I felt like I was trapped in a body that no longer served me. I walked around in what felt like perpetual jet lag. I couldn’t think clearly. I’d forget things. I had insomnia. I was in pain. I could not tolerate heat at all. Any kind of increase in body temperature and I couldn’t feel my feet, or my face would tingle and go numb. I suffered from almost daily migraines. I was on anti-seizure medication and steroids to control them. My blood sugar was increasing. I was too exhausted to exercise. My weight was going up. I had terrible digestive issues. I was a mess. One night I looked in the mirror and did not recognize the girl staring back. Who was this defeated looking woman and whose body was that? I never felt so low in my life. Something had to change but I didn’t know where to start.
I made an appointment with an endocrinologist because I hadn’t yet wrapped my brain around the fact that the endless supply of chemicals (medications) and processed food I consumed was making me feel worse. I was in my 40s so thought it must be hormones! I learned two things. One, I had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and two, I had glucose intolerance. The doctor told me to give up sugar. I was insulted. I told the doctor that I didn’t eat any added sugar, that I walked an hour daily for years and was up to ½- ¾ plate of veggies at every meal. He was not impressed. I knew that all carbs turned into sugar but did not apply it to my eating habits.
A challenge was presented. Give up gluten and carbs that spiked blood sugar and see if it made a difference in my symptoms. To be honest, I was underwhelmed by the suggestion but I was tired of missing out on everything because I didn’t feel well. My life seemed like it was spiraling in the wrong direction. So, I committed to going completely gluten-free and measuring my carb servings until my next appointment.
The next two weeks were a nightmare of withdrawal symptoms. It felt like I had the flu but with wicked migraines. One day I realized something was different. I didn’t have a migraine! I also had an amazing amount of energy. I was sleeping better. I could think again. My hot flashes were gone. After a little while, I noticed that I was able to tolerate the heat better. I was able to join in outdoor events and stay longer and longer. That was a big deal considering for years I didn’t even try to be outside because it made my MS symptoms worse. Somehow, giving up gluten changed my heat sensitivity. I spent 12+ years missing summer fun; no beach vacations, no pool, missing BBQ’s and concerts, missing my friends. This was like a miracle. With the migraines mostly gone I was even able to make plans in advance. Life was changing for the better! The bonus was that the last 20 pounds I needed to lose was gone!
It turned out I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I subsequently learned that gliadin (a wheat protein) has an effect in the gut of those with MS,1 and that a gluten-free diet is recommended to those MS patients who present with gluten antibodies.2 It was like a veil had lifted. My total outlook on diet changed. I knew then that I could influence the course of my symptoms through what I chose to put into my body. I could give my cells the nutrients needed to function properly. I could strengthen my immune system. After years of feeling that MS had taken over my life, the concept was exciting and empowering. Once you remember what it’s like to feel like yourself again, you fight hard for it. Gluten was out!
I began to research how gluten affected MS and the immune system. I knew I needed to understand how it all worked to stay vigilant with my diet. I’ll share what I learned in the next post, The Gluten-Autoimmune Disease Connection.