When my son was 6 months old, he suddenly came down with violent eczema: bright red patches on his cheeks, elbows and legs that drove him crazy with itchiness. My smiling cheerful “sunshine boy” was suddenly transformed into a miserable, crying, bloody mess. I brought him to the pediatrician, who prescribed a steroid cortisone cream, and mentioned casually, as we were leaving, that my son would have asthma by the time he was four. That stopped me in my tracks. “Oh no he won’t!” I declared.
While keeping the eczema under control with homeopathy, I began my search to understand what was going on with his body. Unfortunately, it took me years. Fortunately, we were able to keep him relatively healthy. Though my poor son sported a chronically runny nose, he never became asthmatic. I took him to many doctors, holistic and otherwise, as well as homeopaths, naturopaths and other practitioners during the years that followed. None had answers, though they all made suggestions. They touted blood tests that said he was reacting to things he’d never eaten, and supplements that rarely helped at all. I continued to support him with homeopathy, detox, and supplements that kept it from getting serious, but he was never completely, vibrantly well, the way a child should be. As always in my work – how much more so for my son – I was driven to find the underlying cause, and no one had successfully helped me identify it yet.
It was only when I did my training with endocrinologist Diana Schwarzbein, M.D., that the picture finally came in to focus: my son is gluten-sensitive. His chronic runny nose disappeared almost instantly. None of the tests, and none of the practitioners, had suggested that.
Now, looking back, it all seems perfectly clear. His symptoms started when we introduced food. He was gnawing on pizza crusts, bagels, teething cookies: all made with wheat. He had intense “growing pains” which are virtually always an indication of gluten sensitivity. He was short, which he overcame on the basketball court with intensity, honed skills and determination, but short stature is often an indication. (Since giving up gluten he is no longer short.) He would often get so tired after dinner that he would fall asleep at the table. All of these, I know now, are signs of gluten sensitivity, but I couldn’t recognize them because I didn’t know. How I wish I could have saved him all those years of frustration.
I also owe Diana Schwarzbein my own health. I had no symptoms, but she was certain I was gluten sensitive. She told me she had had the same resistance to the idea herself, but felt so much better when she went gluten-free. Finally, because I trusted her, I decided to try it. After all, I was cooking gluten free for my son already, so it was easy to do.
I was astonished. Within a few weeks, I felt like a veil had lifted. I realized that I had been suffering from a mild depression my whole life, and that it was caused by eating gluten. How can you know, when you are limited by your own experience? Also, like my son, I discovered I was not hypoglycemic: my blood sugar swings were the effect of gluten in my system. And over time, many things improved: not only my mood, but my cognitive function, my digestion, my skin tone, and my body composition.
Of course there are other issues that make people sick, or less than optimally well. Not only other food sensitivities, but bacterial, viral and fungal infections, as well as hormonal and metabolic imbalances. But the truth is that gluten sensitivity can exacerbate or even trigger any of these.
Recent research on gluten sensitivity has linked it with IBS, acid reflux, bone fractures (gluten reduces mineral absorption), with bone fractures, and one that links erratic blood sugar levels after meals (something I associate with gluten sensitivity) to sudden heart failure, even in young people. My theories, from my clinical practice, about relationships between gluten sensitivity and H. Pylori, early onset Alzheimer’s, diabetes, anxiety and depression, Interstitial Cystitis, bone loss, Lupus, and more, have all found validation in research over the past few years, along with the issues mentioned above. Much of it has to do with inflammation and insulin resistance, both of which can be caused or exacerbated by gluten consumption.
This was published as my Lifestyle column for Hudson Valley Insider.