My fortnight with gluten.... the results....

Catherine Rose ate her way through all those gluten filled foods (see here for more) that she had shunned for the last ten years so that she could find out whether or not she really was coeliac. So was she?


BBQSo, do I have Coeliac Disease?

As I said in my ‘fortnight with gluten’, I had sought help in my late teens for panic attacks, depression, and anxiety. A neuropsychophysiologist suggested that I did not have ‘optimum brain function’ possibly as a result of a childhood head injury, or possibly as a result of malabsorption: I was not getting the correct vitamins and minerals from my food. A gluten free diet was advised.

And it worked. I was brighter and lighter, and my anxiety disappeared, although it did later come back in fits and starts along with its trusty friend depression. So I never questioned the diagnosis or the gluten free regime. Far from questioning it, I set up a cake company creating great free-from food – something that back in the early 2000’s was hard to come by.

As the years went on I did suffer bouts of anxiety and depression but by then I had educated myself further in the link between brain and gut. I put it down to hereditary depression, diet and circumstance.  Knowing that if I were to get tested for coeliac disease I would have to go back to eating gluten – not something I was up for doing – I just stuck with being gluten free.

Not just gluten any more

However, two years ago I started getting intense pains whenever I ate ANYTHING. At one point I even went to A&E after fainting from the pain. It was worse after coffee and spicy foods and was felt throughout my digestive system. I thought that pain was normal and, if I’m honest,  put it down to gluttony. But finally even I realised that this level of pain could not be normal so I went to my GP.

He diagnosed serious heartburn and referred me to a gastroenterologist. I was booked in for a gastroscopy and colonoscopy but advised that, if I ate gluten for two weeks, I could also have a biopsy which would show whether or not I actually am coeliac. Hence my two week coeliac fest! 

I was also sent for some ultrasounds and blood tests which showed an underactive thyroid and a whopping great cyst on my left ovary. A referral to a  gynaecologist followed and it  was recommended that I get the cyst removed as it was pressing on (surprise surprise!) my lower bowel.

BBQThe two weeks on gluten were amazing – see here for my diary of what I ate. I can’t lie. I made sure I ate everything I had been craving for over a decade and most of them lived up to expectations (croissants). Some did not (brioche).

Overall, I felt great. I had no bloating, no panic attacks and no stomach pain; I actually felt better ON gluten and the slight heaviness I felt was just the result of stuffing myself with carbs!

I had my endoscopies after 14 days of eating gluten again and, few days afterwards, I had keyhole surgery to remove the cyst. Not only did they remove the cyst, but they also found that my colon had somehow adhered itself to my abdominal wall so was not 'sitting' as it should. Both of these things would have been causing me massive lower bowel discomfort. However, I had to wait  further two weeks for the answer to 'THE COELIAC QUESTION'.

So, in due course, I visited the gastroenterologist for the results of my endoscopy biopsies. No H-Pylori. No stomach ulcer. No Coeliac Disease!
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that please?”
“We found no damage to your villi and nothing else that would suggest that you have coeliac disease.”

OK, so.... now what?

To be honest, I feel a bit bereft. I had based my whole career in food on being gluten free and now I’m not –  it feels like part of my identity has gone. On the other hand, I would not have got to where I am today, knowing the people that I know today if it weren’t for being gluten free. Some of my closest friends are from the free-from industry and I can’t be annoyed about that!

My gluten free diet also taught me to start thinking about food as a medicine. I had never really conneted what I was eating with how I felt but over the last 10 years I have really thought about the link between the two and how I could,  as Wholefoods say – ‘feed the person I want to be’.

Whatever my issues were ten years ago (dreadful diet at university – all those £1 pizzas? Recreational herbology lessons?) I now want just to deal with the present and right now I know that since my procedures I have not had bad stomach pain. I am eating good, wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. So the next step is to see how I go with an omnivore diet and to listen to my body. To which end I will keep a food diary to better understand my body’s response and highlight any areas that need addressing. For now, I am just hoping that my stomach-pain journey settles for a while.

If anyone else is going through any health issues I would certainly suggest looking at your diet (I truly do believe that you can eat yourself better) but, if you suspect coeliac disease, do go to your GP and get tested before you cut out the gluten.

September 2017