As you may already know I’m a Coeliac. If you’re yet not up to speed with my health status, that is my mother ship of all things happening with regards to health (and there are others in this interesting cocktail of ‘my health journey’ but that’s for another time). If you’re a newbie to the coeliac space, being a coeliac means that I have an autoimmune disease and can never, never, never eat gluten again. There are also a handful of jobs that I’ll never be able to do including:
- Work at the flour mill
- Manufacture play dough
I was recently chatting with my fabulous holistic health doctor, Dr S, and I was telling him the tale of the day I was told by my GP that I was a coeliac. The conversation went something like this “you’re genetically positive for coeliac disease and your biopsy has come back with enough damage to show you are a coeliac. But don’t be too worried about it – if you’re out at a party and having a good time the odd piece of cake won’t hurt”.
When I told him this Dr S nearly fell off his feet (as I have many times after spending so many years studying coeliac disease and autoimmune conditions). WT!!!. How many people are being sent down the wrong path and potentially endangering their lives? Sounds dramatic, I know. But I promise, my foot is not on the exaggerator. If you have coeliac disease (or ANY other autoimmune disease) you MUST avoid gluten at all costs.
So here are my top tips that your doctor probably didn’t mention but that, in the long term, could save your life if you have CD.
A tiny bit of gluten matters.
Yes it does – even if you don’t have symptoms. Even if your tummy is only sore for a little while. It matters even if you only get a wee bit of brain fog or dry skin or achy joints or rattiness.
What we’ve come to do is judge the seriousness of the reaction and correlate that with the damage BUT in coeliac disease there can be a huge disconnect between reaction and damage and here’s why:
When your body has an auto immune reaction to gluten (a protein), your immune system sends out soldiers who aggressively attack the lining of your small intestine. The little villi that become damaged (whose job it is to passage nutrients from food to your bloodstream) can’t work properly. They are flattened or blunted and effectively the doors are shut.
No villi showing up to work = no nutrients.
But the real problem is that the immune reaction doesn’t stop after lunch and before dinner – it can go on for many months. Some specialists say that the damage from a SINGLE GLUTEN EXPOSURE can impact negatively on your digestive capacity for 6 months. As much as a quarter of a thumbnail of gluten is enough to start this War On Villi. Even if you don’t have symptoms, this damage will still be occurring.
So a tiny bit of gluten matters. A little bit is not OK.
Dr Rodney Ford (a NZ paediatric gastroenterologist) firmly recommends a ZERO GLUTEN diet, not a gluten free diet. This matters when you are buying food and trusting what the label tells you as well as when handling food at home.
Eat whole food.
When I went gf, I simply did a swap out. I swapped gluten bread for gluten free bread. I ditched crackers for crackers, cake for cake and chips for chips (my Achilles right there – I love you chips!).
If you’ve ever been to the gluten free expo you’ll see thousands of people desperately scouring aisle after aisle to find something, anything to satisfy those tastebuds that have become addicted to sugary, salty, fatty crap.
Oh yeah, and whole food doesn’t mean you should eat a whole packet of gluten free crackers and I don’t mean a whole donut. Those of us living in autoimmune land are special and we need to behave accordingly. There is a thing called ‘co morbidity’ and this very simply means that the chances of developing another auto immune disease if you already have one are greatly increased (sorry ladies, but we’re much more likely to get an auto immune disease (AID) than the fellas).
When autoimmune disease begins to develop you may not have symptoms. The damage is incremental and the degeneration happens over time. Many diseases cannot be diagnosed until COMPLETE damage is achieved (which blows my freaking mind). Dr Tom O’Bryan talks in a number of interviews about predictive antibody testing which is a way of testing bloods that has the ability to tell you right now if you have the antibodies in your system and you don’t have to wait 30 years until the damage is so extreme that it’s too damned late to do anything.
We need to take special care of:
The importance of nurturing your health is great (*understatement). Lots of this can be influenced by our food choices and as the proof in the pudding I can tell you that the difference in my wellbeing now compared to when I just went gf is significant. You can choose to invest wisely in your food now, or in your doctor later. Either way the money will be spent.
Gather a team of professionals and find a practitioner who UNDERSTANDS gluten.
Many doctors (and I’m being kind here) have absolutely no idea about the health implications of gluten. Many GPs are whizzing you in and out in your allocated 15 minutes and I’m sorry to say have barely enough time to either listen or explain. Not only that, they are desperately lacking in fundamental nutrition knowledge (OK some are all over it – I’m using big sweeping brush strokes here). It has become up to us to be health detectives (which is dangerous if Google is your GP of choice but awesome if you find a bunch of great people). We must be willing and prepared to question, push and probe.
By having a little health care possie you can get the best of several streams of valuable information. I recommend a mix of something like:
- Chiropractor or osteopath
- Coach who understands mindset, movement and nutrition
- Integrative GP or doctor of functional medicine
- Mentor (either online by following a blog or podcast or in person. This is a great way to develop your understanding and knowledge base so you can pay it forward to those around you)
By combining the expertise of these slightly different modalities you are more likely to achieve optimal health outcomes. Boom!
It’s a whopper and many of my clients really struggle to understand how they can possibly change anything in their life – there’s just not the time.
There is, my dear. I promise.
When you are clear about your priorities and your health is near the top of that list, you will make it so.
I am not going to sit here and say “take a deep breath and just let your problems melt away”. I would want to slap me if I told you that. Why? Because I have a job, run a business (there were two at one point), have a kid, run the house and understand that it’s not always that easy. BUT I promise you there are small changes that you can make daily that go a long way to calming your central nervous system (controller of how your body reacts to stress). And you don’t need to make all of these changes today – they will take time to become your new habits. Here are some of my faves:
- Morning gratitude and meditation (if the meditation doesn’t happen, the gratitude always does. It can be done in bed before you rise to feed the hungry mouths or in the shower during that solo moment). Gratitude is a remarkably simple, soul-nourishing practice.
- Walk don’t run. Find out what the right type of movement is for your stress levels. Aerobic, heart-rate pumping, cardio is definitely not always the right choice if you’re in any way tired, stressed, inflamed or have immune suppression. Take the ego out of the conversation and see what is right for you today.
- Deep breaths. Damn, I ended up telling you to take a deep breath. This is a solid strategy and if you’ve just taken a lovely deep breath while reading this you may notice that it’s been a while since you last filled your lungs. Keep it up! This little technique can take you from the ‘fright and flight’ status to ‘rest and digest’ in just a few short moments.
- Go to bed. My fave. Don’t even bother turning on the tele – just get your pjs on (or not, your choice), grab a good book, choose your snuggle buddy (if that’s an option) and settle in for some good restorative sleep. I’ll write more about sleep another time because it is one area that my clients change and see awesome results from. Gold.
Of course there are other things you can do to put yourself in the very best health position so that your autoimmune disease does not morph into something more undesirable. Every day you make millions of choices and I encourage you to make them good ones.
In good health