Rethinking Gluten’s Effect on My IBS Symptoms

Rethinking Gluten’s Effect on My IBS Symptoms
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A gluten-free diet did me a lot of good, but I’ve since reclaimed my love for gluten.

Thanks to the pandemic, I haven’t been entering grocery stores, so I’ve instead used Instacart to select and deliver my groceries. At breakfast one morning, I praised the gluten-free bagels I’d been eating all week and checked to see what brand they were. Imagine my amazement when a careful reading of the label revealed I’d been eating wheat bagels all week — and hadn’t had a negative reaction. It appeared I was no longer gluten sensitive!

Why I became gluten free

Six years ago, I finally visited my gastroenterologist after many months of worsening symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). She advised me to keep a diary of all the foods I eat and to note their effect on my digestive system.

After faithfully keeping such a list for several months, all I learned was that nearly everything I ate affected me negatively. In addition to being chained to the bathroom, the abdominal cramping became so severe that I spent most mornings crying in a fetal position. I was desperate for help.

Back to the doctor I went. Because of side effects I experience with IBS medications, my doctor’s only other recommendation was to try eliminating wheat and gluten from my diet. She reported that several of her patients had noted significant improvement in their IBS symptoms from doing so. Although I had tested negative for celiac disease, I may be “gluten sensitive.”

It sounded radical, but I was desperate. I had more days in which I couldn’t leave the house than days when I could! I stopped eating wheat and gluten immediately.    

For the next six years, I persevered. I read every label on every food product I purchased. And what an education I got! Did you know that there is wheat or gluten in almost every product in the grocery store? It’s in soy sauce, mayonnaise, canned baked beans, ice cream, gravies, and flavored teas. The list goes on and on.

Even worse, it’s often disguised under a name you wouldn’t recognize as being wheat or gluten. Ever seen modified food starch, maltodextrin, or flavoring listed as ingredients? They may contain gluten or wheat, too!

For the next six years, I was the world’s worst dinner guest. My hostesses’ attempts to prepare meals that I could eat were valiant, but often unsuccessful. I eventually insisted on bringing my own food to any social occasion. Many restaurants became off-limits because there was absolutely nothing on their menus I could eat. Psychologically, I felt deprived. My budget was also adversely affected. Gluten-free foods are quite pricey.

However, there were plenty of positive aspects as well. My IBS symptoms gradually improved. Unexpectedly, my pain level was greatly reduced. The pain relief occurred within the first several weeks of my restricted diet and continues to this day. The acid reflux, which had been my constant companion, completely disappeared. As an added bonus, the extra 20 pounds I had gradually accumulated over the preceding decades magically melted away.

I’m now expanding my food options

After eating those wheat bagels, I further tested the theory by adding a little more wheat to my diet each week, and now I’ve even stopped reading labels. I cannot tell you how delicious my first slice of real pizza was after six years of only dreaming about it!  

I’ve concluded that removing wheat and gluten from my diet allowed my gut to heal. My IBS symptoms are practically gone most days, and my total body pain has remained at a tolerable level. Certain foods trigger my acid reflux, but those foods are easy enough to delete from my diet if bothersome.

There’s no doubt this dietary restriction was a drastic measure to take. However, if your symptoms are severe and your treatment options are limited, it’s definitely something to consider (with your doctor’s approval, of course). For me, it was totally worth it. 

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Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.

Diagnosed in 1990, Christine has experienced fibromyalgia (FM) symptoms since childhood. After a career in aerospace finance she was trained as an FM support group leader by the Arthritis Foundation and participated in groups on both the east and west coasts. Designated a Leader Against Pain by the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) she advocated for increased funding and awareness for FM. She is the author of “More Than Tender Points: A Fibromyalgia Memoir,” available on Amazon. An Upstate New York transplant now living in Southern California, she credits the sunshine for improving her symptoms.
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Diagnosed in 1990, Christine has experienced fibromyalgia (FM) symptoms since childhood. After a career in aerospace finance she was trained as an FM support group leader by the Arthritis Foundation and participated in groups on both the east and west coasts. Designated a Leader Against Pain by the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) she advocated for increased funding and awareness for FM. She is the author of “More Than Tender Points: A Fibromyalgia Memoir,” available on Amazon. An Upstate New York transplant now living in Southern California, she credits the sunshine for improving her symptoms.
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