The short answer is no. Going Paleo isn’t going to suddenly give you a disease you never had. However, those that have undiagnosed Celiacs or gluten intolerance (so, lots of you) that consume wheat on a (let’s face it) daily basis may not be aware of the symptoms it’s causing until they remove it. They may have learned to live with nausea, fluid retention, hypoglycemia, panic attacks, arthritis or rumbly tummies, or may not even know those ailments are connected to what they’re eating. They may not even notice much of a difference when the gluten is removed. However, it’s hard to ignore what happens when the gluten is reintroduced after a period of time. Suddenly developing Celiacs or gluten intolerance is a common theme on the Paleo forums, because a lot of people may not have known they were sensitive in the first place.
About three years ago, before I had ever heard the word ‘Paleo,’ I went to see a gastroenterologist because of all the digestive issues I was having. I was certain I had Celiac disease, or at the very least, was gluten sensitive. The doctor was certain I didn’t (yet another example of doctors failing me). They didn’t do any blood tests but they did sign me up for a colonoscopy and endoscopy, which in retrospect doesn’t make any sense – unless the doctor was trying to fulfill some surgery quota. By the time I had the surgery, I had been gluten free for several months, which was a huge mistake. They didn’t find anything. Three years later, there’s enough information on the Internet for me to find out that colonoscopys can’t diagnose Celiac disease anyway – only an endoscopy can and then only if there’s damage present. Eliminating gluten from my diet before the surgery allowed my body to heal enough so that the doctor didn’t find anything. He diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which even then I knew to be bullshit. IBS is the catch-all diagnosis when they don’t know what’s wrong with you and can’t be bothered to find out. (I encourage anyone with a diagnosis of “general IBS” to look into it further.)
Enter the Primal diet. It doesn’t allow for wheat, so for two years, I didn’t have any except on rare occasions. My cheats were usually sushi. When I did have wheat, I would have diarrhea for a day or so, then be right back on track. A little bloated, perhaps, but that went away quickly and I really didn’t connect it to what I was eating. I also didn’t connect the occasional bout of fatigue, insomnia, depression or the fact that I bruise like a peach at times either. Who would? I certainly didn’t have symptoms like bittykitty on PaleoHacks:
I had horrible mood swings, intense joint pain, endless hunger, weight gain for no reason, muscles tearing, vomiting. Now that I’ve been off [wheat] for awhile, I will actually vomit/pass blood after consuming gluten, in addition to neurological problems, stomach pains, diarrhea/constipation.
My life has been extra stressful lately. Amongst other things, we’ve lost both of our family pets recently. We have two and a half year old twin boys, who are getting their last molars and on their parent’s last nerve. We’re strapped for cash. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed in my life and my diet has slipped. Ordering a pizza or getting a sub sandwich has become more of a weekly occurrence than a monthly one. And I’ve been feeling more and more tired, more depressed, more overwhelmed, with a litany of gastrointestinal issues I’d rather not discuss. Since I’ve been constantly nauseous, I’ve cut down on the amount I eat so I haven’t gained any weight back, but I instinctively knew something was up.
Earlier this week, I went to the bathroom and was horrified to see clay-colored poop in the bowl. (Ok, ok, people, poop is important. If you’re not looking at your poop, you should be. It’s the number one indicator of your overall health and can be the first sign of serious problems going on inside. Get over yourself. Start looking at your poop.) It was abnormal enough that it caught my attention on a primal level. Something was wrong. Google said pale or clay-colored stools can indicate serious problems with the liver and to seek immediate medical attention (yay!). For four days in a row, my poop was clay-colored. I called my doctor and made an appointment. In the meantime, I went to PaleoHacks.com and asked them to hack my poop. I was terrified my liver was shutting down. The answers I got put me at ease but left me with another problem: other people who had experienced the same thing had been diagnosed with Celiac disease. I had been eating an extraordinary amount of wheat (relative to my “normal” Primal diet) lately. It all made sense.
My new doctor took me seriously and ordered all the proper tests this time. She didn’t even bat an eyelash. When I described my symptoms, her first question to me was, “Why on earth did you start eating wheat again?” Stress was my answer. Stress, and laziness. It’s easy to slip when you’re overwhelmed and surrounded by temptation.
Andrew from Evolvify has the following to say:
My assessment of the current barometer for medical research on the effect of gluten on humans is roughly this: In the general population (those not having celiac disease or wheat allergies), gluten either causes, or is strongly correlated to a range of autoimmune and neurological disorders. Further, gluten intolerance can present with any one, or group, of symptoms or disorders with varying degrees of severity. Lastly, it is generally agreed that celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance are underreported and under-diagnosed, though the numbers remain speculative.
For me, on a practical level, the correlations between autoimmune and neurological problems in the scientific literature, my personal experiences with gluten, anecdotal reports from others, and the logical framework of evolutionary biology/paleo diet is convincing enough for me to abstain from gluten.
‘Nuff said. I don’t care what those tests say – I am now hardcore about being gluten free. Let’s see what happens.
Check out a full list of symptoms of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance/sensitivity at www.celiac.com. I’ll do a post about gluten-free dining out next for those of you that need it – what you don’t know about the restaurant industry can make you really, really sick.