New Mama Musings

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Summerfest, Part Deux

My husband, Henry and I just got back from Summerfest, where we pretty much did everything but listen to music -- a total turnaround from our lives PH (Pre-Henry) when we'd go several times, but only to see specific bands. We did try to take Henry to see a friend's band, but even with his sound-dampening headphones on he seemed kind of freaked out by how loud it was.

So we got some lunch, played in the children's area, petted a lizard,

explored the newly opened Lakeshore State Park

-- which included walking down a ramp to a floating deck --

played in the splash pad,

and overall had a wonderful, family-friendly day.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"...and Let Medicine Be Thy Food" -- Hippocrates

So, where was I?

In part one of this post I discussed my growing interest in celiac disease. I should probably stop and explain just what celiac disease is, or at least how it's medically defined.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which one's immune system views gluten -- a protein found in wheat, barley and rye -- as an invader. The body responds by creating an inflammation in the small intestine, which damages the villi (fingerlike projections lining the small intestine) and prevents absorption of nutrients from other foods. The medical gold standard for diagnosis is blood testing to identify antibodies against gliadin (a simple protein derived from gluten) and then, if the tests are positive, a biopsy of the small intestine to check for flattened villi.

There are many problems associated with this "gold standard," however -- false negatives are very common in both the blood tests and the biopsies. In biopsies part of the problem is that the small intestine is roughly 21 feet long (yes, you read that correctly), and if damage has occurred in only certain spots it's quite possible the biopsy will miss the damaged area and be taken from a "healthy" section instead.

So I started thinking that testing wasn't all it was cracked up to be -- you could have blood drawn and even have a tube stuck down your throat and your intestine scraped, and still have unreliable and inaccurate test results. And since Henry wasn't exhibiting any of the "classic" symptoms associated with the disease (malnutrition, distended abdomen, diarrhea) I wasn't sure his villi were actually damaged anyway. Also, false negatives are even more common in young children.

The more I read the more I started to think that mainstream medicine views this issue with too narrow of a focus. Again and again I read reports of people suffering terrible health problems who tested negative for celiac disease. Often their doctors told them they couldn't possibly have a problem with gluten, and sometimes they were even told that it was all in their head. These same people, after going gluten-free on their own initiative, noticed incredible improvement in their health.

It occurred to me that if doctors are waiting until they can see completely damaged villi before diagnosing someone as having celiac do they think that damage occurred? Did it just magically appear? Or more likely, did it start out as an intolerance to gluten that created problems little by little for years until the patient was desperately ill?

I now think gluten intolerance is the real issue and celiac disease merely one possible symptom of it. It seems like gluten, in someone who is intolerant to it, harms health in many different ways.

If you have celiac disease, you are gluten intolerant. If you are gluten intolerant, you may or may not have celiac disease. You also may or may not have:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Addison's disease
  • Gastrointestinal problems, like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or reflux
  • Headaches
  • Infertility/Amenorrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Bone/joint/muscle pain
  • Poor formation of dental enamel
  • Anemia
  • Eczema
  • Seizures
  • Sinus problems
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities
  • Hair loss
If you visit your doctor with any of these complaints -- hell, all of these complaints -- he or she is unlikely to suggest that you may be intolerant to gluten. Possibly, if you have severe diarrhea and exhibit signs of malnutrition, he/she might test you for celiac disease, but if your blood tests or biopsy come back negative, you will probably be told you don't have a problem with gluten.

I believe this is a situation where we need to listen to our bodies and do our own research. (Okay, that's every situation.) And since Henry is counting on me to do what's right for him, I scoured message boards and PubMed and finally found EnteroLab. EnteroLab tests stool samples for food sensitivities and specializes in gluten intolerance. Their tests are supposed to be much more sensitive and accurate than the blood tests traditionally used, since the immune response takes place in the intestine and not in the blood. You don't need a doctor's order to have any testing done by them. And although most mainstream physicians do not accept EnteroLab's test results, Dr. Fine, who perfected this mode of testing, has an impressive resume, which includes Staff Gastroenterologist at Baylor University Medical Center.

So I placed an order for the "Gluten Sensitivity Stool and Gene Panel Complete" which includes a gluten sensitivity stool test, tissue transglutaminase stool test (test for the autoimmune reaction caused by gluten sensitivity), intestinal malabsorption test, gluten sensitivity gene test and a free milk sensitivity stool test.

The testing package came, I swabbed the inside of Henry's cheeks (for the gene test), collected and froze his poop and dropped the whole thing off at UPS. And then I waited.

On May 23rd Henry's test results were e-mailed to me, and they indicated a very high immune response to gluten. Luckily, he did not seem to have any issues with malabsorption; my guess is that if he'd continued ingesting gluten it would only be a matter of time before he did. He also tested positive for a sensitivity to casein (the protein in milk), something we already knew from the testing done by the naturopath.

I had taken both of us off gluten (and dairy) about four weeks prior to receiving the test results -- even before sending in the test -- and I had already noticed a few changes.

The bumps on Henry's cheeks seemed to be disappearing, though the ones on his upper arms weren't changing much. (Photo is from August of last year.)

For my part, I noticed that my light-headedness was gone almost immediately. I thought I was feeling more energetic, and possibly less achy too.

It's now been nine weeks since we started eating gluten-free. The bumps on Henry's arms are finally starting to go away and his cheeks are completely smooth. I often stroke his cheeks while he's nursing and I have to admit, I feel vindicated: I knew those bumps were an indication that something was wrong. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

His stool is looking better, too, though I didn't realize it was abnormal before. Light-colored and slightly loose poops, as Henry had previously, are one sign of gluten intolerance. His dirty diapers now look much more normal. (Aren't you glad you know?)

He does still get some red patches on his skin, along with random bumps. I suspect we might be dealing with other food intolerances, or yeast issues, and I'm continuing to investigate.

And me? I'm feeling...not so great. I'm beginning to believe that the reason I felt so good in the beginning was that I was eating very little grains, simple carbs or sugar. But then I discovered a great big world of gluten- and dairy-free processed treats: cake, brownies, cookies and biscotti. (Just because it's gluten-free does not mean it's healthy.)

I think I'm currently dealing with candida overgrowth -- something common in those with gluten intolerance, by the way -- and I'm on day one of a anti-candida, healing regimen.

Ironically, it's a low-carb eating plan. Back in the day, when I was a vegan eating granola for breakfast, pasta for lunch, muffins for snacks and dinner rolls with, well, dinner, I mocked people on low-carb diets.

See how things have come full circle?

Seriously, though, in one year I went from eating lots of processed soy, low fat, lots of carbs/grains, and no meat or dairy. A year later, I'm eating no soy, lots of "good" fats (coconut oil and eggs), very little carbs and no grains, and lots of (organic, grass-fed) meat.

I also learned that I may have a problem with gluten; Henry's gene test showed two genes for gluten intolerance, and I gave him one of them. And from my research it seems like a heck of a lot of people have an auto-immune response to gluten.

And it's all because of Henry. His health is the primary reason I've been reading and researching and trying really hard to do what's right. Isn't that the amazing thing about having children?

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Passing

I promise I'm working on part two of my post about diet and health, but I wanted to write about something that's on my mind today.

My Uncle Richard -- my mom's brother -- passed away last night. It was expected; he'd had lung cancer and it was obvious to everyone that the end was near. My mom called this morning to tell me and said that the visitation and funeral would likely be next Monday or Tuesday.

I was sad, of course, but mainly in the way that it's sobering when anyone you know dies. I wasn't particularly close to him, even though he was my godfather and possibly the relative I saw the most growing up. Our family just isn't connected like that.

An hour or so later my sister called. She'd spent some time with my parents this morning and heard more details about my uncle's passing. Apparently my aunt was helping my uncle back from the bathroom in the middle of the night when he suddenly slumped over the bed. Blood began pouring out of his mouth, and then he was gone.

The last words he spoke were to call out for his mother.

I don't know if in some place between life and death Uncle Richard actually saw my grandmother, who died thirty-six years ago. Maybe it's just that it's a primal instinct to call for your mother, at your most vulnerable moment, no matter how old you are.

Then I thought of Henry. He will, most likely and hopefully, live long after I am gone. But I thought of him calling for his mother in his darkest, most difficult moment. I am that person to him.

The tears came, then.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Doesn't Miss A Thing

When nursing Henry I often stroke his hair and say "my sweet baby" or "my sweet guy."

The other night while I was nursing Henry to sleep we had this exchange:

Me: Are you my sweet baby?
~ silence ~
Me: Yes, you are. You're my sweet baby.
Henry: Guy. Too.