this post is dedicated to my friend, ro, whom i've only "met" through email. she is a fellow migraine sufferer in the midst of the overwhelming pain and nothing-is-helping-stage of migraine that is oh so familiar to me. just yesterday i discovered one of graham's favorite preschool teachers is also a sufferer. she sees a neurologist every three months to receive 38 botox injections in order to keep her headaches at bay. and over the course of the summer i had two other people ask me about my gluten-free lifestyle and how they could help their own families cut out gluten. friends, this post is for you.
i, too, have tried injections - of lidocaine, not botox, although i've certainly considered trying botox. i've spent thousands of dollars on chinese medicine which included acupuncture and choking down the most horrid chinese herbs (mixed in warm water. it tasted nothing like herbal tea) twice a day. i've spent thousands on neurological tests. i have even recruited friends who live in arizona to drive across the border into mexico and find black market versions of my prescription medicines in order to save a few dollars - and they were still super expensive!
clearly, we sufferers are willing to do just about anything in attempts to decrease our pain.
the one thing that has helped me more than anything else is eliminating gluten from my diet.
god bless lisa turk, a chef and consumer awareness manager at whole foods, for suggesting the idea after i had casually mentioned spending yet another weekend in bed with a migraine. what the heck is an elimination diet?! you mean what i eat might be causing my pain?! you're kidding! she told me to cut out gluten and dairy for at least 90 days, then try adding each back, one at a time, to see how my body reacts. i went home and googled something like "gluten + migraine" and stumbled across a scientific study from 2003 that boasted 100% results from the subjects who eliminated gluten from their diet. now the study (which i cannot for the life of me find today) clarified that not all the subjects were 100% migraine free BUT each person found that their migraines were either less frequent or less intense or gone altogether.
100%! i can't argue with that! so, i began the process of cutting out the gluten. here are my very unscientific, unfounded thoughts (aka opinions) on the subject:
* i believe some people, like myself, just have bodies that are prone to pain and highly sensitive systems that do not like certain substances. for me that would be gluten, dairy, soy and sugar.
* i do not believe gluten actually causes a migraine.
* i do believe gluten causes INFLAMMATION within the body.
* i believe it's the constantly inflamed state that our systems cannot handle and, therefore, eventually results in extreme pain (migraines for me).
* i believe any person who experiences chronic joint pain, neck and shoulder aches, headaches/migraines, fibromyalgia, would benefit from trying an elimination diet.
so, how do you do it? again, here are my thoughts on the subject:
* is going gluten-free easy? hell no! but neither is drinking chinese herbs or being injected with botox or paying $50 for one bloody pill!
* going gluten-free is much easiER these days, though, as there are now so many products available to help you transition your diet.
* your diet should mainly consist of NATURALLY gluten-free foods. these are whole foods like vegetables, fruits, meats (unprocessed, non-packaged...from the butcher counter, not the deli), eggs, nuts and seeds. as the great michael pollen says, "eat REAL food. mostly plants. not too much." if you do this, your diet will be gluten-free without even trying!
* going gluten-free gets trickier when you try to include all super crave-able foods. the breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, grains...all those yummy processed treats and starchy foods and baked goods that are just SO GOOD! let's face it, sometimes we just need some carbs!
* carb-a-licious foods that will become your new best friends: POTATOES!!! and rice and oats and quinoa. oats are naturally gluten-free but are processed in facilities where other gluten-filled grains are processed so you do have to be careful. my body does not mind eating plain old quacker oats but they do make and sell gluten-free oats that have been processed safely if your body does mind.
* read labels! if the package does not specifically say "gluten-free" then the product is not guaranteed to be gluten-free. you must check the ingredients list to see if "wheat or barley or rye" is listed. this can be tricky because wheat and barley and rye can be processed down into things like "hydrolyzed wheat protein" or "barley malt syrup". basically, i try very hard not to buy products that contain more than five ingredients and/or that contain ingredients i am not able to pronounce. what the hell is Disodium Guanylate anyway?!
* you will have a few hiccups along the way. not long after i cut gluten from my diet a snowstorm hit and i decided it would be nice to make a big pot of chili. i made it the way i always had, using a chili seasoning packet that unbeknownst to me contained wheat. i ate two bowls of that delicious soup for dinner and woke up the next morning with one of my worst headaches ever. when you do stumble, take those moments as a sign of reassurance - i ate wheat, i got an almost instantaneous migraine, so i must be doing the right thing, i need to continue being diligent so i don't end up in pain again.
* once you eliminate gluten your tolerance for gluten will DEcrease and you will become INcreasingly sensitive to it. for a long while on my gluten-free journey i just could not give up chick-fil-a nuggets! why do they have to make those things so dang good?! and, back then, i didn't notice all that much pain when i did eat them. two months ago, however, after being very diligently gluten-free for years, i accidentally (see "hiccups" above) ordered a chick-fil-a salad that contained breaded nuggets instead of the unbreaded chicken strips. recognizing my mistake, but not wanting to take it back to the counter and cause a scene, i ate the damn salad and within 15 minutes i felt pain in my neck. my body's reaction was immediate. again, it was a reminder that all my diligence really is worthwhile.
* find some safe sweet treats. when eliminating any food it's so very helpful to find alternatives that make you feel like you aren't giving up everything! really dark chocolate is a MUST HAVE for me. it's lower in sugar and dairy than milk chocolate and satisfies my cravings for sweets. it is very easy these days to find gluten-free brownie, cookie and cake mixes in the regular baking aisle at the grocery store.
* some of my favorite gluten-free alternatives:
Udi's Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread - i make sandwiches, toast, use it as a hamburger bun, process it into breadcrumbs...
Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix - i use this to make pancakes, waffles, cookies, muffins, breads, to thicken sauces and gravies, and even to make dumplings. it does contain dairy so i try to use it sparingly.
Brown Rice Tortillas - i'm not particular about any certain brand as i've found they are all quite comparable. i use these as pizza crusts!
Glutino Table Crackers - these contain soy so i use them sparingly but sometimes you just need a cracker. the Glutino brand pretzels are yummy too.
Cocoa-Snapz Cereal - enough said! :-) all the gluten free cereals i've tried have been good, including all the Chex brand flavors.
these are my tried and true gluten-free staples.
**here are a few websites i often turn to when i need gluten-free recipes:
gluten free girl
gluten free goddess
against all grain
if you'd like more information on how eliminating gluten can reduce pain i'd encourage you to research it for yourself. a quick google search just now lead me to this book which appears to describe the connection between diet and inflammation and migraine. i have not read it but just might have to buy it! i also found this blog post interesting. it states, "The most common food triggers I see clinically for many is not the typical chocolate, alcohol, aged cheeses, or MSG, but instead being dairy, gluten...". i have certainly found this to be true in my life.
i hope you've found at least one tidbit of helpful insight from this post! good luck jumping onto the g-free train! it might be a bumpy ride at first, but it's a journey worth taking.