Gluten is a term for proteins found in foods that come from wheat, rye or barley mostly and sometimes triticale or oats (unless they say gluten-free) as they can be grown next to a wheat field and have cross-contamination. Gluten can be found in any food made out of these grains such as bread, pasta, bagels, cereal, pizza. These are obvious sources but gluten can also be found in imitation meat like the crab meat in sushi or in some soups, ketchup, soy sauce or even beer.
As a medical condition, a patient can have three forms of gluten intolerance. The most severe would be celiac disease which is diagnosed with a blood test and usually an endoscopic biospy of the small intestines. The Celiac Disease Foundation has a checklist of how celiac disease affects patients. If you are considering this diagnosis, please see your primary care doctor and get appropriate testing. The other forms of gluten intolerance can be a gluten allergy without celiac disease and simply gluten intolerance without a gluten allergy or celiac disease. I would say I have the latter.
I always tell my patients about any condition, “You know your body the best. You live in it.” I only see patients for a small portion of their day and lives. So the main person that can figure out whether gluten is affecting your life is YOU. When I eat gluten, I feel bloated always. Sometimes it makes me nauseous and generally I just don’t feel good. When I’m gluten-free, I feel so much better. I can think more clearly. I have more energy. Every time I eat gluten because it might taste good like someone brings me donuts at work, I regret the decision within the next few hours as I can feel myself getting more tired. I am also better when I eat lower carbs as well. You have to decide whether something tasting good for a few minutes is worth you feeling bloated or not good for the next few hours upto a full day. To realize the benefits of being gluten-free, you really need to try it for 2-3 weeks consistently.
A very personal part of my story that I am willing to share if it will benefit even one person is how gluten affects fertility and pregnancy. I lost my twin angels in 2009 at 20 weeks of pregnancy I believe due to gluten. I was a Cornea fellow in training at the time, working long hours, running around the hospital and eating poorly and sometimes not at all. I had horrible diarrhea during the whole pregnancy and painful cramps for weeks. When I was actually in labor and found to be dilated and admitted to the hospital, I didn’t know what was happening. I only hoped God had a plan for me to save my babies. But they were born too early and the hospital would not provide them support at that premature age as they were considered not-viable. We have honored them with an endowed scholarship at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, called the Twin Angels Abhishek Pradhan Scholarship.
When I got pregnant again and started having cramps and diarrhea in 2010, I started reading all I could and found that gluten intolerance has been studied to be linked to preterm labor, miscarriage and infertility. With medical help and bedrest and being gluten-free, I was able to carry my baby to term this time. Eventually I returned to eating gluten regularly. When we tried to have another baby, I couldn’t get pregnant and needed help of fertility medications. But as soon as I knew I was pregnant, I became gluten-free again and with medications and bedrest, I was able to carry that baby to full term as well. I returned to eating gluten again as it is easier. But this time, I could feel my health deteriorating. I realize the main culprit was my food.
If our food is not right, so many medical conditions can develop like high blood pressure, diabetes. But food can also be a cause of headaches/migraines. If you know me, you also know I’m caffeine-free and aspartame-free as I realized these cause my headaches and without them, I’m headache-free. I realized this while still in medical school in 2002 and after an MRI and a crazy search for the source, I realized it was food. I don’t even chew sugar-free gum as it has aspartame. And…I’m lactose-free too. I realized that in college and became lactose-free and now, I’m almost fully dairy-free too. Regular dairy makes me constipated and bloated. It may seem like a restricted diet but that is what my body is telling me to do. I hope you listen to what your body (and your doctor) are telling you to do.
I hope you learned something from my story and will pay attention to the signals your body is sending you to live a better, stronger, healthier and longer life.
Check out our page on suggested Gluten-Free Products and other resources.