Tag Archives: celiac disease

Gluten-Related Disorders: Are You Aware?

Are you aware of celiac disease? Silly question, I know. But, of course, some people aren’t. Just yesterday, I “came out” as gluten-free to the high school student I’ve been tutoring since last fall, and she asked, “What’s gluten?”

High school students aren’t the only ones unaware of celiac disease—there are doctors who might have the same question, even if they’re less willing to ask it. For this reason, we have Celiac Awareness Month, beginning tomorrow.

Just to be contrary, though, I’m working on raising awareness of something else: gluten-related disorders. At Columbia’s symposium on Development of Therapies for Celiac Disease, “celiac disease” took pride of place in the conference’s name, even though many presentations focused instead on gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and the possible involvement of gluten in some cases of schizophrenia, autism, and other neurological conditions. Quite a spectrum.

Why wasn’t the conference named “Development of Therapies for Gluten-Related Disorders”? There could be several reasons: 1) It was being put on by Columbia’s Celiac Disease Center, which also hasn’t made the leap to putting GRD in the title; 2) “Celiac disease” still has more cachet as a “real disease” with some doctors and researchers; and 3) The term “gluten-related disorders” is still too new for people to have heard it.

“New” is a relative term. Scientists have been recommending this umbrella term since 2012, yet many still haven’t caught on. As a gluten nerd, I receive Google Alerts on “celiac disease” and “gluten sensitivity.” Nearly every day, some newspaper, magazine, or website comes out with an article that uses outdated terms.

I’m a fan of “gluten-related disorders.” To learn why, check out my latest post on My Life with Food Allergies. 

And if you think the world needs awareness of all gluten-related disorders, please share.

 

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Insomnia: A Sob Story (with Gluten?)

Yawwwwwwn. If I’ve seen you lately, I’ve probably graced you with one of those. It’s not that I’m bored or being rude. It’s just that sleep . . . hasn’t been happening lately.

I’ve written before about such light, possibly celiac-related topics as bloating and hair loss. After several low-sleep months, I felt it was time to address this new one. I’ve tried writing this post many times already but kept falling asleep in the middle of a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding. Honestly, if I could fall asleep so readily, I’d welcome it (and then complain about it). But, I can’t. So, with all of us alert, let’s talk insomnia.

In the past, I’ve occasionally gone up to a few days having trouble falling asleep. Lately, though, it’s been constant.

Insomnia, among other sleep disorders, is on the laundry list of conditions associated with celiac disease. Jane Anderson has written it up for About.com. That said, like bloating and hair loss, it’s also associated with a million other conditions and sometimes exists on its own. (The NIH can tell you all about it.)

So, where’d mine come from?

Because my insomnia started long after I went gluten-free, I have a feeling, for once, celiac’s not to blame. However, in the past, I did wonder if occasional insomnia meant I’d been glutened. (I’ve never “caught someone in the act” of glutening me, so it’s hard to be sure. Still, certain blech patterns appear.)

Thus, my first thought was: have I been eating something new and contaminated that I didn’t properly check? I don’t think so . . . though I did eat too much gluten-free junk this winter. A dietary spring cleaning is underway, and way needed.

Insomnia cookies

Not gluten-free. Probably for the best.
Photo © Robyn Lee | Flickr

My next thought was to blame a new medication. Insomnia’s not a known side effect, but I wouldn’t put it past my body to react in a unique, idiotic way. It’s slimly possible that the medication was contaminated; though I checked with the manufacturer, I received the standard “We can’t guarantee it” response, since they don’t test their final product. Having stopped taking it, I’m waiting for changes. So far, zilch.

Or maybe it’s stress? It is a possible trigger for roughly 75 percent of bad things. A colleague gave notice and I got promoted right around the time this started. Not bad, except that I feel even more buried than usual underneath a mound of work that never shrinks.

At night, as I try to make myself a willing vessel to oblivion, my mind jumps to multiple unchecked to-do list items. I’m not going to do any of them in the middle of the night, but I do shift position, refluff my pillow, and worry about it. (Mindfulness gurus would say to keep a notebook on my nightstand to jot these things down. Setting this up is something else I never manage to check off my list.)

Sprue Jr says labeling it “insomnia” is the problem: that by expecting it, I perpetuate it. But I disagree. It is . . . what it is. And insomnia by any other name would still suck.

While I’m not sure what is causing my insomnia, I can tell you one thing my insomnia has caused. Sleeplessness, you see, leads to bloglessness. For some time now, I’ve been down to one post a week. And it’s not for lack of ideas or time, I swear. It’s lack of sleep.

insomnia digital clock

Watching the clock is another insomnia no-no. Seriously. Don’t do it.
Photo © Fairy Heart | Flickr

Sleeplessness spawns laziness in more ways than one. It saps your energy, motivation, and attention. Sleep is incredibly (though still largely inexplicably) valuable to humankind’s ability to think, learn, and generally function.

Staying awake too late the night before encourages endless snoozing sessions (a horrible habit, and not actually restful at all, but tell that to my half-conscious brain) and skipped morning workouts. Bummer, because “regular exercise” is another top tip for insomnia prevention.

After feeling tired all day, it’s inescapably appealing to go to bed as early as possible. Plus, standard anti-insomnia advice preaches not to stare at backlit screens at night, so I’ve been trying to power down earlier, even if it means no post the next day—and even if I’m likely enough to simply lie in bed, unable to nod off, for hours, wishing I’d just stayed up to write.

Sluggishness and sleeplessness: two miserable conditions that reinforce one another nightly.

I’ve tried melatonin, chamomile tea, and valerian root, which I must tell you smells like death. None worked.

Still, I’m hopeful this’ll be the last time I complain to you about sleep. It’s spring: time for regeneration, spending time outdoors, being active, and maybe less stress at work. Somehow, I feel this must get better.

But for the time being, at least, my posts will continue to come about once a week, possibly sporadically, and I hope you’ll keep checking in despite that (subscribe, even—make my day!). At heart, this blog is about health; and right now, for me, that means getting back to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

Do you struggle with insomnia, or have you ever? Does it seem to be linked to gluten? What works or doesn’t work for you? 

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Passover vs. Easter: A Gluten-Free Showdown

Much fuss is made about how gluten-free-friendly Passover is. Grain-free foods line the grocery shelves more at this than any other time of year. Macaroons and gluten-free matzo everywhere. It’s great.

But . . . the holiday story is all about bread. Sure, there’s some stuff about plague, tyrants, blood of lambs, eldest sons, escape from persecution, miraculous divisions of seas, and so forth, but at heart the holiday comes down to unleavened bread. And while, with its dry, crumbly, not-quite breadiness, matzo certainly calls to mind gluten-free bread, it does usually contain gluten—just no yeast, or enough time for gluten to do its thing (since, in the story, there was no time to wait for bread to rise before fleeing Egypt).

In fact, according to many authorities, matzo must be made from wheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oats, the “five grains” mentioned in the Torah, all of which contain gluten, besides oats (though that’s debatable). Some authorities don’t even believe gluten-free matzoh should be allowed at the Passover Seder! Not so friendly, after all.

Passover s'mores made with matzo

Pastel-colored matzo s’mores, though remarkable, are also not entirely canonical.
Photo © Jasmin Fine | Flickr

Easter, on the other hand—that’s a real gluten-free holiday, and I’ll tell you why: Jesus is well known to have been a big bread eater. He consumed so much of the stuff he actually considered his body to be made of it! The very night before his death, he broke bread with his disciples and told them he was giving it up. I won’t speculate on what symptoms may have led him to that decision, but no matter—it was too little, too late.

As the story goes, Jesus died because a bunch of angry people nailed him to a cross (and because it was foretold), not because he ate too much wheat. Fair. But then, after three days in a tomb with no bread, he regained his energy to the point that he actually came back to life! Miracle from god, or miraculous gluten detox?

Unfortunately, the moment the stone rolled back from his tomb, Jesus proved old habits die harder than deities’ sons. His proof to his disciples that it was really him, alive again, was, in fact, “in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).

the Last Supper - Jesus breaking the bread

“Don’t eat it, Jesus! The doctor said…!”
Sigh. No one ever listens to the apostles.
Photo courtesy Waiting for the Word | Flickr

Soon enough, all that bread weakened Jesus again, enough that he had to be carried up to heaven, where he planned to sit (at his father’s right hand) for eternity. That sounds like some serious fatigue!

So you see, though manufacturers may not exactly be rushing to produce egg- and bunny-shaped Easter treats on separate lines the way they’ve stepped up to the Kosher for Passover plate, the Easter story is way more sprue. And as celiac celebs go, it doesn’t get much better than Jesus.

Naturally, the entire argument falls apart if you consider that the Easter story contains a commandment to eat bread in memory, just like the Passover story, and how unlikely it is that God would have sent his only son to Earth and then saddled him with a not-yet-discovered autoimmune disease. Classic literary criticism.

By the way, for anyone wondering—based on my reduced posting of late—whether I too have died, fear not: I live, and my posts shall come again next week, provided neither the Old nor the New Testament God smites me for blaspheming first. I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll say it for you: hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

Regardless of which holiday you’re celebrating this year, I hope it’s a happy one! And if you’re celebrating neither, I’d wish you a happy spring, except that here in New York, it too seems to have died. Here’s hoping for a speedy resurrection.

happy Easter to our Christian friends, happy Passover to our Jewish friends, to our atheist friends...good luck

Thank you, Marsmettn Tallahassee of Flickr. You’re too kind.

For more blasphemy from me, read this oldie but goodie about sin. Alternatively, for more on why Passover actually is pretty cool for those with GRDs, try this article or this list of products to try, or just Google “Passover gluten-free,” because, seriously, the entire Internet has something to say about it. 

Do you stock up on Kosher for Passover gluten-free products? Will you be celebrating with friends or family this weekend? And what, in your opinion, is the best gluten-free holiday?

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April Fools! 6 Gluten-Free Pranks to Play Today

I’ll be back soon with more absences of answers to ever-present questions about celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders, but I thought I’d take a break for April Fools Day.

This day last year, I convinced a few people that Dunkin Donuts would be going all gluten-free by 2015 (sorry!). Between then and now, the chain announced that, although it wouldn’t be dropping wheat from its pastries entirely, as I’d “predicted,” it would introduce wheat-free goods to every store nationwide in 2013.

The gluten-free community got pretty excited about that. But sadly, the joke was on us: Dunkin Donuts reversed the decision months later, with little explanation, before I even got to try one of those shrink-wrapped muffins. A lot of people were disappointed, and truth be told, I felt a bit responsible, as though I’d jinxed it. So this year, none o’ that.

However, superstition aside, there’s no reason not to get what laughs we can out of our chronic disease. If you haven’t yet decided what jokes to make today, here are a few you could try:

“Guess what! I don’t have celiac disease after all.”

Just as it’s good to have an all-purpose GF flour blend (if such a thing really exists), a good all-purpose trick comes in handy, too. Play this prank on just about anyone. Take it to the next level by whipping out a sandwich (which should of course be made with a reasonably uncrumbly gluten-free bread, unless you’re a truly dedicated prankster) and taking a big bite.

Girl eating sandwich

This “gluten” sure is good!
Photo © Jessie Jacobson | Flickr

“Soooo . . . celiac disease is contagious.”

Said with a bit of a wince and an “oopsie” expression, this is handy for that annoying coworker who’s always sticking his gluteny hands into your gluten-free snacks. To kick it up a notch, come up to him later, stare intently at his elbow, and when he asks what you’re doing, say, “Oh, I thought I saw some dermatitis herpetiformis. It’s probably nothing, though.”

“Bad news. They just found out potatoes contain gluten.”

This joke has limited utility. Most people with celiac won’t believe it; most non-celiac people already do.

Mr. Potato Head and family

Personified potatoes: Creepy? Yes. Glutenous? No.
Photo © Jeremy Page | Flickr

“I’m going back to school to become a [dietitian/gastroenterologist/celiac disease researcher].”

This is another good one to use at work, though probably not on your boss. If your parents are still paying off loans from your undergraduate English degree, maybe you’d like to try it on them, too. To really go for it, forge a letter of acceptance to display to the skeptics.

“Turns out, gluten is bad for everyone.”

Several savvy authors have made a killing off of this classic, so why not get in on the fun? Arm yourself with statistics and direct your chosen fool to the library to learn more. If it’s in a book, it must be true.

girl eating bread and yelling

Breeeaaddddd. It’s coming for you!
Photo © Eltjo Poort

“Hey, did you hear about that new gluten-free and vegetarian restaurant opening in Washington Heights next month?”

That’s not funny.

gluten-free restaurants in New York - Gluten-Free Fun map

See this map of gluten-free-friendly NYC establishments created by Erin of Gluten-Free Fun (interactive version here)? Cool, right? See how many are north of Central Park? …yep. But hey, it’s home.

Happy April Fools Day! Hope the jokes are on everyone else and not on you.

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