The story of our journey toward a gluten-free lifestyle is one that has many subplots, complete with suspense and fascinating characters along the way. I won’t write the entire novel here, but I’ll give you the highlights instead.
Our Daughter Was Sick
When our second daughter was born, she had some serious issues which no doctor could pinpoint. Some of the more severe symptoms she had were not sleeping, dark red circles under her eyes and lots of fussiness which mostly came at night time. She was exclusively breastfed as a baby, and even nursing her did not help her sleep. As our daughter grew, her symptoms did not change, and she began to withdraw. She had what I call the “checked out look”, you know that dreamy stare that doesn’t actually focus on anything?
When our daughter Kate was born, her sister was only 17 months old, and although I was busy caring for my two babies, I took every.single.spare second to read and research so that I could find an answer to what was wrong with my daughter. I felt like this was on my shoulders because the practitioners on our ever-growing list of People Who Could Possibly Help was getting us nowhere.
Autism Spectrum Disorders and Dental Work
The more research I did on why babies didn’t sleep and had dark circles under the eyes, the more I came across issues related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The more I read about Kate’s symptoms and ASD, the more I read about the benefits of a gluten-free lifestyle (and dairy-free, too). As I delved deeper into this rabbit hole, the more I learned about metal toxicity and how it relates to ASD and allergies.
It was then that I began to realize that perhaps it was the mercury that was chipped out of my teeth and replaced with composite fillings a few months before, that affected my baby. I had some old amalgam fillings that needed replacing when I was pregnant. My dentist decided to wait and do this as soon after my baby was born as possible, so I had these fillings replaced when Kate was only four or five weeks old. Since she was still breastfeeding, she too, was poisoned by the mercury that went through my body, and, into hers via my breastmilk.
Research is Key
At that time I was not aware that there are dentists who take mercury removal extremely seriously, and that there is a proper protocol for mercury removal. Since I did not know this, I went to my regular dentist who removed these fillings from my molars and as she was doing so, I remember swallowing chunks of my old fillings thinking to myself, this can’t be good.
It wasn’t until months later that I learned of the damage that mercury can do, particularly to a growing brain. Kate also had some exposure to toxic metals via a flu shot that I had when I was pregnant, and by all the vaccinations that she had at birth and until she was 9 months old.
Diet Changes and ASD
Another thing that kept coming up in my research was the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). This diet that has helped many children who are on the spectrum, and has helped many adults with leaky gut syndrome. Learning about leaky gut was a big aha! moment for me, as I had always had gut issues, ever since having surgery for an intestinal issue when I was two days old. It also made sense to me that anything that I was ingesting was going straight into my daughter, given that she was exclusively breastfed.
The first thing the SCD teaches is that you should cut out all grains. Wheat/gluten is a big culprit in causing gut issues, and so as I continued to try to find a practitioner who could help us, I cut out gluten, grains, many carbs that I was used to eating, and sugar. If you are imagining that going cold-turkey with this was probably hard, you’d be wrong. It was excruciating. I’m not gonna lie. And, I had a fairly healthy diet to begin with. I have always been into natural health and I knew the list of no-nos on Dr. Andrew Weil’s list, but it was still hard. So hard, that I have a very vivid memory of standing in my kitchen one weekend sobbing uncontrollably because I had to cook everything from scratch. Everything. Every. Little. Thing. No packaged anything for us. Plus, I was beyond sleep-deprived, and was caring for two babies, who now both had issues. (I had also continued to breastfeed my oldest daughter when I brought Kate home and she suffered some effects of this too.)
Eating Gluten-Free Today is Easy
The year we journeyed toward the gluten-free lifestyle was 2006, and back then, we couldn’t just run to our local grocery store and buy gluten-free items. I think there was one brand of rice bread at the store and not only did it taste awful and fall apart when you tried to use it, but it definitely wasn’t allowed on the SCD.
If we wanted any “baked goods” I had to make them out of almond flour. We bought almond flour in bulk, 25 pounds at a time, from a company who has since changed its name. It would come in a giant box in a giant bag and we’d repackage it in ziplock bags. I desperately missed bread, muffins, pastries, and crackers, but I found alternative ways of making these via the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I had to learn to love cooking and baking. (I faked it then and I still don’t like it!)
The last doctor we saw around the time we went full-force with the SCD was a pediatric allergist. We opted for one blood draw, instead of the prick tests, and although this doctor made us feel ashamed for bringing our daughter the hour’s drive only to put her through the blood draw, he still agreed to do it. He kept telling us that we had a “perfectly health daughter” . Imagine how smug I felt when he called me on a Saturday morning, to tell me, “get your daughter off of all forms of gluten ASAP because she is highly allergic“. Thankfully, I had already learned that removing gluten could help, and we had been off of it for two or three weeks at that point.
Cheating and Proof
As we waited for Kate’s allergy reports, my own testing proved that Kate truly was allergic to wheat, as I suspected. One day I ate about one-third of a piece of Pizza Hut “personal pan pizza” while shopping at Target. Can you picture how small that is? I was starving and I had been on the SCD for about three weeks. Disclaimer: I never did the SCD intro diet; I went straight for the second stage. I just didn’t see how I could maintain strength while nursing two babies and not getting any sleep and by eating only gelatin and broth. I do know that the intro diet is a very important stage in healing though.
The fallout from that cheat was horrible. While Kate’s symptoms had not entirely disappeared, she was doing a little better in terms of not looking so “checked out” and the circles under her eyes were a bit lighter in color. After this one “cheat” her symptoms came back with a vengeance, and I did not cheat one tiny bit for the next 26 months.
After about eight to ten weeks, we saw big improvements in Kate’s behavior and in her skin, her eyes and her circles under the eyes. It was as if the fog she was in was cleaning. By that time, we had found a doctor (and a dentist) who understood our issues. We thank God for both of them. The doctor we found is a DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) doctor.
Our dentist is a member of the IAOMT board, and both of these practitioners taught us so much about the immune system and overall health. I believe that our DAN! doc saved Kate from an autism spectrum diagnosis. I believe that if we had not followed his protocol for repairing her gut and mine (and our immune systems), that events would have turned out much differently for us.
We Still Live a Gluten-Free Lifestyle
After a few years, I was tested for Celiac Disease. My results came back right on the border of “yes” and “no”, smack in the middle. My doctor took that as a yes, and it did explain why, after being off of gluten for a while, I gained weight (I had always had a hard time keeping weight on), and felt healthier than I had in years.
Today my girls and I still live a gluten-free lifestyle. About two and a half years into the SCD, I also introduced grains to my diet. I can handle these now in moderation. I tried eating wheat again a few years after doing the SCD, and it just didn’t really give me warm-fuzzy feeling I thought it might, and it made me constipated so I went back to the gluten-free lifestyle. This turned out to be a very good thing for me, because I have Hashimoto’s and was also reated for Lyme disease a few years ago, (thank you, mercury). Living a gluten-free lifestyle helps with any auto-immune disorder.
Both of my girls understand the health benefits of the way we eat. Kate has eaten tiny pieces of bread so she knows what “regular” bread tastes like, and when we go to church and receive holy communion she now consumes the “regular” host instead of the g/f one and she does just fine. Sometimes if we eat out, my girls will order French fries (these should usually NOT be eaten if you are living a gluten-free lifestyle, because of cross-contamination), but that also seems to be just fine for them in moderation.
Today, I still bake with almond flour, but not as regularly as before, and now that the SCD has improved our guts, we can eat other grains which allows us to be able to walk into pretty much any grocery store and buy gluten-free things like bread, muffins, crackers, and granola bars. We still prefer homemade things because of the high sugar content of many of these gluten-free packaged foods, but it’s nice to know that they are available to us if we want them, and it definitely makes living the gluten-free lifestyle a lot easier.