My First Gluten-Free Year

It seems that everyone is going gluten-free these days. As more and more products labeled gluten-free appear in grocery stores, many people are buying these “healthier” products without really knowing what gluten means.

Well, in case you don’t know, gluten is a protein found in certain grains such as wheat, barley and rye. In gluten-sensitive people, it can cause inflammation and immune imbalance.

I thought about trying a gluten-free diet for quite some time before deciding to follow through with it. I have an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which destroys thyroid tissue. Gluten triggers increase immune activity, creating even more tissue destruction. How? The protein in gluten prompts my immune system to create molecules called antibodies, which in turn bind to cells in my thyroid and destroy them.

Even armed with this knowledge, it took me a while to really get on board with the idea of completely eliminating gluten from my diet. Late in 2010, I decided to try it out for a full year and monitor my antibody levels to see how my immune system responded. On January 1, 2011, I officially went gluten-free. After just six months my antibody levels went from 1200 to 300, a whole lot closer to a normal value of <34. I was ecstatic! My new diet was definitely proving to be worth the effort I put into it. So, what is it like being gluten-free?
Over the past year I have learned a lot about the gluten-free lifestyle. First, I found that I really miss Chinese food! Since soy sauce is made from soy and wheat, it is on the NO list. And although there is a gluten-free soy sauce called tamari, which I use at home, none of the restaurants I frequent find the need to carry it.

Otherwise, I haven’t had too much trouble. Experimenting with gluten-free recipes is fun. I discovered that I can make delicious pancakes, muffins, cookies and many other goodies that I thought I would never be able to eat again. Dining out can be an exercise in willpower, but the reality is that even at the least gluten-free-friendly places I find one or two options that will work, or I ask the restaurant to modify a dish slightly.

I have also learned that if I cheat—I snuck in a little gluten on my anniversary and on Thanksgiving—the next day I am foggy-brained, fatigued and a quivering mess of muscles that at exercise class. Interesting, considering I never would have attributed these symptoms to gluten prior to eliminating it.

All in all, my first year of being gluten-free was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be—and I feel great. If you are considering purging gluten from your diet, I say give it a go.

—Dr. Tara

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If you have questions about this subject, please contact us. Our doctors can guide you and offer advice based on their personal experience. Almost all of us have said goodbye to gluten.