Friday, January 1, 2010

A Gluten-Free Beginning

In the past, when I have made a dietary change, it was generally not something I embraced with open arms. After all, we all know that dietary change is code for “eating crap that tastes bad” or “giving up everything I like.”

I was terrified at the thought that going gluten-free would mean the same thing. I love yeast rolls and pizza crusts and all manner of things made with wheat flour. Giving it up would be pure torture and there could be no health rewards worth it, right?

Despite that thought, about mid-October 2009, someone reading one of my articles at Associated Content suggested that I investigate gluten-free diets and their usefulness in treating multiple sclerosis. I read dozens of testimonials from people living with multiple sclerosis, like I do, and claiming that eliminating wheat gluten from their diet got rid of the MS symptoms. I scoffed, really I did. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered a family doctor telling a teenaged me that he thought I might be allergic to wheat gluten.

As a teenager, I scoffed and did nothing to change my diet. As an adult, I did what any good writer and researcher does. I checked the Web.

There were no good scientific studies that I could find that linked multiple sclerosis to wheat and gluten consumption. But there were claims, oh so many claims, that people felt better and got their mobility restored because of a gluten-free diet. I didn’t expect it to work.

Even as my husband I cleared our cabinets of everything containing gluten, which is a huge process, I figured we give it a game effort—two or three weeks maybe—and see that it was just another fad that had no real impact on our health.

I have had MS-related symptoms since 2001 and was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. I’ve seen the MRI with the lesions on my brain. I had the spinal tap. In October, I’d lived since January, 2001, with limited sensation in my right leg below the knee and my right foot. It was sort of like constant pins and needles or delayed feeling. It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t lived it.

My balance was shot; I couldn’t walk for more than about a quarter mile without shuffling my feet or falling. I had a semi-permanent bout of spasticity just below my rib cage. Spasticity is another common MS symptom, the feels sort of like wearing a girdle or weight belt all the time. Sometimes, it seemed to make it painful to breathe deeply.

And, I had semi-regular back spasms in the middle of my back.

All in all, I had a relatively mild lot of symptoms from the multiple sclerosis. I’m not confined to a wheelchair. I could usually walk without assistance, but not very far.

Four days into our gluten-free diet, my opinion on dietary change changed forever. As I walked out to the mail box that morning, I realized that I could feel my foot. Not the pins and needles that I normally felt, but a sharp, immediate pain when I stepped on a sharp rock.

I woke up my husband with tears in my eyes. “I can feel my foot!”

It took just a second for the sleep induced haze to lift so that he truly understood what I meant. My MS symptoms were fading after just four days.

Now, we are almost four months into our gluten-free journey. There are struggles and setbacks, questions I will need answers to at some point, but for now, gluten-free means almost symptom-free. Gluten-free for life isn’t simply a pledge or a temporary diet shift, for me, the switch to gluten-free means life. The life that my MS was stealing away, I seem to have won back.

It’s not easy…yesterday the temptation was Quatro’s Pizza, but come along on this journey with me as I discover how to be gluten-free for life!


  1. I am so happy for you! I wish you all the best sticking to the diet and hope your symptoms stay gone.

  2. I love hearing about your success with a gluten free diet and also am glad it is helping you to be symptom free!

  3. I will read this with much interest. I have a wheat allergy, though, I don't control my diet this drastically. Perhaps your blog will help me to attempt the more drastic gluten free measures, as I probably should.

  4. Donna,
    It's difficult, but oh, so worth it! And, more and more gluten-free products are available every day.

  5. Wow, it's great that changing your way of eating is making such a difference for you, Cin. That's awesome.

    I love the new blog!