Why I Don't Know If I'm a Celiac, and How It May Help You

I’ve been gluten free for 4 years now. Am I gluten intolerant or do I have Celiac disease? I don’t know. The truth is, I likely never will. As someone who does does laboratory testing professionally as a Medical Laboratory Technician, this may sound a bit odd. So why haven’t you been tested? You might ask. I went gluten free without being tested, and now it’s too late to do so without making myself very sick for a long time. It’s just not worth it. Here’s my story.

It all started with an almost constant pain in my back. I thought I had a pulled muscle, no big deal. As a Veterinary Technician, that was par for the course. Then I started getting nerve pain running down my arm and into my fingers. Uh oh. Not good. After a couple of doctors, X-rays and an MRI, I found out I had a ruptured disk with bone spurs and narrowing of the spinal column. A quick operation, a short recovery and I’ll be good as new, they said. Except I wasn’t. I had more pain after the surgery than before. I ended up with a new neurosurgeon and another spinal surgery. Two in 5 months. Not only was I left with nerve damage and an end to my beloved career in Veterinary medicine, but soon everything I ate made me sick.

Once I realized I could no longer be a vet tech, (which was heartbreaking for me since working with and helping animals was what I thought I was put on this earth to do) I quit my job and started back to college full time to earn a health science degree to become a Lab Tech. This way I could still be helping and putting good into the world, and I’d still get to look at things under a microscope. I planned on getting a part time job to help pay for expenses, but this was unfortunately about the same time we went into the recession. There were very few jobs, and most required being able to lift 50 pounds. To be a cashier? Really? So I was broke.

And then the stomach problems started. To be honest, I’ve never had the best digestion in the world, but this was different. I was constantly bloated. My stomach hurt. It seemed like everything I ate made me feel bad. I was also getting frequent urinary tract infections. My hair was thinning. I was miserable. It was my search for natural cures for my recurrent UTI’s that led me to a wonderful book by a Naturopathic Doctor named Dr. Laurie Steelsmith, called Natural Choice’s For Women’s Health. That book started me on a path of healing. My symptoms pointed (among other things) to food intolerances, and she detailed how to do an elimination/challenge test. It seemed daunting. Then the night I had my last pizza, I was so sick that my husband threatened to take me to the ER. I decided the next day to do the elimination/challenge test.

I was horrified to learn that wheat was causing my misery! But what about the muffins I loved so much? What about pizza? And the amazing focaccia bread at Macaroni Grill? NO!!!!! I was very depressed for a few days, then sucked it up and decided to learn more about food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities. At the time I really didn’t know anything about Celiac disease. I saw it mentioned a few times, but mostly as a rare disease diagnosed in childhood. After removing gluten from my diet, my health started improving. So did my research skills. I learned more about Celiac. I found out that I should have been tested before starting a gluten free diet. Unfortunately, broke, unemployed college students- even those studying to be Lab Techs- can’t afford lab tests. Or biopsies. So, by the time I graduated and got a job and insurance, I had been gluten free for almost 3 years.

Now I have two choices: go back to eating gluten every day for a couple of months, and being totally sick and miserable for that time and months after as my intestines heal again, or just not know. So I don’t know. And in most cases it doesn’t matter that much. I strive to be 100% gluten free either way. But for example, I was eating Zaxby’s grilled chicken zalads. I always felt great when I ate them. Then I found the ingredients, and they do contain a tiny amount of wheat in the marinade. If I’m gluten intolerant, it’s not such a big deal to eat them occasionally. But if I have Celiac, then even though I feel fine, it is still damaging the lining of my intestine. So I had give them up too.

So my advice to you, dear ones, is this. if you think gluten may be what is making you sick, please get tested first. Or remove it completely for a week and add it back to see how you feel. But if it’s obvious that you have an issue, make yourself keep eating it daily long enough to get tested. The body has to have built up enough antibodies against the gluten for the test to be accurate. They are working on improved testing methods for those who are already gluten free, but they aren’t there yet.

I hope this will help someone out there who is struggling with digestive problems and looking for answers.

p.s. The photo was taken just before I learned I am gluten intolerant. I couldn't understand how I had developed that donut around my middle, especially since I hadn't gained any weight. It turns out it was my poor intestines being that swollen and inflamed. Yikes! At least I had cool hair.