Our Story

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Four days in the hospital is not fun for anyone.

In August of 2010, our nearly 10 year old had a serious health crisis. His hip filled with fluid, resulting in an emergency surgery and a 4 day hospital stay. After the surgery, tests indicated autoimmune problems rather than the infection the doctors had suspected. The tentative diagnosis was “reactive rheumatoid arthritis to walking pneumonia” (he had just been treated for pertussis and pneumonia).

We asked the doctors if the problem could have been related to the bone and joint pain that Kid2 had often complained of all his life. They didn’t see a correlation, or have an explanation either. That didn’t make sense to us so TinyHands decided to take things into her own hands. She did some research and learned that rheumatoid problems could be caused by a reaction to gluten. On top of that, she found out that gluten was known to cause or be related to other problems that our son had always had:

Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride

Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride

  • bone and joint pain
  • intense seasonal allergies
  • asthma
  • eczema when younger
  • daily stomach aches
  • random vomiting
  • constipation
  • colic as a baby
  • extreme dyslexia
  • ADHD symptoms
  • anxiety
  • sensory seeking
  • canker sores

We had nothing to lose so we decided to go gluten free as a family and see what happened (a decision we now regret, since it eliminated our chance of getting a formal diagnosis).

Miraculously, Kid2’s joint pains and nightly stomach aches disappeared! But from time to time he’d get symptoms back, along with a nasty brain fog and lethargy. We decided to cut out corn, soy, sesame, and a few other things an ELISA test had shown “low” IgE and IgG reactions several years earlier. A couple weeks later, another amazing thing happened – Kid2’s “seasonal” allergies finally went away!

Around this time, we also learned about celiac disease. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the lining of the small intestine, and/or causes outbreaks of dermatitis herpitiformis. Even the smallest amount of cross-contamination can set off this reaction. We were upset to learn that by going gluten-free we’d eliminated our chance to get a definitive diagnosis of celiac disease for Kid2.

In order to be tested, he’d have to eat 20 grams of gluten a day for 3 months! Even the smallest amount of gluten caused his symptoms to come back. We did the genetic screening and found that he has the genetic risk factors for celiac. Our doctors agreed that it wasn’t worth risking putting him back in the hospital just for a test and it made sense to treat him as if he does indeed have celiac disease.

We decided to be a lot more careful about what came into our home and how we prepared it. Even though the rest of us didn’t think gluten was a problem for us, we had gone gluten-free in solidarity. Liberating our house from gluten and corn took us several days and was an exhausting emotional process… but we did it!

The fresh start was a wonderful boost to all of our moods. With our increased caution, Kid2’s health improved dramatically. He physically felt so much better and his growth velocity picked up. His extreme dyslexia disappeared, his ability to focus improved dramatically, and within 3 months he went from being functionally illiterate (he recognized letters and could usually read simple words), to flying through novels appropriate for his age with complete comprehension!

(Kid2 recently went on the radio to explain how important staying gluten-free is to him. He is a new kid!)

Surprisingly, we all had different reactions to the diet.

I went through an intense withdrawal process. I’d had seemingly unrelated symptoms before – migraine auras, herpes flare-ups, headaches, mood swings, and strange neurological symptoms. All of these intensified at first with the gluten-free diet. On top of that, my digestion slowed and all gluten-free processed foods made me sick. I got itchy skin, congested sinuses and ears, and started noticing sensitivity to gluten, corn, and other grains as well.

TinyHands’s constipation, eczema, and asthma symptoms cleared up, and the hair on her chin lightened and became more sparse. Upon researching, she realized she had the classic symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – which is helped by a gluten-free diet! Her eczema hasn’t completely stayed away, but she feels better in general, has more energy, and needs less sleep.

Kid1 didn’t go gluten-free with the rest of us right away, because we wanted to test her for celiac disease. The only symptom she had was that she was very small for her age. After a couple months of eating bread, we got blood work done and she did not show any signs of it. However, she joined in on the gluten-free diet and when she did her Tourette’s Syndrome intensified. She’d had ongoing tics for many years, but now she got bigger motor tics than she’d ever had before. They eventually evened out again. It seems they are more related to stress than food.

The kids’ dad had been vegan for many years, and recently had become vegetarian. When he decided to try being gluten-free he also decided to cut out dairy and started eating some meat. He noticed much improved energy and his “hay fever” symptoms went away.

It seemed that these changes implied we all could benefit from healing our guts and figuring out if other foods were issues for us. We decided to try the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet.

The kids are healthier and happier than they've ever been!

After starting GAPS, we all started feeling better. Kid2 and I both had some set-backs and moved through the stages slowly. Part of the process is letting the candida in our systems die off – but not too fast. Probiotic foods like water kefir, sauerkraut, and live yogurt fight candida, and as it dies, it releases toxins into your body. These toxins can cause flu-like symptoms like stuffy nose, sore throat, low grade fever, and body aches. It’s a careful balance to get it right. New foods need to be introduced slowly in order to determine which new foods are safe and which cause problems.

At first it seemed like there would be nothing to eat, but we ended up with a stunning array of soups, and fun new homemade treats like walnut-almond butter, sauerkraut, and winter squash soufflé, just a few stages into the GAPS diet.

The kids used to be picky about their food – holding out for sugar and skipping the most nutritious foods. This diet has given the kids a chance to look forward to and enjoy each new addition of nutrient-dense foods! Kid1 had been an extremely picky eater before GAPS, and now loves to eat! Kid2 grew several inches pretty much right away and stopped getting “glutened” at every turn. I found lots of problems I’d developed over the years but not been able to get help for went away.

We learned that dietary changes really can make a huge difference to our health. While it’s not always easy on a practical or emotional level, the rewards are so worth it.

Check out our 3 Year Update!

We have taken our experience, and turned it into a source of support for others facing similar challenges, though our blog and Mama’s coaching services and hands-on-help.

This is part of Fresh Bites Friday on Real Food Whole Health.

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