There’s so much hype in the media about gluten intolerance. Is it just trendy, or is it truth for some?
For seven years, the ten doctors Sherry*consulted with couldn’t explain the severe skin rash that covered her body.
* Her real name, used with permission.
In October of 2010, a battery of allergy tests finally confirmed Sherry’s suspicions. The list of food and environmental allergies was long.
And at the top of the food list of items she was allergic to was WHEAT.
Tears pored. That list vindicated her seven-year struggle. Relief washed over her as she finally had an explanation for her severe rashes.
However, the explanation didn’t yield an official diagnosis of celiac disease.
Gluten intolerance may be a trendy diet plan for some, but for Sherry, it is truth.
Let’s go back to the start and unravel how through a long and difficult health journey, Sherry was able to uncover this truth.
In 2003, Sherry began experiencing random outbreaks of circular rashes on her skin. The itching and irritation were bothersome enough for her to agree to a biopsy.
The biopsy revealed she had dermatitis or eczema. Topical cream and steroids were prescribed.
Soon after, Sherry was laid off from her job. The stress of trying to juggle three freelance jobs to make ends meet exacerbated the rashes.
When she landed a full-time job and her stress lessened, the few rashes she had were easily managed with topical cream.
Another lay-off two years later amplified her stress, especially with the lack of health insurance.
Sherry described the skin rashes at that time as major eruptions. Believing those eruptions were stress-related, she never considered they might be related to her diet.
Because of her lack of health insurance, Sherry sought the help of dermatologists at an Atlanta hospital that accepted her on a sliding scale.
The allergy testing she underwent showed no allergies.
However, the small and large bumps located at her elbow and knee creases became increasingly more painful.
The painful rashes spread to her neck, causing her to wear clothes that covered her arms and neck year round.
Most fabrics irritated her rash, so she found she could only wear cotton.
Additionally, anywhere her skin was exposed to sunlight made her feel as if she were on fire.
By 2010, the rashes were quite literally taking over Sherry’s life.
Because the rashes were covering her entire body, she became self-conscious about her appearance and how others might perceive her as contagious.
As a result, her social interactions were limited to church. “Because I really didn’t talk to friends, I went into a bit of depression,” Sherry said.
Significant weight loss was a huge concern. “I went from a size 8 to a size 0 in a short period of time. I honestly looked malnourished.”
During this time, Sherry researched how eliminating foods from her diet might uncover the root cause of her rashes. She tried a bland diet of rice, vegetables, salad, selected fruit, and baked chicken for a few weeks with no relief.
A few weeks of eliminating wheat didn’t yield any noticeable results.
No relief from eliminating dairy products, either. She then began juicing, but that caused even more outbreaks. Even washing her clothes with dye-free detergents didn’t decrease her rashes.
“It was very frustrating. I was physically tired and defeated. I was frustrated with my doctors, because they weren’t helping me find the cause.”
Daily prayers at Mass gave her the strength to make it another day. “I prayed I would have wisdom as I did research into possible causes for the rashes. I surrendered my worry and frustration to God as I believed He is faithful. I knew somehow He would give me some relief,” Sherry said.
Because the eczema was so severe, an outbreak of shingles was only noticeable because of the increased pain. Sherry had great difficulty sleeping, because the pain from the shingles was so unbearable.
Her doctor’s response? “There’s nothing we can do. It’ll have to play it’s way out.”
In August of 2010, Sherry was desperate. Desperate for an answer. Desperate enough to see yet another doctor. “I was still persevering, because I was determined to overcome what felt like a death sentence. I would die trying to find an answer.”
When she told the internist she had only been diagnosed with eczema, he was floored. He referred her to another dermatologist who prescribed topical creams. She asked him about gluten intolerance, but he said there wasn’t an actual test to diagnosis it.
“At this point, I was losing hope.”
A few weeks later over Labor Day weekend, Sherry made a trip home to show her mom the severity of her illness.
She took the train to Birmingham as she was so weak and her feet and legs so swollen she didn’t feel safe driving that distance.
“For the last few months, I’d told my mom about the struggles I’d been having, but not any details about my significant weight loss. My mom was shocked and in disbelief when she saw how I was withering away from the rash that had taken over my body.”
She could tell how upsetting her condition was to her mom, which was emotionally hard on Sherry.
Her mom’s response gave Sherry the resolve to keep fighting. “When I prayed with my mom, something inside told me not to give up.”
In October of 2010, she went to a family practice doctor that had a sliding fee. This doctor took Sherry’s condition seriously!
She was shocked to learn Sherry had seen nine other doctors and received little to no treatments for her condition. “She was so caring and listened when I said I thought it was gluten intolerance.”
A battery of allergy tests finally confirmed Sherry’s suspicions. The list of food and environmental allergies was long.
And at the top of the food list of items she was allergic to was WHEAT.
Even though Sherry eliminated wheat for a few weeks during her second elimination diet in 2010, her body was so inflamed that a few weeks of no wheat wasn’t enough to reduce the rashes or detox her body.
Now that she had a definitive list with wheat as her top allergen, Sherry started a gluten free diet. “I had to find a new way of existing when I stopped eating foods that contained gluten.”
She researched what foods to eliminate and made a game plan she could stick to. Her body was so depleted, it welcomed her avoidance of those toxic foods.
A nautropath doctor prescribed the vitamins and minerals her adrenal glands desperately needed to de-stress and replenish.
Sherry gave in to a craving during a Christmas gathering that year and ate a Krispy Kreme doughnut. “Within an hour, my neck broke out in a rash. That was all the proof I’d ever need that I would always have to maintain a strict gluten free diet.”
From the time Sherry received her list of allergies, it took well over a year to completely detox her body and gain weight back. “My intestines had to heal from all the damage the gluten caused.”
“I’ve had people say my gluten intolerance is trendy. My reply is that it is a real thing for people who have a food allergy to gluten. Our bodies spin out of control in pain when we eat gluten.”
Because of the nightmare Sherry experienced those seven years, she’s passionate about helping others who are discovering they are gluten intolerant and guiding them on how to eliminate gluten from their diets.
She hopes to create a web site and blog that offers hope and inspiration to individuals with gluten intolerance, as well as highlighting foods that have hidden gluten additives.
She prepares most of her meals for fear of cross-contamination, so she’d like to share those gluten-free recipes on her web site, too.
I asked Sherry to offer her advice about overcoming obstacles. She said, “Overcoming is perseverance through adversity and never giving up. When adversity comes, fight with all your might. As you climb those mountains, you’re gaining experiences that will help others.”