Once you’ve made the switch to a gluten-free diet, it’s hard to remember how poorly you felt before eliminating wheat and all its friends – that is, until you’re “glutened.”
The first sign that you’ve eaten something containing or contaminated with gluten often is uncomfortable bloating, cramps, and other digestion issues, such as diarrhea or constipation. This doesn’t always happen right away; in fact, many people find this is more common one to two days after being exposed to the allergen, making it exceedingly difficult to pinpoint what made you sick. When you add in a restaurant meal, the possibilities of how gluten came to be in your food are nearly endless. Could the waiter have misunderstood? Did the chef cook my meal in the same pan as one with breadcrumbs? Was there a floury pizza prepared near my dish?
Fatigue, or extreme tiredness, sometimes accompanied by a migraine is another sign of accidental ingestion. This is sometimes accompanied by another symptom known as “brain fog.” Essentially, you feel a bit slower than usual; for instance, people find themselves grasping for words that should roll off the tongue or zoning out during an interesting conversation.
Of course, there are also one million and one other reactions people face, which are essentially a resurgence of the body’s reactions to gluten prior to being on a gluten-free diet. For those also affected by dermatitis herpetiformis – celiac disease expressed through a blistery skin reaction – emergence of skin sores are a tell-tale sign of exposure. All of these symptoms can contribute to higher anxiety levels and irritability, making your unexpected run-in with gluten an all-around unpleasant experience.
As of now, there are no surefire cures to a gluten encounter. However, after discussing this topic with several fellow celiacs, there are some common (and simple) tactics to alleviate symptoms before your body decides to kick back into gear.
According to Jane Anderson of About.com, who has been dealing with Celiac Disease since 2003, as well as a varitey of Celiac suffers on Gluten Free Easily, when recovering from being glutened, you should rest as much as possible to fight the "brain fog" and fatigue. As for digestion issues, avoiding products with lactose, especially those high in fat content, can help lessen the severity and length of symptoms. The same goes for other foods that are difficult to digest. If you’re running to the bathroom a lot, make sure to rehydrate yourself not only with water but liquids containing electrolytes like Gatorade, coconut water, or Pedialyte.
Remember, if you have celiac disease, every time you accidentally introduce gluten into your system, the tiny villi that line your intestines become flattened and, to return to proper function, must be allowed to heal.
Several companies have started offering products to ease post-gluten symptoms. CVS Pharmacy, for example, now sells Gluten-Aid, which is advertised as an enzyme supplement to ease the digestion of the protein gluten. I was recently given three bottles of these as a gift before heading to Asia, although I have yet to use them because they are not FDA approved. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of such supplements like this.
If you continue to find yourself with these symptoms while maintaining a gluten-free diet, try keeping a food diary and note any sudden appearance of symptoms, even if seemingly unrelated to food. The longer you track your meals, the more likely you are to see patterns emerge that may indicate where you are encountering gluten. For more guidance on managing a gluten-free diet check out the amazing resources available from Boston's Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The bottom line: Being glutened is no fun and there is no quick fix, but by tracking how your body responds to different remedies, it is possible to find ways to make the recovery process pass more quickly and less painfully. And don’t forget to reward yourself once you’re feeling better with your favorite gluten-free treat!
What are your post-glutening tactics for recovery? And have you tried any of the new products that supposedly aid in the digestion of gluten products?