Going gluten-free helped my mental state a great deal but digestion, not so much. L-glutamine was very helpful, and BHCl, psyllium, and probiotics were helpful. Also, dare I say it, long afterwards, an antibiotic.
Life before glutenlessness
For years, in order to survive a job interview or a conference or a plane trip, I’d have to stop eating 36 hours beforehand.
Any food I ate back then would either roar through the alimentary canal too quickly, or would display a profound reticence about making its exit, whereupon anything entering the works subsequent to that was greeted by what felt like a riot in a peat bog. Events that increased my stress level more than everyday routine would then tip things into the Miserably Uncomfortable and Distracted end of the dial.
No matter where I was or what time it was, I would’ve preferred to be lying in a scalding hot bath, which was the only thing besides not eating that made me feel better, although not much.
Why did recovery take so long?
Celiacs are famous for their disastrous digestive tracts, but going gluten-free did not result in any great improvement in mine until I started experimenting with supplements. Damage caused by celiac works thusly:
- Celiac disease causes atrophy in the intestinal villi that produce the different enzymes the body uses to break different substances down. So half-digested food was running amok up and down the line, and the rest of the digestive system refused to have anything to do with it.
- Celiac-induced deficiencies caused the intestines to lose their peristalsis mojo. Calcium and magnesium, for example, play a role in contracting and relaxing the muscles. The intestines couldn’t squeeze and twist and smash sh%! up or keep it moving along the way they were supposed to.
- The same thing caused the large intestine lining to break down, and undigested particles were leaking out of the gaps into the bloodstream. However, I don’t think this was as large a problem for me as the first two.
In addition to all that, I had lived and continued to live for years in moldy homes, which is a huge source of inflammation. I’m guessing that slowed down recovery a lot.
The link to mood
As I experimented with my diet, I learned which foods ruined my digestion and that there was a clear connection between indigestion and my mood. My willingness to tolerate discomfort lessened as I realized how much better I could feel mentally.
Supplements that finally helped
Digestive enzymes, calcium, and magnesium
Things first started getting better when I started taking digestive enzymes at every meal, which I did for months. I don’t remember what brand it was, but it came from the alterna-doc. Things got better still when I started taking calcium and magnesium.
In addition, at the recommendation of many people on the Listserv Celiac list — one of the few lists I’ve ever visited, BTW, whose members know how to write a subject line, and which ruined me forever for all other discussion groups — I took 500 mg of the amino acid L-glutamine every other day for perhaps a year. Any more and I got headaches, which I believe is normal for people who react badly to monosodium glutamate (MSG). The body can convert glutamine into the amino acid glutamate. According to Ron Hoggan & James Braly, authors of Dangerous Grains, the amino acid can “prevent and reverse villous atrophy, a leaky gut, and the malabsorption of nutrients.” I definitely saw an improvement over the months that I took it. When I stopped it, I did not get worse.
Psyllium husk powder
Things got even better after I started taking a tbsp (tablespoon) of psyllium husk fiber powder twice a day, which I did for a couple of years, then took up again ten years later. That took care of the borborygmus, one of the best words ever, that taking supplements occasionally brought on. According to experts, this amount of fiber will either keep you from ever dying of cancer, or will deplete your body of every mineral on the periodic table. I’m saying that the amount I was using might be overkill. It’s your call.
Betaine hydrochloride (BHCl) and probiotics
Several years later, I took a truckload of betaine hydrochloride (BHCl) for many months, which helped absorption a lot, judging by the state of my fingernails and skin. I think I started with 4 x 500 mg capsules with each meal. When the BHCl started to make my stomach burn, I’d lower the dose, until eventually I didn’t need it anymore.
At some point I also took probiotics for months.
Potential sources of difficulty for the movement-o
- The gluten-free gums: I never developed the ability to handle guar gum or xantham gum, which are in all gluten-free baked goods.
- Undereating slows things down a lot.
- Possible infection: For a long time, I had to drink a glass of salt water every morning for things to work. Then one day I was prescribed an antibiotic for a sinus infection, which I picked up from cleaning a derelict home — long story — and voila! I never had another problem. (An antibiotic prescribed five years prior for a urinary tract infection had no effect in that regard.)
- Underchewing: You gotta chew obsessively (as a commenter here noted). I mean, like a crazy person. If you have breathing problems, or were raised to bolt down your food at the table, this might not come naturally.
- Cold foods, as in salads and sandwiches. An acupuncturist taught me to avoid these.
When this content was published or updated
The content on this page was published in June 2011 and updated in August 2022 and April 2023.