When Gluten is a Problem

Updated: May 1

It was around two decades ago that I gave up dairy, strongly suspecting that it was a contributing factor to my recurrence of endometriosis. There had been some suggestion too that gluten (or wheat?) could also be a problem for endometriosis sufferers, but I felt this didn't apply to me. I was all the more convinced when the interventions I did introduce: less processed, more natural food and no dairy, gave me such excellent results.

I may have been right in my conclusions back then, or not, I can't know for sure either way. But as time passed I became increasingly aware of digestive challenges that seemed to relate to eating bread. And a somewhat potent reaction to wheat bran. This led to some reading up about wheat (I was still of the opinion that gluten wasn't a problem for me), and I started to make concerted efforts to reduce it by switching to other grains and some simple avoidance.

This strategy seemed to work well, giving me some more years of bread. And there was almost a righteousness in my satisfaction with the sourdough we were making…when I say 'we', I really mean Graham. He'd got the starter from my sister and nurtured it for a

couple of years, baking excellent loaves at least once a week.

Then it happened! If I'm honest, I knew my digestion was challenged even by this bread, but I liked it and it was a temporary thing each time even though it typically disturbed me in the small hours of the morning. But one night it became more than a digestive disturbance. I plummeted into the lowest mood I have ever experienced. I'd had bouts of mild depression before, but this was a whole other low that I had never known before. I would happily have been spared this insight; I didn't want to know what it felt like when, despite my mind being perfectly able to list the positives in my life, I could see absolutely nothing. I couldn't make any of it matter, and it scared me. I didn't know what was happening or if it would last.

I was very lucky. It passed after about an hour which is when I noticed that my abdominal discomfort was also abating, and that's when I realised what had just happened.

That experience made it easy to give up on gluten-containing bread and I was fine for several weeks until it happened again. This time I realised I'd eaten a salad dressed in soy sauce (rather than tamari which we had always used …they taste very similar), and this time at least, I knew to expect that the excruciating low mood would pass.

This aspect of gluten sensitivity is perhaps even less well understood than the more physical kind, but there are enough studies acknowledging the negative neurological impact of gluten* for susceptible people for it to be taken seriously. And I do.

Since the issue occurred seemingly out-of-the-blue, I guess there's a chance that it could have resolved itself again, but the fail-safe way of finding out holds no appeal for me, and I miss 'true grain' bread so rarely that it's not worth trying. And even if the neurological effect were to have vanished, what about the physical sensations I'd been experiencing? I'd been foolish to ignore that. I love the food we eat now. I choose whole natural foods that are naturally gluten-free which, for me at least, makes life easy.

It was a real bonus for me that the issue of grains was one of the modules of our year long course to become wholefood plant-based educators. It's certainly helped to give me additional clarity despite the difficulty of finding truths and absolutes on this topic. And it's one of the many reasons we incorporate the issue of grains and gluten in our program of events, starting with a 1 hour presentation on Saturday 14th May. The link to this event is here and will be live until that date.

~ Annette

*Scientific Literature on Gluten and Neurological Effects

Mood Disorders and Gluten: It’s Not All in Your Mind! A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis

Gluten sensitivity: from gut to brain. - PubMed - NCBI

Gluten Sensitivity Presenting as a Neuropsychiatric Disorder

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