I'm only dairy (and gluten) intolerant if I stop eating them.
March 10, 2015 5:42 AM   Subscribe

I can eat dairy and gluten in large quantities to no ill effect, in terms of any GI symptoms, as long as I'm doing so on a regular basis. If I cut them out completely for 2-4 weeks, the initial reintroduction (accidental or intentional) makes me sick for a day or more (bloating, diarrhea, etc.).

Due to an autoimmune condition, I periodically decide to give my body a rest and cut out gluten and dairy for 4-8 weeks, maybe once a year, when I'm especially symptomatic. It's also a good mindfulness eating practice, since it forces me to do most of my own food prep, make sure I'm still getting the full spectrum of protein, fat, minerals vitamins, etc. using nutritional calculators, and those habits will carry over for months afterwards.

The only real physical difference I notice is that my skin starts looking great--clearer, less redness, etc. But not so great that I'd be willing to give up cheese and bread for the rest of my life, if you know what I mean--if only because of the expense and hassle relative to the effects. I just don't get GI symptoms from gluten or dairy if I'm consuming them on a regular basis, even to excess (and I've been blood tested for celiac twice--the full panel--with negative results). I've chalked up the clearer skin to the lack of processed foods I'm eating during these times.

HOWEVER. After 2-4 weeks of eliminating gluten and dairy, even a small amount (scrambled eggs that turned out to be made with milk, fish that was lightly floured before being cooked in butter, etc.) results in 6-18 hours of painful bloating and the trots. The effect goes away after continuing to consume the offending food for a week or two more.

Is this a sign of an actual intolerance worth addressing over the long term? How common is this effect of elimination diets? Have you had this experience yourself? Feel free to explain this to me like I'm a total idiot who doesn't know how to use google.
posted by these are my travel socks to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW my daughter has a mild dairy allergy that manifests as redness and roughness in her cheeks. (The other has a dairy allergy that manifests as eczema inside her elbows.) So this might be an outright allergic reaction, and I'd investigate the possibility that it's only dairy, and not gluten, given both your examples describe milk and butter. Or it could be both; celiac is a different illness than outright wheat allergy.

It's also the case that continued exposure to a specific allergen can cause you to become less reactive after a while -- for example, being OK with your cat day to day, but reacting when you come back from a week's vacation.

I'd be concerned about the invisible damage exposure to these allergens might be doing to you -- especially since you cut them out when your autoimmune condition is particularly bothering you, leading one toward the conclusion that ongoing exposure is what makes your symptoms flare up in the first place. If it's not good for your body, it's not good for your body all the time. When you get sick on reintroduction, that's your body trying to tell you something important.
posted by Andrhia at 6:00 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

IANAD, but one guess would be that you are starving off the gut bacteria that help you digest these foods, so eating them again suddenly leads to symptoms (bloating, pain, etc.). Once you've been eating the foods for a week, you have restored the bacterial population to the point where it can assist you again.

If you want to test this theory, you could order three kits from UBiome to look at your bacterial population breakdown before, during, and after your restricted diet.

That being said -- the blood tests for celiac are not 100% accurate (and especially inaccurate if you weren't eating gluten when you had it); only a small intestine biopsy is considered conclusive. So if you are concerned about this and you want to rule out celiac (and other inflammatory bowel disorders), you could talk to a gastroenterologist about getting a scope. Note that you would have to be eating the offending foods prior to the scope in order to get accurate results.

Also, have you tried cutting out processed food but continuing to eat wheat, dairy, etc.? (Bulgar wheat is pretty unprocessed and delicious, for example.) It'd be interesting to see if your skin clears up on an unprocessed diet that included wheat and/or dairy.

It may also be worth keeping a food and symptoms diary.
posted by pie ninja at 6:13 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Quick clarifications:

--yes, I had been eating copious amounts of wheat/gluten for months before both celiac panels, one which was done 10 years ago after the Hashimoto's thyroiditis diagnosis, and one that was 18 months ago;

--I have tried "clean eating" (home cooking or restaurant/purchased simple foods with no more than 4-6 identifiable ingredients, etc.) that included dairy and gluten, but I haven't thought to try less processed/refined flours (there was not the same "glowing and even-toned skin, for a lady of my age" side effect);

--I have tried eliminating gluten only (not dairy) during some of these mini-breaks and had the same GI symptoms upon that initial reintroduction (accidental or intentional).

Thanks for these answers so far!
posted by these are my travel socks at 6:33 AM on March 10, 2015

IAAD but not a GI doctor, and this is anecdata not a medical explanation. But I know plenty of vegetarians and vegans who have had the same effect on trying to reintroduce animal products of any description, despite merrily eating them with no ill-effects for years before they cut them out. The symptoms went after a few weeks of continuing to eat the offending items, just like you.

Gut flora changes seems like a reasonable explanation; you can get GI side effects from any significant diet change. I guess some of it could be psychosomatic, but that wouldn't explain the unwitting consumption part.
posted by tinkletown at 6:47 AM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

The problem with going gluten free as a way to determine if you have problems with wheat is it doesn't address other more pernicky disorders where gluten isn't the problem, but a sugar in wheat is.

NPR did a piece on gluten sensitivity last year titled, "Sensitive To Gluten? A Carb In Wheat May Be The Real Culprit" that made its way into my podcast stream last year which talks about fermentable poly....uh, FODMAPs.

Is this a sign of an actual intolerance worth addressing over the long term?

It's totally up to you and what you're willing to trade off for health. I've performed health related miracles in the last eight years, but there are some things I just can't seem to give up like caffeine and sugar, and I'm at a point where I'm not sure I want to shift/restrict/alter much more in my life for such small gains in health.

Btw have you ever tried a true blue sour dough after one of your elimination diets? Some folks with gastric symptoms report they don't have the same reaction when they eat sour dough.
posted by redindiaink at 7:40 AM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have wondered this myself with regards mostly to beans and gluten. I haven't noticed digestive impacts of reintroducing dairy although I have the same experience with redness and quality of skin. When I reintroduce beans, I have nausea and accompanying digestive issues though I have been eating beans regularly otherwise my whole life with little to no digestive side effects. When I reintroduce gluten, I primarily notice brain fog. This is not very scientific but I wanted to let you know that you are not alone.

I notice that people who are for the food tend to say that your system needs to adjust, gut bacteria needs to rebalance compared to people who are against eating the food say that this is a clear indication that you shouldn't eat the food. Both theories make equal sense to me unfortunately.
posted by RoadScholar at 8:13 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you separate out the dairy elimination and the gluten elimination?

Because the dairy thing is not all that abnormal. In many adults who can digest dairy, if you go without eating dairy for a while, your body scales back on how much lactase it produces and you stop being able to digest it.
posted by mskyle at 8:27 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is this a sign of an actual intolerance worth addressing over the long term? How common is this effect of elimination diets? Have you had this experience yourself?

It's the sugar sharts! I don't think this is a sign of intolerance, and very common. I know a lot of people who eat clean/Paleo/no-sugar/what-have-you and nearly everyone, including myself, who cuts sugar/simple carbs/gluten out for a week or two (sometimes more, sometimes less) regrets re-introduction for the first 24 hours. I could guess at the physiological issues at why this happens, but it would all be from Modern Jackass. My point is that your experience is normal.

It definitely raises questions about the health of some of these things given the effect they have on our bodies after long periods of absence, but it hasn't stopped me from eating them so yeah.
posted by Anonymous at 9:17 AM on March 10, 2015

Me too! This happens to me at the end of a Whole 30, after thirty days of no dairy or grains. It lasts a few days to a week or two, then "wears off." I've always assumed it was a gut biome thing, and I am fascinated that there's a test I can do to check if that's true.

(If it helps you building a theory, I was very allergic to wheat and dairy as a kid, but grew out of it during puberty.)
posted by instamatic at 11:11 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with mskyle to try to separate the gluten and dairy. Maybe try to take some Lactaid pills with the dairy when you reintroduce?
posted by radioamy at 11:15 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Hashimoto's thyroiditis diagnosis"? And possibly gluten intolerant? You know that Hashimotos might have been triggered by a gluten intolerance and "possibly" could have been avoided if this was the case.

"and I've been blood tested for celiac twice--the full panel--with negative results"
What kind of tests? There is a Gen test. I would do the gen test. If you have the genetic predisposition of a celiac then you should not eat gluten. It might trigger Hasimoto, Diabetes, Cancer and other things in the long run.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:11 PM on March 10, 2015

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