Can Your Digestion Still Suck Even Though You’re Gluten Free?

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People who come to work with me have a variety of health complaints and it’s not their type of complaint that is a common thread but rather that they all have symptoms that they’ve tried to get rid of over and over again, either on their own or with professional help but to no avail! Their symptoms persist, solutions seem improbable and their feelings of frustration and hopelessness are increasing.

Discovering someone’s food intolerances, particularly gluten intolerance whether Celiac or Non Celiac is particularly gratifying because it can be the source to so many seemingly unrelated health issues. The simple remedy of establishing a gluten free life is incredibly rewarding because it’s in your control, it costs nothing to implement, it doesn’t involve taking medications and can finally result in the disappearance of previously unresolved health issues.

BUT, what about the person who IS living gluten free and STILL has digestive issues and hasnʼt been able to get help for that either!? Letʼs look at a few real cases that Iʼve worked with to find out what was wrong and how it was resolved:

Robert from Portland
Robert came to me with complaints of hip and back pain, random but consistent diarrhea and seemingly increasing intolerance to more foods. Robert was already living a strict gluten free life as he had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease 2 years prior. His doctors felt that his current symptoms were because of his challenging and fragile digestive function due to Celiac Disease. Although this description can be true with unhealed digestive tracts of gluten intolerant people, Robert had been strict with his GFD (gluten free diet) and took appropriate supplements for the first 12 – 15 months following his Celiac diagnosis in order to heal his gut lining and replete the nutrient deficiencies that result from gluten induced malabsorption.

During his 2 hour comprehensive assessment with me there were many things that shed light on why he continued to suffer but the light bulb went on for me when I asked him to think of ANYTHING that was going on for him when his symptoms first occurred. His answer meandered along for awhile, listing a few different events going on then, he was recalling the time of year…….his son had graduated from middle school, they celebrated with friends by going to a water theme park and then they……….Bingo – that’s it!

I knew he had to do a stool test looking for abnormal microorganisms. Unfortunately, water theme parks are a favorable environment for fecal born organisms such as cryptosporidium–a water born critter that can cause diarrhea and digestive malaise…… And thatʼs exactly what his test results showed: cryptosporidium, positive.
Once Robert received the appropriate antibiotic against this microbe, his symptoms cleared. It took awhile since crypto is not easily eradicated, but he eventually regained normal digestive function and with a proper stretching program, he even eliminated his hip and back pain.

Jake from San Francisco
This is another ʻcrypto caseʼ (ie. cryptosporidium positive on his stool analysis) of a teenager with increasing weight loss, bad gas, random soft stools and mediocre exercise tolerance who was already living gluten free since he was 10 years old, but hereʼs the catch. Because Jakeʼs doctor was not aware of the functional medicine specialty labs that use advanced DNA detection techonology such as Metametrix Labs or Genova Diagnostics, he didnʼt trust the lab results that Jake and his mother brought in from our previous testing. The doctor ordered Jake to do another stool test with a local lab (no DNA detection for microbes) only to find negative results for cryptosporidium. The doctor concluded that Jake didnʼt have crypto and probably just needed to bulk up on his foods to gain weight and improve his energy. He told Jake to eat a lot of bread and cheese and drink milk everyday–all foods that make Jake very sick!

Jakeʼs family found another doctor who would treat Jake for the cryptosporidium infection and slowly but surely Jake improved and his weight and energy began to climb again to normal levels for his age group.

Gina from Berkeley
Gina is a busy mother of 3, a small business owner and volunteers at her kidsʼ school. She and 2 of her 3 children all live gluten free and she has done so for 5 years! In the last 3 years she has had increasing gas and bloating, interrupted sleep, an energy level that no longer feels robust and carb cravings that seem to be winning. Obviously, anyone could guess that Gina has a lot of stress in her life and as a practitioner, I know that stress alters the integrity of the intestinal lining. Once again, after a comprehensive inquiry and physical exam I could tell that Gina needed to do a stool test to assess her digestive environment. Her test results came up positive for significant yeast growth which is not an uncommon finding when stress compromises the balance of the digestive systemʼs microbes. The yeast, in turn, encourages Ginaʼs desire for carbs which, when eaten, keeps the yeast population going strong! Following a well rounded treatment protocol for yeast which addressed aspects of not feeding the yeast, balancing them and eradicating their overgrowth, as well as focused training for stress management, Ginaʼs digestive system as well as her energy and sleep returned to normal function. Being able to button the top of her pants again was a bonus since her bloating disappeared!

So for those of you who ARE gluten free and your digestive system STILL isnʼt right, donʼt despair, youʼre not crazy, there is so much more to the digestion picture than just living gluten free. Yes, the digestive system is complex and a variety of issues other than gluten intolerance can be disrupting your digestion. But with a detailed and integrated functional evaluation there are also many opportunities to uncover the sources of your digestive complaints which will then lead to clear solutions. Donʼt despair!

About Sheila Wagner PT, CN, BCHN

Sheila’s cutting edge ability to uncover hidden source(s) of health issues when no one else has is the first piece to her step wise approach in solving your persistent health complaints.

+Sheila Wagner is the ultimate expert assisting people nationwide to finally fix their health through 1:1 consults, group programs, lectures and classes.

Opinions & Feedback:

  1. You are such a wealth of information, it just amazes me when I read your blog posts. I wish every physician knew what was in your head, truly.

    • Well done, Kristen!!! My blood test retslus came back off-the-charts positive, and as soon as I cut out gluten I felt better than I had in my entire life. I thought I’d give it 30 days and then intentionally eat gluten as a test. I never did it. After a few newbie mistakes with accidental gluten ingestion and feeling horrid, I knew I’d never purposefully eat gluten again. I also decided that I don’t need a biopsy to tell me what my body already knows. My life is far better staying gluten free.Wonderful post!

  2. Sheila,
    Certainly this is an information packed article especially for those in the category. It is only in the last few years I learned how many food issues there were in society. How does someone invite a few dozen people over for a dinner or a party with snacks anymore? It must be difficult to keep everyone happy?

    • As is true everywhere, you can’t make everyone happy! That’s why the ultimate responsibility is on the owner of
      the food allergies– to be prepared and take care of themselves in whatever setting they find themselves in, it’s not always
      easy and does take planning and communication!

  3. Sheila – This is so interesting! As someone who has just in the last year or so become sensitive to different types of foods, I am always looking for new information.

    I do have to say, there are times now that I do bring my own food and snacks with me when I know I won’t have many choices for meals – like at conferences. Too many people just complain about not being able to eat the food and being hungry … but they KNEW of their dietary restrictions before attending. They chose not to make the necessary arrangements.

    Jennifer Bourn, Bourn Creative

    • Good for you Jennifer to be responsible about your food needs! Yep, you’ll find me traveling with my food everywhere! I’m always prepared but I guess that’s also cause I like to eat! :))

  4. Sheila,

    I am constantly amazed at your knowledge. Thanks for sharing this information and helping people finally fix their health.

    Write on!~


  5. Simon Peters says

    Hi, I don’t know if you could advise me re my son (17). He went to India last year and returned very poorly. Sickness, gas, loose stools, and in a month he lost 28 lbs off his 140 lb, previously healthy, body. He was found to have picked up cryptosporidium and it took 12 weeks for him to show signs of improvement. Once he had turned a corner he started to get a lot better over the next 2 weeks and seemed well on the way to recovery. Then the specialist said he wanted to test for Celiac. The blood tests showed a high antibody count and a biopsy of his small intestine showed villi damage. He was also suffering malabsorption with low iron and folic acid levels. The specialist immediately diagnosed celiac and recommended a gluten free diet. He was strict GF for 4 months and, back to fitness, he made the choice to take a gluten challenge. He had a gluten rich diet for 3 weeks and has suffered NO ill effects whatsoever. What I would like to know, and am trying very hard to find info, is this: Is it possible that both the antibody blood test and the biopsy showed symptoms caused by the severe cryptosporidium infection, and not from celiac? Prior to his trip to india he had never suffered any gastric complaints.

    • Simon, this is a very typical case and question that I get in my practice. To figure out the correct answer for your son and to determine if adding back gluten to his diet
      is a dangerous action, I would recommend calling my office and scheduling a 20 minute complementary call with me to discuss this on the phone. There are no one size fits all approaches here
      and specific questions regarding your son’s condition are warranted. I am happy to speak with you!

  6. I’m etremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the
    layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?
    Either way keep up the nie quality writing, it’s rare to see a great
    blog like this one today.

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