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How I react to gluten… what happens to you?

Posted By Alison On May 29, 2011 @ In Celiac Disease,Gluten Intolerance,Symptoms | 297 Comments

Wonder what happens when a girl with celiac disease eats gluten? Read on!

There was actually a time that I wanted to eat gluten just to see what would happen to me. I had been gluten-free for many years, and I didn’t know how my body would react. I also thought it would make for a good blog post! Well, here it is, but not intentionally. I have been “glutened” three times in the past year. I’m not talking about a tiny bit of cross-contamination — I accidentally ate gluten. And paid for it.

First there was the muffin incident, and although there was no obvious gluten, there is no doubt in my mind that there was a significant amount of it in that muffin.

Months later came a lunch out with colleagues to an Italian restaurant. One of my colleagues ordered the “gluten-free pasta” that turned out to be not gluten-free. Oops. I found out after I had eaten one bite of her pasta. Just one bite.

And the last time was a few weeks ago, when I ate gluten at lunch. The owner of the restaurant believed something to be gluten-free, but it turned out to be an appetizer made of semolina (which is wheat). This time I ate with my colleague and nutritionist Sheila Wagner, who is gluten-intolerant, so it was interesting to note the differences in our reactions.

In all three instances I reacted almost the same way:

  • Anywhere from one to four hours after ingesting the gluten, I began to feel nauseous and my stomach started hurting.
  • The nausea got gradually worse until I ended up vomiting and having diarrhea.
  • After that I was practically comatose. I could barely walk and had an uncontrollable need to lay down and either zone out (I caught myself staring out the window and I had no idea how long I had been doing it), or go to sleep as though I have been drinking alcohol and need to pass out for a while until I sober up.
  • I fluctuated between feeling hot and clammy to feeling chilled and shivering. This combined with achy muscles made me feel as though I had the flu.
  • After sleeping, I came to and felt sober again, although one of the times I remained spacy for hours after, and even a little bit the next day.

Sheila reacted in a totally different way when we ate the same meal:

  • She had a headache by the time we left the restaurant and began to feel bloating that she has not felt in a decade.
  • She awoke at 3:30 am that night with a “blaring” headache, stomach ache, a little nausea and an elevated heart rate (like she drank a bottle of booze).
  • She couldn’t go back to sleep and the headache got much worse. Her brain felt very slow, her bowels were also slow, and she had a low back ache and left neck pain.
  • She also had phlegm in her throat and sinuses.
  • She continued to have soft tissue and joint pain the entire next day and her headache persisted for about 24 hours.

All this from gluten!

In a way I feel lucky that my body gets rid of the gluten right away, so my symptoms don’t persist into the next day like Sheila’s did. I have heard from some of you who feel it for days, even weeks. If you’ve been gluten-free for a while, it would be interesting to hear what happens to you if you accidentally (or on purpose!) eat gluten.

How do you react to gluten?

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