At 14, I started getting terrible migraines several times a week which my doctor (and my mother) attributed to stress as it had been a particularly bad year with the death of several friends. My doctor prescribed painkillers and suggested I wear tinted glasses in school and I just tried to deal with it. When I was 16 or 17, I started experiencing severe stomach pains some times after I ate greasy food (being a teenager with access to a car I ate A LOT of fast food). At the time I didn’t really know where it was coming from, but just wrote it off as gas and figured it would resolve itself.
Fast forward a few years, the migraines continued and the stomach pain came and went randomly, but I still didn’t really think much of it. I was working in a camp for children with autism the summer after my first year of university, and noticed that every morning I was having severe cramps and diarrhea about 30 minutes after I got to work. Again, ignoring my body I continued on as if nothing was wrong. I started feeling better toward the end of the summer, then one afternoon the cramps and diarrhea came back. When I thought about it, I realized that I had just drank chocolate milk with lunch an hour earlier. Looking back over the previous months, I realized that in the week or two I had been feeling better, I had run out of cereal and therefore was having toast for breakfast instead of my usual bowl of cereal with milk. After talking about it with my family doctor, we both agreed that I had somehow developed an intolerance to lactose (after consuming dairy my entire life). I tried the lactaid pills for awhile, but they always seemed to give me heartburn. whereas not all forms of dairy made me sick (except actual milk), especially if I only consumed them in small quantities.
For the next several years, I drank lactose-free milk and made sure not to consume more than small quantities of dairy products, still enjoying favourites like ice cream and cheesecake. Throughout this time, I was still getting the severe stomach pains, but I knew they weren’t linked to dairy, so I thought my body was just made that way and it was something I had to deal with.
As my migraines became worse (up to 4/week), I was referred to a neurologist who prescribed anti-seizure medication as a prophylaxis (it worked!) and diagnosed me with a brain aneurysm. I then went to a neurosurgeon who told me the aneurysm couldn’t cause migraines, but that we’d get rid of that and then look at another cause. Thankfully, after undergoing an angiogram it was revealed that the ‘aneurysm’ was in fact a looped blood vessel which shouldn’t be a problem. Still no closer to a cause for my migraines, I just figured that I would continue taking the seizure medication, and just checked in with my neurologist every year to adjust the dosage.
When I was 23 the stomach pain became so severe at times that I was forced to go to the emergency room. After doing a pregnancy test (negative), the doctor gave me some pain killers (which didn’t work), sent me for a CT (which revealed nothing), and sent me home. Two weeks later I was back with the same symptoms, only worse. This time they gave me 3 different kinds of pain killers, which did nothing to alleviate my pain, but served to get me so stoned I didn’t really care so much about it and was finally able to sleep for the first time in days. The doctor also did an abdominal x-ray which showed a lot of trapped gas in my bowel, as well as fecal matter. He asked me whether I could be constipated, but given my lactose intolerance I always had bowel movements (though sometimes they were more akin to diarrhea). He didn’t really know what else to think, so he suggested I keep a food journal to see whether any particular foods triggered the pain.
Following the advice of the ER doc, I kept a food diary which revealed that most of my ‘episodes’ came after eating particularly greasy foods. I told this to one of the doctors at my university’s clinic and she sent me for a ultrasound of my gall bladder, which also came back negative. At a loss, and with no family doctor to put all the different pieces together, I just kept on going, dealing with the pain when it came.
A few years later I went home for Christmas where in the span of 3 days I consumed seafood casserole, lasagna, pizza, and chicken cordon bleu. Needless to say, I felt pretty terrible when I got back and decided to do a bit of a detox in hopes that it would help. I went to Chapters to look for some ideas and started skimming through a few books. I saw The G-Free Diet by Elisabeth Hasselbeck on the New Release shelf and started reading. Lo and behold, EVERY single symptom I had (migraines, gas, constipation, stomach pains, etc) was listed as potentially being caused by gluten. I bought the book and cleared all sources of dairy and gluten out of my kitchen.
Three years later, I haven’t looked back. Though I have had times where I was accidentally “glutenned” by a well-meaning friend or restaurant, I am feeling so much healthier. My migraines have been reduced to a few a year (without the meds), my stomach pains have stopped almost completely (aside from accidental ingestion), and I have healthy bowel movements. Even better than that, my mood has improved dramatically and I have so much more energy!