I was wrong—really, really wrong!

About three years ago when I was first diagnosed with RA, I met a variety of people who told me that going gluten-free might “cure” RA. I didn’t put a lot of credence in their theory. It just didn’t seem possible to me, and in fact it made me kind of mad. How on earth would that be possible? RA is autoimmune, not food-based, right? It’s not a disease that begins because of our habits. And add to that my genetic connection to a parent with RA. The whole suggestion just kind of pissed me off.

But I guess I never completely wrote off the possibility of going gluten-free. Every time someone brought it up, my  response was the same. “Maybe someday but I’m not ready right now.” Honestly that’s just a nice way of saying … give me a good enough reason and I’ll consider if it would be worth it to me. I love bread and all things wheat, so being gluten-free sounded like a small bit of hell right here on earth. But just in case, I eliminated processed breakfast cereals and limited my bread consumption … okay but not pizza or subs or cookies or cakes … at least not THAT much. I definitely found that the more healthy, clean, unprocessed choices I made, the better I felt. But gluten-free … nope, not yet.

Well, about 3 months ago things started to shift. I read a great book hoping to gain some insight for a newly diabetic family member. What? A book about diabetes talked about gluten? Yup – and autoimmunity … and the connection between the two. And I found an article that seemed credible covering the connection between the two topics. Both sources essentially said that eliminating gluten may lessen or remove the possibility of getting another autoimmune disease. And I read another book about the connection between thyroid issues, autoimmunity and gluten too. Hmmm … don’t want any more diseases … so maybe … Here’s where my “switch” or motivation was beginning to flip. More reading and more connections ensued. And I decided to give gluten-free living a try.

Know what really flipped the final switch? Well I just happened to stand on the scale one morning. The previous evening I’d had two small pieces of pizza and a few baked, breaded shrimps. Shocker – the scale showed I had gained four pounds overnight. Nothing else in my food the day before was inflammatory. But four pounds of water/inflammation packed on just from a “moderate” serving of wheat-based stuff. You should know that I’m not super worried about my weight – it’s healthy and I’m fitting in my clothes. That’s another reason why four pounds overnight seemed crazy.

So I figured maybe there is some truth to the connection between gluten and inflammation. Although I don’t suppose I’ll ever know for sure if gluten really would cause another autoimmune disease … or not. If I can hedge my bets, maybe it’s worth a try. And I thought to myself, “let’s give it 4 to 6 weeks and see how I feel. If there’s no change, I’ll just go back to gluten.”

I talked it all over with my husband, showed him the articles, and decided to go for it. And how long did it take to see and feel a difference? Not 4 to 6 weeks but 4 to 6 DAYS! Truthfully, I am still finding things that have changed … and it has been about 4 weeks now. Here’s what I noticed:

  1. Flexibility (what I noticed first … and as a massage therapist this change is very helpful … plus it’s easier to get on the floor and play with the grandkids)
  2. Major reduction in morning stiffness, especially in my hands (again, so helpful when I have early morning clients)
  3. Strength or more muscle soreness (I think keeping my muscles strong will ultimately benefit my joints, so this is important to me too)
  4. Major changes in how clothing waistlines fit (no weight change, just every single piece of clothing is looser & all muffin tops are gone)
  5. Less swollen feet at night (I stand for up to 8 hours each day, so this comfort level change is huge)
  6. Less wildly uncontrollable hunger (I used to say my stomach was really a headless monster but not anymore …)
  7. Less irritability, especially around hunger (this is huge because I have been attributing irritability to hormone changes … maybe not so much)
  8. Calmer emotions even in times of great stress (so I’m in the sandwich generation and a small business owner … need to be calmer every day)
  9. Less brain fog – not “losing words” or my train of thought at all (super helpful and makes me feel a lot less crazy and perimenopausal)
  10. Changes in muscle definition and general tissue quality (now you can see my muscles, plus they feel looser and less tense to both me and my massage therapist)

I can’t say for sure that going gluten-free will help you with these issues. (But I would wish good changes of any type for you!) I can’t say for sure that I will always experience being gluten-free as a positive force in my life. But I am hopeful … and that makes all the difference each morning when my feet hit the floor.

8 Comments

  1. vicky clifton
    Dec 10, 2012

    How refreshing to find someone who is not only open to the possibility of diet related changes with RA but who has also experienced them. I do not believe that everyone’s RA is diet related or diet affected but I do think that it is a useful concept for people to explore, at the very least. And at the very most it can make a significant difference. I have been gluten free for over a year. My swelling decreased within
    a week, the pain levels decreased, my blood results showed a marked reduction in the inflammatory markers. RA is not caused by gluten but the gut is certainly affected by gluten. Google leaky gut syndrome. Happy researching to others and may you also find your pot of golden information at the end of the google rainbow. With love, V.

    • thislusciousra
      Dec 10, 2012

      Hi Vicky – I definitely have been researching leaky gut syndrome. While I don’t have directly digestive effects from gluten (at least as far as I know), I do believe that it is the leaky gut that is why the gluten proteins may be leaking out into my body and creating autoimmune reactions. So glad to hear being gluten free is helping you too!

      Here’s an interesting point that I didn’t put in my blog post: my blood-based inflammatory markers have always been super low. But I think that the changes I have felt are inflammation in my soft tissue (muscles and the tissue around them) reducing. Just my theory …

  2. Growing Up Gluten Free
    Dec 10, 2012

    Hashimotos, arthritis, psoriasis, excema, and celiac all run in our family. I’m also reading into the food/arthritis connection as docs think I have RA. Also reading that dairy is inflammatory and have started to take a similar approach with experimenting in how I feel with less dairy intake.

    • thislusciousra
      Dec 10, 2012

      Yes I have heard and do think dairy is probably inflammatory too. And if you research, there are a lot of credible folks who just feel that we don’t need cow’s milk. So many other foods have calcium and so much more benefit without the potential downsides! I have been dairy free before, and it is at least as challenging as being gluten free. Can’t say I felt as many benefits either – but it’s probably my next step too! I sure hope you don’t have RA … just like I hope I don’t have Hashimoto’s (which I suspect but don’t know).

  3. Wren
    Dec 10, 2012

    It’s terrific that dropping gluten-containing food from your diet has made such a marked difference. I wonder how you’re coping with the loss of bread and cereal products, however. I’ve been, off and on, following a low-carb diet for several years. One of the hardest parts for me has been giving up the convenience of making a sandwich for lunch, for instance, or having a slice of toast with my egg in the morning. Eventually I always end up adding limited whole grain foods back into my diet… and of course, causing my weight-loss to stop dead. So frustrating! I guess what I’m asking is how you’re managing the change? And congrats!

    • thislusciousra
      Dec 10, 2012

      I started out pretty low gluten anyway, and have mostly been working on finding a few gluten-free alternatives. I found a bakery local to me that makes good GF bread and have also tried some Trader Joe’s products. I especially like the brown rice tortillas. So far so good … I’ll try to post an update after the holiday season … :-)

  4. Elizabeth
    Jan 3, 2013

    Have you read or heard of the book Wheat Belly? I saw the doctor/author on the Dr.Oz show and it was super interesting. Check out the video interviews if you get a chance. One of his big points is that it’s not the gluten for most people, its the actual Wheat. He also stresses the importance of avoiding gluten-free foods because they shoot you blood sugar way up. Anyway, I loved your post and I hope I can follow in your foot steps. My vice is chocolate which apparently can contain wheat!! Yikes, haha

    • thislusciousra
      Jan 4, 2013

      I have read that book and found it super interesting as well. I will have to see what Dr. Oz has up on his site from the interview and YouTube too. I agree about the “gluten-free” foods that are out there … they are just as starchy even without the wheat. For me, I use them if I “have” to but mostly just find other options first. Best of luck in your g-free journey!

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