Updated February 17, 2013
For years, in order to survive a job interview or a conference or a plane trip, I’d have to stop eating 36 hours beforehand. Any food I ate back then would either roar through the alimentary canal too quickly, or would display a profound reticence about making its exit, whereupon anything entering the works subsequent to that was greeted by what felt like a riot in a peat bog. Events that increased my stress level more than everyday routine would then tip things into the Miserably Uncomfortable and Distracted end of the dial.
No matter where I was or what time it was, I would’ve preferred to be lying in a scalding hot bath, which was the only thing besides not eating that made me feel better, although not much.
Celiacs are famous for their disastrous digestive tracts, but going gluten-free did not result in any great improvement in mine until I started experimenting with supplements. I believe the problem was three-fold:
1. Celiac disease causes atrophy in the intestinal villi that produce the different enzymes the body uses to break different substances down. So half-digested food was running amok up and down the line, and the rest of the digestive system refused to have anything to do with it.
2. Celiac-induced deficiencies caused the intestines to lose their peristalsis mojo. Calcium and magnesium, for example, play a role in contracting and relaxing the muscles. The intestines couldn’t squeeze and twist and smash sh%! up or keep it moving along the way they were supposed to.
3. The same thing caused the large intestine lining to break down, and undigested particles were leaking out of the gaps into the bloodstream. However, I don’t think this was as large a problem for me as the first two.
Things first started getting better when I started taking digestive enzymes at every meal, which I did for months. I don’t remember what brand it was, but it came from the alterna-doc. Things got better still when I started taking calcium and magnesium.
In addition, at the recommendation of many people on the Listserv Celiac list — one of the few lists I’ve ever visited, BTW, whose members know how to write a subject line, and which ruined me forever for all other discussion groups — I took 500 mg of the amino acid L-glutamine every other day for perhaps a year. Any more and I got headaches, which I believe is normal for people who react badly to monosodium glutamate (MSG). The body can convert glutamine into the amino acid glutamate. According to Ron Hoggan & James Braly, authors of Dangerous Grains, the amino acid can “prevent and reverse villous atrophy, a leaky gut, and the malabsorption of nutrients.” I definitely saw an improvement over the months that I took it. When I stopped it, I did not get worse.
Things got even better after I started taking a tbsp (tablespoon) of psyllium husk fiber powder twice a day, which I did for a couple of years. That took care of the borborygmus, one of the best words ever, that taking supplements occasionally brought on. According to experts, this amount of fiber will either keep you from ever dying of cancer, or will deplete your body of every mineral on the periodic table. I’m saying that the amount I was using might be overkill. It’s your call.
Several years later, I took a truckload of betaine hydrochloride (BHCl) for many months, which helped absorption a lot, judging by the state of my fingernails and skin. I think I started with 4 x 500 mg capsules with each meal. When the BHCl started to make my stomach burn, I’d lower the dose, until eventually I didn’t need it anymore.
At some point I also took probiotics for months.
And of course, as I experimented with my diet I learned which foods ruined my digestion and that there was a clear connection between indigestion and my mood. Most of the intolerances eventually disappeared.