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  • Wendy Cohan, RN
    Wendy Cohan, RN

    When Mistakes Happen, Focus on Comfort (How Celiacs can More Quickly Recover from Gluten Exposure)

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 09/25/2008 - Even after identifying yourself as having a wheat or gluten allergy and asking for a specially prepared meal, it is a common mistake to have a server deliver soup with crackers, or the entree with a side of Texas toast.   I get frustrated just thinking about the number of times my salad has arrived with croutons.  However, getting upset, or pointedly reminding the server can ruin the ambiance of the meal, as well as leave a bad impression with your dinner companions. It is helpful to remember that you are in the very small minority of their customers, and simply consider it an honest mistake.  Do not remove the croutons, crackers, cheese, etc. and eat your contaminated food—SEND IT BACK TO THE KITCHEN—politely, please.  State that you cannot eat what they have brought you, and repeat that you are allergic to the offending food.  Use the opportunity to gently remind your server and educate them about gluten.  Hopefully the next time they will be more conscientious.

    If you are wheat or gluten intolerant, and have the genetic component that leads to celiac disease, there is no going back to gluten.  As your body heals, you may think that you will be able to cheat once in a while, and that your sensitivity to gluten will decrease once you are not getting "too much".  In fact, the opposite seems to be true.  Once the body begins to get rid of its toxic load, heal damaged tissues, and regain health, it becomes more sensitive to gluten.  I see this over and over again in the clients I counsel, and in my cooking class students.  You will know right away if you cheat, or if you are accidentally "glutened".  Your body, fortunately or unfortunately, will tell you.  It is important to learn techniques to sooth your symptoms as much as possible until recovery takes place.


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    Symptoms of gluten exposure in a gluten-intolerant person can vary widely, but some commonly reported ones are abdominal discomfort, bloating, pain, swelling (sometimes extreme) and cramping, followed by diarrhea, or loose stools.  For those with Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH), even very minor exposure can provoke itching and a return of a healed or nearly healed rash.  Others report headaches, or experience a sudden decrease in alertness and clarity of thought.

    Short-term treatment strategies for gluten exposure include taking an over-the-counter anti-histamine (check with your pharmacist for gluten ingredients), drinking nettle leaf tea (a natural anti-histamine), and using a warm castor oil pack over your upper or lower abdomen, wherever the pain and cramping are centered.

    Longer-term strategies include rebuilding your intestinal health through following an anti-inflammatory diet, taking supplements like L-Glutamine, coconut oil, fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K, Calcium, Magnesium, B-Vitamins, Essential Fatty Acids (EFA's), and probiotics.  Dr. Thomas O'Bryan, a nationally recognized speaker on celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, also recommends Carnitine, an amino acid, in the treatment of celiac/gluten intolerance.  L-Carnitine helps in the absorption and transport of essential fatty acids into cells, and also helps to protect nerve membranes from free-radical damage.

    You may have good results with the tummy rescue smoothie recipe below, which I developed in response to a "gluten emergency" of my own.  The healing properties of each ingredient are also listed.  Puree in blender until smooth, and slightly thickened.  It is most soothing when consumed while still warm from the hot tea

    Tummy Rescue Smoothie:

    • 1 cup hot freshly brewed nettle leaf tea (anti-histamine, anti-spasmodic)
    • ¼ cup Santa-Cruz pear juice (flavoring/sweetener - pears are the least allergenic of fruits)
    • ¼ - ½ teaspoon whole fennel seed (reduces gas & bloating)
    • 2 Tablespoons slippery elm powder (healing & soothing to mucous membranes and the gut)
    • 1 Tablespoon flax seed oil (soothing, anti-inflammatory)
    • ¼ - ½ cup rice milk (hypoallergenic, use to thin to desired consistency)

    This smoothie is best consumed in small sips over an hour or so.  Magnesium also helps with pain and relaxes muscle spasms, so taking a little extra magnesium may be of benefit. For severe symptoms, drink the smoothie while reclining in bed, with a warm castor oil pack over the abdomen, covered by a heating pad set on low.  Do not leave the pack in place for more than an hour.

    There is also an enzyme coming on the market that may help reduce some symptoms of gluten exposure, although this product is in no way meant to replace the gluten-free diet.  Use it only for emergencies.


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    Thank you for your words of wisdom, I will immediately run to my local health food store & stock up on smoothie ingredients. I'm less than a year into this diet and still struggling 2-3 time a month.

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    Thanks for the info about how you actually seem hypersensitive when you start to heal...that has been the most shocking thing to me....I was functioning for so long as an undiagnosed celiac, and now 2 years vehemently Gluten-Free, I can not believe how debilitated I am when I get glutened? It flattens me for two days!

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    Thank you for the info about the smoothie. I have my list made to get the products to make it. Only thing I will have to check with the Health Food Store if nettle leaf tea will mix with my sinniment med. I take. I cannot take anti-histamine tablets. So I will see. I had a couple of comments to say. One is when my salad arrives with croutons I always feel like if I ask them to take it back...They just go back and take them off in the kitchen. Also you commented on soup you order?? I have always stayed away from soup because it always seems to have gluten in it.

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    Thanks for writing something about how to deal with the mistakes. This is where I have a hard time coping, the fatigue plus physical symptoms really drag me down and it is so hard to get back up, usually several days. I am glad to hear others have this too, it makes it less scary. I sometimes get scared something else is happening... nice to be able to dampen the symptoms. Thanks for the help!

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    Just a short note to Jen. Watch what you wish for. My last gluten exposure gave me diarrhea to the point that I became severely dehydrated, my kidneys shut down and I was hospitalized for 15 days. Imodium didn't faze it.

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    Thanks for the article and the interesting comments. I too went on the Gluten Free diet after biopsy etc. I too found that I have become much more sensitive to gluten after being on the diet. I did get rid of my all-body rash, which had been diagnosed for 13 years as Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma and improperly treated for such at Yale New Haven Hospital and Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell in NYC. What a mess. Yes, whenever I eat out I usually get glutened. Do not ever trust restaurants or waiters even when the restaurant has a reputation for having a Gluten Free menu. I now usually bring a small container of fat free yogurt and a banana which I hide while others order food. I eat what I bring and although I miss the goodies at the table I feel well after the meal. That is becoming the most important thing for me. I am old and I realize that Celiac damages our general immune system so we must be vigilant to protect ourselves. Yes, we 'think' we recover from the cramps, diarrhea, malaise in a few days, but the immune system damage, and small intestine damage lasts and lasts. Be vigilant and survive.

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    Hi Wendy - Thank you so much for sharing this information. I'm gluten intolerant but not Celiac and have pretty bad symptoms. I thought I could be glutened on occasion and be alright. Not so much...and now I understand why. It's been about 18 months since my discovery and I'm and still getting adjusted. I've learned so much about what I can do to heal through your article. My appreciation and gratitude.

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    This is the kind of good advice that makes my day! You can't believe how happy I am finding this website with solid information. It's true, it gets worse gluten exposure after a while being on the diet. The main symptom I suffer is 'brain fog' that goes on for about 2 days after the exposure and it's quite severe, it's impossible to read a book or even calculate little things like checking the bill of the restaurant I am never going back to... Thanks again from across the ocean, Flanders (Belgium)

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    Pears? Following along in the footsteps of the 11, or is it now 12, allele types associated with Celiac (or gluten intolerance), there's another one that treats a chemical found in pear, apple and peach skins, as well as in birch bark and seeds, just as though it were a terrible poison.

     

    That annoying apple peel that lodged in your gum didn't just 'irritate it'. That welt that rose up in the roof of your mouth and your gums is an auto immune reaction to the chemical in the peel.

     

    When that stuff gets to your intestines it continues cause welts.

     

    It is believed this genetic trait served to protect folks against eating small birch trees (6 inches high or less) in the Arctic. They contain high levels of cyanide and a diet high in birch trees can kill humans.

     

    If the peels are cooked, apples and pears and peaches are OK since heat destroys the damaging chemical.

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  • About Me

    An RN for 14 years, I have been following a strict gluten-free diet for six years of improving health! Now I help others as a Celiac Disease/Gluten Intolerance Educator. I work one on one with people on meal planning, shopping, cooking and dining out gluten-free. I will also work with children who have behavioral issues related to gluten or other food sensitivities.  My other websites are: www.WellBladder.com and www.neighborhoodnurse.net.

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