If you have coeliac disease then getting glutened makes you feel really ill, but what really happens to your body? The symptoms can be very different from person to person but what is going on inside is the same.
The lining of the small intestine is covered with finger like tissue called villi. These villi absorb all the nutrients from your food as it passes through the small intestine. When someone with coeliac disease eats gluten, their body doesn’t recognize it, the immune system responds by releasing antibodies to attack this foreign invader. It all gets very confusing in there and as the body is going into high alert, these antibodies attack the villi, damaging or destroying them. This leaves the wall of the intestine flattened so it can’t absorb nutrients from the food as it passes through.
With all this going on there’s no wonder it makes you feel like crap. It is estimated it takes a round 6 months for the body of a coeliac to heal after exposure to gluten. So once the initial bloating and nausea has passed, your body still needs a long time to repair itself from a gluten attack.
As I said the symptoms can vary between different people and even for me they can change. For the last couple of months I have been trying so hard to keep healthy and avoid any foods I feel are hard for me to digest. For the first time in years I have had the satisfaction of being full after a good meal, without feeling sick or that my stomach is going to burst.
Then a couple of weeks ago…BOOM! 20 minutes after eating my tea, I got the tell tale signs that I’ve been glutened. My stomach starts to swell, my clothes get tight and it really feels that my skin is going to burst around my stomach as it stretches and stretches. The rings on my fingers become tight and I can’t get them off, I get sock marks round my ankles, and lines down my legs from the seams in my jeans where my legs have swollen. There is also the feeling of nausea. It’s like you are full right up to your throat and someone is pressing down on your Adam’s apple. This is the first stage to knowing I have somehow managed to contaminate myself with gluten.
These pictures are from the last time it happened. I had prepared all the food I’d eaten that day in the safety of my gluten free kitchen. I was racking my brains to think what it could be as I am always so careful or so I thought.
As I lay there feeling sicker and sicker, I got angrier and angrier. Everything I had eaten had taken me hours to prepare with fresh raw ingredients from scratch, how could this happen, I couldn’t possibly do anymore? Then it hit me, I had bought some new spices in a recent visit to a health food shop, surely it couldn’t be them could it? I waddled to the cupboard like a heavily pregnant woman and checked the packet. Scanning the back all the way to the bottom to find that killer phrase ‘packaged in a factory that also handles gluten’ AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH! I had done it to myself! I am usually so careful to check packets of anything new, but not that day. I was too excited to find some new gluten free dairy free products in that shop, that I let my guard down with a simple pack of ‘harmless spices’. I was now paying the price.
I know it looks like I am pregnant or sticking my belly out but I’m not. This what happens when I ingest the tiniest speck of gluten. I have been known to rip stitching and burst buttons off like the incredible hulk if I’m wearing tight clothing!
The sick feeling lasts around a day or two. The bloating can last two to three weeks. This is thoroughly depressing as I have to change my clothing choices to fit around and hide my giant tummy. Sometimes I get itchy sore red spots with weeping blisters (dermatitis herpetiformis) which just adds to the general feeling of hideousness. I can also get a red rash and little bumps on my face and neck.
Then the fatigue sets in, the tiredness I feel when I’ve been glutened is like no other tiredness I’ve felt. My body is as heavy as lead, I can hardly find the strength to lift my arms and legs or hold my own body upright. When I lay down, I’m rooted to the spot and I really don’t want to get up. It completely robs me of all my energy and the simplest of tasks is an effort. My limbs are tingly or get pins and needles. The whole experience really feels like your body is under attack and being poisoned.
During the last few years as I have really been listening to my body and recording what has been happening to it, I have also realised it affects my mood too. the days following a gluten attack I am really depressed and this tends to last around a week or so. I also experience ‘brain fog’ where I have trouble concentrating and seem a bit ditsy. Each time I get glutened the symptoms vary slightly in length or severity. I think this is due to the amount or type of gluten that’s got me and how healthy I am at the time.
As anyone who suffers with coeliac disease will know, experiencing the consequences of eating gluten is enough to put you off eating gluten intentionally ever again.