Learning to Listen to Your Gut

By Rachel Sircy

This post is going to be short, since it’s basically a personal story without a whole bunch of evidence to back it up. I will start off by saying (as I’m sure I’ve said before), that I am a big believer in going to the doctor if you feel that something is wrong with you. I would strongly advise against anyone who thinks they have a gluten sensitivity beginning a gluten free diet without going through the proper tests first. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mainly the reason is that if you have celiac disease, you could also have a whole host of other problems that sometimes go along with it. If no doctor really diagnoses you, then no doctor will be looking out for your other symptoms either.

However, there are times when you need to listen to your gut. I am in the middle of learning this lesson myself. You see, some people with celiac disease can eat oats while others can’t. When I say “oats” I am talking only about the strictly certified gluten free oats. No one with a gluten sensitivity should eat just any old oats. Oats and wheat are often processed in the same factories, stored in the same silos and grown in adjacent fields. All this means that cross-contamination is inevitable in regular oats. Certified gluten free oats cost more than regular oats because they are grown in fields away from wheat and they are also stored and processed in gluten free facilities. So, when I talk about oats, I mean ONLY the oats with a label that claims that they are certified gluten free.

Okay, that being said, some people with celiac disease cannot digest even the cleanest, most certifiably gluten free oats. I am going to give you a basic run-down of why that is, though I may need some correction here. I really haven’t seen many articles on this that haven’t been really technical and scientific. There is a genetic component, I think, that is the cause of the additional sensitivity. There is a protein in the oats that is not related to gluten, but which some people are extremely sensitive to. I believe you can either be allergic to this protein in the oats or intolerant of it. (the same is true of gluten – some people are allergic, while celiacs like me are not allergic, but intolerant)

To be perfectly honest with everyone, I have thought for a number of years that I have an intolerance to oats, but I go back and forth on whether or not to eat them. There are two reasons that I have not made up my mind about whether or not to give oats up forever. Firstly, I LOVE oats. When I was a kid (many years before my celiac diagnosis), I would sneak into the pantry and grab handfuls of dry oats from the Quaker Oats box and eat them plain and uncooked, like a horse. I could eat oatmeal every day of my life and not grow tired of it. I could also probably give up desserts entirely if I just ate one of those dark chocolate chunk Kind granola bars instead. The second reason that I have hemmed and hawed about giving them up is that I figured that there was no test to prove that it was oats that I was allergic to. Plus, everything I read online about celiac disease and even about how to manage high cholesterol seems to indicate that we should eat oats. The arguments are that celiacs need more fiber in their diets and oats are the perfect way to get that fiber. The fiber that you get from oats is also really good for heart health and lowering cholesterol.

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However, for several years now, I have cut most oats and most oat containing products out of my diet – though I’ll admit I’m not a saint. I have relapses. Each time I relapse and eat my way through a box of gluten free granola bars, or eat oat-based cereals or crackers, etc. I get sick. I start having the same symptoms that I had before my celiac diagnosis: bloating, nausea, severe stomach cramps, fatigue – you name it. My most recent relapse ended last Wednesday when, after eating granola on my morning yogurt for about a month straight, I collapsed on the couch after work and just didn’t have the strength or energy to get up. My husband panicked, thinking I was either pregnant or sick with the flu. When I told him that I had been eating oats again, he just put his head in his hands and said “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” And I finally realized that it was time to stop. I started looking online for answers about oat intolerance and, as it turns out, there is a test for it. So, my next step is going to be to speak to my doctor and try to get tested. A printout of lab results always makes me feel better. Those pieces of paper confirm that I am not a hypochondriac and my symptoms are not just in my head.

As I get further into this life lesson, I will be writing updates. Meanwhile, if anyone out there is a celiac and you’ve been on a gluten free diet for a long time and aren’t feeling any better, try cutting oats out for a while and seeing how you feel. Oats are an excellent source of nutrition if your body can handle them, but if you don’t feel good, they may not be good for you. Just food for thought.

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