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Now that I’m in my mid-sixties, I’m finding truth in what I’ve heard about how food sensitivities can pop up unexpectedly in your 50s and beyond.
I’ve been OK with caffeine all my life. But in the last year or so that morning cup has started giving me the shakes and a bad belly.
For me, it’s an easy enough fix just to switch to decaf. But what if eating certain foods gave you miserable symptoms that medical experts couldn’t fit into a “box” — leaving you without relief?
Worse, what if that condition was also to blame for another condition that, once again, the medical community is ill-adapted at recognizing and treating?
The conditions I’m talking about are chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) — responsible for crushing fatigue that’s not relieved by rest — and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), also known as non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS).
According to celiac.org, the latter two terms have been used interchangeably to refer to the same condition — one where people experience symptoms similar to but not as severe as those of celiac disease (an autoimmune reaction to gluten that damages the gut and leads to malabsorption), and that resolve when gluten is removed from the diet.
The symptoms are generally considered digestive — bloating, constipation and diarrhea. But some symptoms that not all physicians have made the connection with include a foggy mind, depression, ADHD-like symptoms and chronic fatigue.
For years, chronic fatigue sufferers have been at a loss, some even being made to feel their symptoms were all in their heads. Well, now getting their energy back may be as simple as avoiding one food ingredient…
The chronic fatigue and wheat/gluten sensitivity link
Many people with CFS also report symptoms like bloating and diarrhea and test positive for immune system issues.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical School were curious to see whether some CFS patients have blood markers also associated with NCWS/NCGS, which might explain the crossover of symptoms between the two conditions.
They took blood samples from 131 people known to have chronic fatigue syndrome and from 86 healthy controls. All were screened for biomarkers for NCWS/NCGS that the researchers had identified previously. All study participants were also given a questionnaire to rate gastrointestinal symptom severity.
Twenty of the CFS patients had blood markers indicating wheat/gluten sensitivity, as compared with only four of the control subjects.
Why this research matters
If you’ve already been diagnosed with CFS, this research validates the possibility that there are other things behind your crushing fatigue, and perhaps, behind the fact that it’s not getting any better.
Even if you don’t have chronic fatigue syndrome OR celiac disease, this research proves that there could be something else behind feelings of constant fatigue that plague you.
So what steps can you take to find out?
It can take years to get a diagnosis for wheat/gluten sensitivity. That’s because the tests are for celiac disease. Once that’s ruled out, the best way to determine if a gluten/wheat sensitivity is the cause of your troubles is an elimination diet.
The simplest is a modified elimination diet where you already suspect which food is causing you trouble (in this case, wheat/gluten-containing foods) and eliminate it for 21 days then reintroduce it slowly. For a list of gluten-containing foods to eliminate, the Celiac Disease Foundation provides an extensive list.
You may think there’s nothing left to eat, but there will be plenty if you focus on whole foods, like vegetables, fruits and meats.
Of course, you can also discuss your suspicions about your fatigue with your doctor or a qualified nutritionist.
Once you get to the bottom of what’s causing your unnatural fatigue, believe me, any dietary changes you have to make will be worth it.
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Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Linked with Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity — Celiac Disease Foundation
Non-Celiac Gluten/Wheat Sensitivity — Celiac Disease Foundation
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity — Harvard Medical School
Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity is Official — Celiac Disease Foundation