Whether I accidentally eat gluten or “just” get cross-contaminated, the one side effect that I I really, really don’t like is the brain fog. When your thought process works fine – for all of 5 minutes – and then you can’t remember what you were doing? I can be having a normal conversation and will lose my train of thought right in the middle of a sentence. Or when . . . . . doggone brain fog! Um, let’s see – where was I going with this? Oh yes – words disappear from my head. In the middle of a conversation, I’ll forget what a common word is – like “bird”. It’s like I can look inside my head, and know where the word is, but everytime I try to look at that spot, instead of seeing the word, I see an empty hole. Eventually, the word reappears but by then I’ve forgotten why I needed that word. My brain isn’t like this all the time on gluten. It comes and goes. I can be “normal” for hours, and then the fog rolls in for 20 – 30 minutes and I have to dig my way out of it again.
I decided to discuss brain fog because, well, I’m trying to find my way out of it at the moment. This blog may take a little longer than normal to write, tonight. This is the 4th time in two weeks that I’ve been cross-contaminated. I’m really getting tired of it. I’m remembering how I felt all the time, before I went gluten-free. Back then, I thought THIS was normal – it’s how I felt everyday. That was back before I was able to discuss the dreaded “bodily functions” with other people. In public. Since that time, I’ve discovered if you have Celiac disease, you HAVE to learn to discuss bodily functions – like diarrhea, constipation, nausea, belching, burping, gas, abdominal cramping and vomiting. And not be queasy about discussing it. It doesn’t bother me to talk about bodily functions, anymore. I have a harder time discussing the brain fog. Everyone has bodily functions, some more often than others. They can relate to them. However, brain fog isn’t a common occurance, that I know of. Another Celiac will be able to relate to brain fog – but the “general public” can’t. I’m always worried that when I try to explain what brain fog is, people will just assume I’m trying to find an excuse for memory loss, or they might worry I have the start of Alzheimers.
I know that I only get brain fog when I’ve had gluten. I know it will only last 2 days (off and on) when I’ve been cross-contaminated with a slight amount of gluten. I know it will last 4 – 5 days when I’ve actually eaten something with gluten in it. I also know that the brain fog isn’t the only side-effect I get with gluten. After over a year of living gluten-free, I know by my symptoms if I’ve “just” been cross-contaminated, or if I actually ate gluten by the severity of the symptoms. I know this is different for everyone, but I thougth I would share my experiences with you in case you hadn’t thought things through minute by minute, like I tend to do.
With a slight gluten contamination (eating a chip that has been manufactured in the same plant or on the same lines as gluten items) the first thing I notice is I hold my breath. When I hold my breath, my abdomen doesn’t hurt as much. But I notice that I’m holding my breath before I notice that my abdomen hurts. It’s more of a “tightening” in my upper abdomen, rather than an actual abdominal cramp, to begin with. About an hour or two after I notice I’ve started holding my breath, the abdominal cramps begin. Then slight nausea. Then a headache – not a migraine, just a headache on the right side of my head. Not enough that I want to grab for the Advil. It sort of comes and goes, but it isn’t the intense pounding that makes me hold perfectly still. A few hours later and I know the gas pains will be upon me. There are times I could swear I was in labor all over again, if I didn’t know better. With labor, at least you get a sweet little baby at the end of it. With gluten contamination, all you get are gas pains that snap you in half, or take your breath away until they make their way through. At the end of all of this, of course, is the diarrhea. This will last 36 – 48 hours and I know it will be gone.
However, when I get a larger dose of cross-contamination or actually eat something with gluten IN it (as opposed to ON it) it’s an entirely different story. That also starts with holding my breath to avoid the abdominal pain. At this point, I don’t know if it slight contamination or actual gluten. Within 2 hours, however, I will definitely know. Instead of an abdominal “tightening” it’s full speed ahead right into severe abdominal cramps. Someone is inside me, grabbing handfuls of intestine, twisting and trying to rip it out. Diarrhea doesn’t take its time, either. Slam, bam, let’s not leave the house because I’ll be back in the bathroom in 5 0r 10 minutes. Certainly not long enough to go anywhere. The one-sided headache slams right into migraine. Pound, pound, pound, pound! If my head were to explode, it wouldn’t surprise me. It would probably hurt less than the migraine! Of course, I have nausea. The thought of food just makes it worse. And then nausea slides right into vomiting. (I really, really hate to throw up! I will do just about anything to avoid throwing up!) These severe symptoms will last a minimum of 4 days, and then slowly fade away. I will say, I’m getting much better at pretending I’m ok when I’m not. People tend to get nervous around someone who seems to be sick all the time. I’m not sure if they think they can catch what I have or if they think I’m a hypochondriac. I guess it doesn’t really matter.
It doesn’t matter if I know I’ll be through the symptoms in 2 days or in 4-5 days – my “treatment” is the same. At the first sign of breath-holding, I take two Acidophilus. This is a probiotic that helps to “balance the internal flora”. I love to use that phrase – it drives my grandkids crazy! They’ve learned not to ask what “flora” is – because they know I’ll go right into lecture mode and explain it to them in detail. I wait to see if the diarrhea will start (it always does, but each time I give myself the false hope that maybe THIS time I won’t get it.) As soon as that starts, I take two slippery elm bark. This is the inner bark that has been scraped from the outer bark of the Slippery Elm. It has been used by Native Americans for many medicinal purposes. It soothes the digestive tract and is a demulcent substance. (Demulcent – A demulcent (derived from the Latin demulcere, “caress”) is an agent that forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation of the membrane – Wikipedia). It will not turn diarrhea into constipation. It just “slows things down” and puts it all back to a “normal” consistency. (I could discuss this in more detail, because I’m not squeamish about discussing bodily functions any longer but some of you might be, so I kept it short. 🙂 )
Then comes either the candied ginger or gingersnaps (gluten-free made with real ginger.) Ginger settles the stomach and helps to treat the diarrhea. Candied ginger has a “bite” to it, which I happen to like. My grandkids don’t. They prefer gingersnaps for stomach problems – hey, you get to eat cookies when you’re sick – what’s not to like about that? If I’m out of ginger or gingersnaps, I’ve found that the Altoids peppermints help. Natural peppermint also helps to settle an upset stomach and soothes the intestinal tract, and Altoids uses real peppermint oil in their candies. After this, I just wait it out. There isn’t much else you can do but let the gluten work its way through your system and hope it’s a fast trip this time.
Well, I wrote the blog and it only took me two hours. I find that if my thought process gets lost in the fog, I step away from what I was doing for 5 – 10 minutes and ignore it, when I go back I remember what I was thinking of. If you have similar symptoms or symptoms that I don’t have, leave a comment. Sometimes we think everyone reacts the same way we do – or we think no one else has the same reactions, and we’re in this alone. I know neither one is right, but it’s nice to know there are other people out there who go through the same things you do. I’m going to go . . . . um, do something. I wonder what it was? Oh well, I’ll figure it out.