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My First Gluten-Free Patient

Woman Doctor and Patient

I’ve talked about how I went gluten-free.  I also wanted to talk about the benefits for one of my first patients.

I had recently opened my practice when I got a call from a mom whose 12 year old daughter was constantly sick, missing school and was having behavioral problems—she was described as sassy, disobedient, irritable and moody.  The family had just moved to the area, so the behavior issues could have been due, at least partly, to that.  The daughter was active in sports and was having asthma attacks as well—called exercise-induced asthma.

She had been through all sorts of medical treatments for allergies, asthma and recurrent headaches, seeing 4 or 5 different specialists, but nothing had worked. As we went over symptoms and history, I kept thinking “gluten….sounds like gluten to me…” Then we started going over diet history and I was even more certain.  So, I started talking about a gluten-free trial, and the mom got very concerned about trying to do that—it didn’t sound possible to her, especially as no one else in the family seemed to need it. She had 3 kids and a full-time job! How could it be done!

I talked about the benefits, but it seemed that the mom was not too eager to try. Partly to get more time—and partly because I was convinced that they would see the benefits—and partly because I wanted to involve the daughter, I gave the daughter a diet diary to keep track of food, snacks, bowel movements (that was fun to describe….you can imagine the “ewwwwwwwwwwww!”), headaches, upset stomach and anything else she wanted to keep track of.  We talked about testing for food sensitivities (as opposed to allergies) and set up a follow up appointment in a few weeks.

The first thing mom said to me, when they came back was “Thank you for giving me my daughter back!”  Wow—my goodness, I hadn’t really done anything!  What was THAT about?  It turned out that the young girl had taken the diet diary seriously—like a school assignment.  Within a day or so, she had realized that when she ate anything with gluten in it (we had gone over pretty extensively what gluten was and where to find it) she would get a headache, feel nauseous, feeling bloated and tired. The same thing happened when she had any dairy product.

So, on her own, this 12 year old decided to stop eating gluten and dairy. She told me “It only took a few days before I was feeling SOOOO much better” Mom told me that the behavioral changes were nearly immediate.  Her daughter was doing her homework again, doing her chores again, was happier again—her daughter was back! Her teachers had called, asking the mom “what happened?  What did you DO with her?” As a physician, I couldn’t really take credit—like I said, it didn’t feel as if I had actually done anything. But, what I had done was give information and had given them a possible approach, and that turned out to be all that this young lady needed. One of the principles in naturopathic medicine is to emphasize the importance of the doctor as a teacher.  It is known by its Latin term “docere”.

We did do the food sensitivity testing (more on that later) for the entire family.  While the whole family wasn’t gluten sensitive, they all tried to go gluten-free and all of them felt better.  Mom went to all the MDs that they had been seeing and told them what I had done for them—apparently telling them “How come this doctor figured it out at the first visit, and you guys didn’t have a clue?!” Ooops…not the way I personally would approach it…Anyway, they did more tests and then decided that this young girl had celiac’s disease.  No biopsy, so I’m not totally convinced…but, more important is the fact that she is doing great!

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