Saturday, July 30, 2011

Living with a Food Allergy

Growing up, I never had allergies.  Maybe a little ragweed reaction in the summertime, a sniffly nose during harvest, but no foods to stay away from and no pills to take.  

But 2008 arrived and that all changed.  It only took me a year to figure out that I had developed an oat intolerance.

Oh yes, this gut-friendly grain wreaks absolutely havoc on my digestive system.  

The crazy thing, granola bars and oats in pancakes were a STAPLE growing up as a kid, so it's not like I didn't eat a million of these things over my life.

It all started on a trip to Louisiana and an awful stomach ache on the way home.  It was like there was a ton of gas trapped in my system and it was building and not going anywhere.  There was so much pressure I could barely eat anything beyond a granola bar - ironic that I was eating the very thing that was putting me in so much pain. 

The problem continued sporadically, but another trip to New Orleans the following year revealed even more issues.  I kept thinking, "what kind of water do they have in this state?!?"

But it didn't go away upon returning.  At the time, I was teaching on overload and thought maybe stress was getting to me - developing a "nervous" stomach was my body's way of telling me things were out of balance. 

I spent much of a year looking like this (source)
It then occurred to me that something I might be ingesting was doing the damage.  I have several friends who were lactose-intolerant and I had just learned about gluten sensitivities.  Without insurance, I decided to do my own detective work.  I set up two-week schedules and eliminated suspect foods - first dairy, then wheat. 

Dairy didn't reveal anything and cutting out wheat was only partially successful.  I think it dawned on me after taking one bite of oatmeal and being in pain that oats, not wheat, could be the culprit. 

Two weeks after avoiding oats, I was discomfort-free until I ate one forkful of apple crisp with an oatmeal topping.  Back to square one but food irritant confirmed.

Since then, it's been pretty easy to avoid oats.  You read labels - the end.  I've found I need to stay clear of:
  • Any version of oats, including whole, rolled, flour, fiber, and bran
  • "Multigrain" is highly suspect
  • Cereals can be disastrous (I'm looking at you Cheerios)
  • Any product by Kashi (which I loved) is a no go
  • Bread products need to be scrutinized, increasingly tortillas and flat bread
  • Recent oat infiltrations - pasta, tortilla chips, and bread crumbs
I honestly feel very lucky that this problem isn't more severe.  I cannot imagine eliminating dairy, or gluten, or both.  I know two people who have corn allergies - can you imagine?! <shudders>

And to be clear, despite that I used it in the title, my oat issue isn't an allergy but an intolerance.  An allergy would mean I'd get hives or would swell up when eating them, but that's not the case and I can use oat lotion/soap without problems.  This is purely a digestive issue, though people understand "allergy" better than "intolerance."

The most wretched thing about oats is how long my system is messed up after eating them.  There is the initial GI tract complications for several days, but the lasting problem is severe dehydration.  It takes weeks to correct and in the meantime, I make poor food choices when all I'm craving is salt.  

I've done some research and an oat intolerance doesn't seem to be a common issue.  There's not much information out there on why it occurs or what changes in the body when oats enter.  All I know is that my reaction to oats is very similar to those who can't eat gluten - I just have an easier time avoiding it.

Do you have a food sensitivity - what is the cost of living with one?

1 comment:

  1. I'm one of those lucky ducks allergic to corn products. I was diagnosed in high school but was able to tolerate everything except actual corn for the longest time. Recently (as I will blog about--lol) I've had an ear infection that I can't shake, and stomach issues. After some similar investigating, I've found that I'm becoming less and less tolerant of corn by-products such as corn starch, and corn syrug, etc. Ugh!