Welcome to my blog...I am happy you are here! I hope this site will grow in time, and will be beneficial to you as you follow your own path to better health. Please feel free to relax a while and spend a few minutes with me as I share my gluten-free adventures with you!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Today's Tidbits

Well, I know it has been a few days and I didn’t exactly fulfill my promise to myself to write something every day, because life simply got in the way. But I did experience some things this week that I’d like to take time to share with you today. 

I was married to my first husband for 23 years, and that family made an indelible imprint on my heart and will always be family to me. So I attended the funeral of a “family” member, my ex-husband’s first cousin Tom, who passed away last week. I don’t particularly like going to funerals (does anyone?) so I was a little stressed by the time I got there. But when all was said and done, I was glad I was able to go and was so moved by the service! Tommy had taken care to plan his funeral himself so that the message of God’s love, mercy and grace would be ever clear. The message, the music (he even had one of his cousins sing “The Long Black Train”), everything was perfect and touched the hearts of each in attendance. Now, I have lost friends and family before, but it always hits hardest when death takes one so young. Tommy was only 52 years old, and his loss has reminded me of the tremendous importance of taking care of my health, and the responsibility I have to make sure that I tell those I care about that I love them. So remember today to treasure family ties, nurture friendships, say “I love you” (a lot!) and do what it takes to stay healthy.  It is never too late to start!

I took my mom to Sprout’s the other day so that both of us could restock our pantries with all things gluten-free. I have found that Sprout’s is the nearest and best store locally to find anything and everything I need from A-Z, including gluten-free shampoo and conditioner. I haven’t yet tried Whole Foods Market, because it is further away from me, but my sister loves that store. So…in the near future, I will be heading to Whole Foods to give them a try. Anyway, we took our time in the store and had a very pleasant shopping experience. While we were standing in line at the checkout counter, I noticed that the woman in front of me had a lot of the same items in her basket that I had in mine, so I figured that she has at least one of the same conditions I have and I struck up conversation with her. I saw a bag of “Vegan” shredded cheese among her purchases and since I have been looking for that product (but forgot to pick any up on this trip) I asked her if she minded if I read the label on her package. When I picked it up, I immediately noticed that it said “Lactose-Free” rather than “Dairy- Free”. Sure enough, when I looked through the ingredients, this particular shredded cheese had casein in it. I put it back and made the statement that I couldn’t have it because it wasn’t dairy-free, and the woman looked at me in a panic. She was purchasing the cheese for her daughter and thought because it claimed to be lactose-free that it was also dairy-free. She quickly made her way to the vegan section and picked up the correct shredded cheese, thanking me profusely for noticing the difference. But is there really a difference between being lactose intolerant and actually being allergic to the proteins in milk? The answer to that is a resounding YES! If you are allergic to dairy, you are allergic to anything that has that protein in it. So be sure to check your labels. Just because it says it is Vegan doesn’t mean it is dairy-free (though it should be, if I understand what Veganism is all about). If it is truly dairy-free, it must not contain whey, casein, butter, milk, or cheese. If it has anything to do with milk and you are allergic to the proteins in milk, be sure to avoid, avoid, avoid! According to LiveStrong.com, the ingredients I listed above are commonly found in many foods, including most margarine, some deli meats and even tuna (who knew that?). Another ingredient to be aware of is Lactic Acid Starter Culture. Although not definite, this ingredient could be derived from milk and is commonly found in processed and cured meats such as hot dogs, bacon and deli meats. If the package does not indicate that it is not milk derived, assume it is and avoid it. Even if you find that an item does not contain any milk ingredients, look on the front of the package for a kosher certification, which will be a "U" with a circle or various graphics with a "K." This symbol in combination with a “D” (Dairy) indicates that an item may have come in contact with some dairy product. If the item is kosher "Parve" or "Pareve," with no dairy symbol, this would help ensure that the item is not cross-contaminated with milk. So what’s the bottom line? READ, READ, and RE-READ your labels!


This is a picture of Gary and me,
Taken on our favorite cruiseline -
Royal Caribbean International
Gary and I love to travel and really enjoy going out to eat. When we were in California recently, though, we found that many restaurants didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked if they had a gluten-free menu. This made going out to eat frustrating and stressful because I never knew if I was eating food that was truly gluten and dairy free. Until there is more awareness about Celiac disease and gluten intolerance, the burden of responsibility for ensuring that I eat foods that are not contaminated rests on my shoulders. So I wondered if there were any tools that I could invest in that would be helpful…especially in restaurants where English is not their first language. As soon as we got home, I began a search on the internet and was delighted to find all kinds of helpful information and free restaurant cards in 51 languages at www.celiactravel.com. The cards explain what Celiac disease is and the importance of insuring that the food you order is not cooked or contaminated with gluten. Of course, if you also have dairy allergies, the cards will not be as beneficial to you, but those of you that only have Celiac or are gluten intolerant will, hopefully, find them very useful!

If you are like us and love to cruise, be sure to check with the cruiseline on which you are booked about 45 days before your cruise to let them know of your dietary needs. When my mom sailed with us on Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, the dining staff was wonderful about meeting her gluten-free needs and watching over her to ensure that she didn't inadvertently ingest something that was harmful to her. Talk about being treated like royalty!

Speaking of eating out, I had a great experience at Saltgrass Steakhouse last night. I asked for and received a gluten-free menu and ordered a steak, steamed green beans and a plain house salad. The salad was fresh and delicious, and the steak arrived just as I was finishing the salad, which I considered to be perfect timing. Much to my dismay, there were fried onion rings on my plate, so I very tactfully told the waiter that I had to return my plate to the kitchen. Since the onion rings had touched the other items on the plate, the food was contaminated and I would have to request an entirely new meal. Of course, the waiter expressed his regrets and quickly left to start all over again. But I was left wondering if he had placed my order correctly. Had he noted on the order that the meal was to be gluten-free? Within minutes the manager was at my table expressing his sincere apologies for the cook’s error. He said that the order was clearly noted as gluten-free, that they have all been trained on what to do for their gluten-free patrons and the importance of avoiding cross-contamination; and that they would be bringing me a fresh steak shortly. Before I knew it, my dinner arrived, and it was nothing short of perfect. Needless to say, I will be returning to Saltgrass and I have no doubt that my meal will be totally gluten free. If there is an error, I have every confidence that they will make it right.

I finally got up the nerve and tried my hand at making crackers, and on my first try…BINGO! I made some fabulous crackers that hit the spot when I get the munchies. Who knew that there were so many delicious foods available that are gluten and dairy free? Check out my recipe on my “Favorite Recipes” page.

Well, that’s it for now. Have a wonderful, gluten-free day!

See you soon,

Kathie Lea

Monday, July 4, 2011

And now, the rest of the story...sort of.

Let's see...where were we? Oh yes, Gary and I were praying that God would send us a way to get to the HealthNOW Medical Center in California. In the meantime, we were behaving, in faith, as if the funds were there. I, at least, was going, no matter what it took! I made arrangements with Eric at the clinic and set the date for approximately 4 weeks forward. I was to arrive at HealthNOW for an extensive workup and evaluation on June 27, 2011. There was much to be done in advance...lab tests, blood work, a modified elimination diet, etc...and so this new, "unexpected and unusual experience" ...our latest adventure...began!

Eric sent me everything I needed to get lab tests done ahead of time, along with a modified elimination diet which removed everything I could be sensitive to, including gluten, dairy, citrus, vinegar, caffeine, eggs, beef, corn and soy. The modified diet was to begin a minimum of 10 days prior to my arrival at the clinic, which was a good thing since I was horrified and was not quite ready to give it all up...what was I going to eat??? After all, I am underweight, not overweight! Eric assured me that there was plenty to stave off my hunger and keep me from losing too much more weight if I followed the diet and ate lots of fruits, vegetables, and other sources of protein (like beans). So...armed with this new information, I decided that there was no time like the present to remove at least the gluten from my diet (not so sure about all the other items...maybe I would wait until the last possible moment to take away my coffee and ranch dressing!). Perhaps getting a jump on things and, at a minimum, becoming gluten free would begin the healing process and I would begin to feel better.

Meanwhile, we were still praying for provision. Gary is self-employed, so when he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid. In addition, his work is seasonal...if it rains, he often gets a day at home to take care of "honey-do's". That is fine for me since I enjoy having him here, but again, it doesn't bring in the much needed funds to get by, especially since I am no longer bringing in any income. I asked him if we should say anything to anyone, and he said that our God is bigger than that. He reminded me that God knows our needs before we even speak them, and our Heavenly Father knew just what was necessary to get me to the clinic. All we had to do was pray, believing, and God would provide...without us having to borrow the money, or ask for it from family and friends. So we quietly waited. And we prepared for our trip.

A few days after the date had been set, Wesley, a long-time friend of Gary's, called him and asked him to do some work for him. He asked Gary how I was feeling and what was going on, so Gary filled him in on my condition and the hope that we were going to find answers at HealthNOW. He shared that we truly believed that this new information and the connection to the clinic in California was something that God had orchestrated, without volunteering any information about financial needs or concerns about how we were going to do this. Later that night, Wesley called Gary to tell him that he wanted to provide my plane fare to California. He had plenty of miles to provide me with a free ticket, and he wanted to give them to me. Before I knew it, I had reservations and a paid ticket on American Airlines. I will be forever grateful to Wesley for that wonderful gift and for being willing to allow God to use him in such a way. I was going alone, but I was definitely going to California!

As each day passed, we felt stronger and stronger that I should not make this trip alone because I was simply too weak. I had already experienced some really bad days that kept me in bed, unable to get up due to pain, dizziness, imbalance, extreme light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. But how could we afford the cost? Gary would lose a week's income, not to mention the cost of his plane fare and other added expenses if he were to accompany me. Again, we boldly approached the throne of our Jehovah Jireh, the God Who provides, and simply asked Him to bring us what we needed without having to go into debt. I checked on the plane fares each day, praying they would go down enough to align with our budget. Again, we waited. And we prayed.

It's funny, but I started expecting something...even if it was a small amount...to come in the mail. I couldn't wait for the mail to be dropped off each day to see if there was provision there waiting for me...something tangible...an evidence of my faith. And one day I received it. I was going through the mail and picked up a large envelope that looked like junk mail. I was just about to tear it up without opening it (as I usually do with junk mail), when I noticed the return address: Chesapeake Oil. I had forgotten all about our oil lease because it had yet to pay us anything. Could this be what I think it is? YES!!! It was a check, in an amount that covered almost the entire cost of a plane ticket for Gary. I knew without a doubt that God had us in the palm of His hand, and that HE was going to walk with us each step of the way. He was providing just what we needed as we needed it. Never early, never late, His timing is perfect. Needless to say, I reserved a place for Gary on my flights, paid for the tickets, and looked ahead to the next step of faith.

We agreed together that we would do whatever it took, even if we had to sell unnecessary material possessions, including tools that Gary had collected over the years for his work as a remodeler and pool servicer, but isn't currently using. We determined a date for our garage sale, gathered items to sell and put a free ad on Craig's List. The weather on the day of the sale was hot, but beautiful. A full hour before the sale was to open and before we could even get everything out on the driveway, there were people lined up to look at what we had. By noon, we had sold almost enough to cover the additional expenses for our trip, such as a rental car and hotel for the 5 days that we would be in California. God's provision...His mighty handiwork...in evidence. We had no need for concern. If God provides what the birds need and clothes the flowers in beauty, He surely was taking care of us and would continue to do so!

We had two weeks until our trip, so I worked on keeping my diet gluten free and getting extra rest. Ten days prior to heading out, I started the modified elimination diet. I had noticed that since I had removed gluten from my diet that I was actually having some better days and that some of the symptoms I was experiencing on a daily basis were diminishing somewhat. Once I removed all common allergens from my diet, I began to improve slightly with each day that passed.

The day finally came for us to make our way to the clinic, and we had a smooth flight in, touching down just in time for evaluations and exams with three different doctors. I gained little or no insight as to what was exactly going on during that first visit, BUT...these doctors had a plan, and lab results and direction would be coming in due time. Until then, my scheduled time at the clinic was to begin with two physical therapy sessions per day to help with some joint and ligament problems in my neck, and to teach me important muscle strengthening exercises and get me started on the right track.

Day two at the clinic brought almost more information than I could comprehend, with complicated results that I am not sure how to explain so I won't go into detail here. The most important thing for me to remember was that research has proven that there is a connection between a "leaky gut" and autoimmune diseases and that is definitely the case with me. I found that I do have a leaky gut, with chronic infection as well as chronic inflammation, pancreatic insufficiency, blood sugar imbalance and the associated problems with that, and  probable adrenal exhaustion (which will be confirmed or denied with testing done this week).
Food sensitivity/cross sensitivity tests showed a definite gluten sensitivity, an allergy to Amaranth (which is usually listed on the "safe" grain lists and therefore removes one of my grain alternatives), and dairy intolerance (includes all dairy proteins, not just lactose).  Finally, I have a genetic condition that prevents me from absorbing and utilizing folate and the B vitamins properly, so that condition will be addressed as well through supplementation.
No wonder I have had so many health problems for such a long time! If I had known that the probable underlying root cause to autoimmune disease could be avoided by simply removing gluten, amaranth, and dairy from my diet, I would have done this 30 years ago! For now, though, I need to play "catch-up" and get my body functioning properly by ingesting only those things that will do me no harm. This means that for the next 4 weeks, I will be on a special diet. Of course, the diet will be gluten, dairy and sugar free (which is a lifetime change); but in addition, to balance out my blood sugar, there will be 4 weeks without any of the following foods:
  • fruit (with the exception of blueberries) 
  • starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, etc)
  • grains (with the exception of quinoa). 
The last two days at the clinic were spent familiarizing myself with my new dietary needs, beginning treatment, and physical therapy sessions. The entire experience was wonderful and the doctors at HealthNOW Medical Center are brilliant. I have rarely experienced such care...each doctor was fully prepared prior to entering the room and they consulted with one another so none was left out of the loop. I don't know what I would have done without Gary. He was my chauffeur, my second set of ears, my encourager, my strength...a true example of what a husband should be. And he was there every step of the way.

Well, I'm home now, and concentrating on my newest adventure...finding the things I can eat and the recipes to make yummy dishes I can enjoy. If you have a recipe that you would like to add to my small but ever growing collection, please send it to me..I'd love to hear from you!

I said this was the rest of the story...sort of. That's because this adventure is ongoing. Please walk with me as I travel on this journey. Perhaps you have an autoimmune illness like Lupus, MS or Hypothyroidism and are looking for answers. Or maybe you just found out you have Celiac Disease or are gluten sensitive. I am new to this, but I believe we can make this adventure fun if we all help one another. We can do this, if we do it together!

See you soon!
Kathie Lea

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Adventure Begins!

My husband, Gary, and I have a catch phrase we've been using for years -- ever since the day we got married 9 years ago, in fact. Our entire relationship has been one of spontaneity, so whether we implement that phrase after declaring "Road trip!" on a whim and heading out to points unknown, or making a wrong turn and finding ourselves in uncharted (at least to us) territory, or perhaps trying something totally new, we often laugh and proclaim, "It's an adventure!".

Webster defines adventure as "an exciting or very unusual experience". To be sure, Gary and I have found that life is full of both exciting and unusual experiences. It is the attitude with which we confront those experiences that makes the difference in how we handle the various twists and turns, the highs and lows, the expected and the unexpected.

Our most recent adventure began long before we met, and it began with me. My family has a history of autoimmune diseases, and I was diagnosed with Lupus years ago. In fact, I have struggled with my health for as long as I can remember, and have developed quite a collection of conditions such as Osteoporosis, Hypothyroidism and Asthma, in addition to Lupus. Though pain, fatigue, recurrent infections and lung problems have been my constant companions through the course of my disease, I have enjoyed relatively good health over the last few years, and was happy to be able to throw myself into a fulfilling career as an HR Professional at a company I loved.

Two years ago, however, I noticed that my gut was hurting all the time and the nausea that had come and gone throughout most of my life was more intense and unrelenting. After completing the series of tests ordered by my gastroenterologist, I was referred to a surgeon for an evaluation and to schedule gallbladder surgery. In October of 2010, my gallbladder was removed. I was pleased to find that the upper abdominal pain I had experienced for two years was finally gone.

My happiness was short lived, however, when debilitating fatigue, severe joint pain, abdominal pain and rapid weight loss signaled a real problem with my health. Seeking help from area doctors yielded no answers, while my nights were filled with agonizing pain and my weight plummeted to the lower 90's. To get out of bed each day was a painful chore and I scarcely had enough energy to do my job. Something was definitely wrong with me. When I knew I couldn't continue to push myself any further, I talked with my boss and reluctantly turned in my resignation. I was going to stay home and rest, determined to find answers and to get well.

My mom has Celiac Disease, so my sister and my niece attended a local meeting to learn more about Celiac and Gluten Intolerance. The more they learned, the more they suspected that it wasn't just our mom that was suffering from gluten sensitivity...my sister and I as well as several of our children shared some of the same symptoms! The link between gluten sensitivity and autoimmune diseases was simply too compelling to ignore. My niece sent me some information with links to some videos so that I could learn for myself, and I couldn't tear myself away from the computer! The series of links that my niece sent me led me to the HealthNOW Medical Center (located in Sunnyvale, CA) website (see the link below), and I requested more information and a free consultation. Dr. Vikki Peterson, co-author of "The Gluten Effect", called me within 2 days. I shared what was going on with my health, along with some medical background, and after about 40 minutes, Dr. Vikki told me she thought they could help me. She asked if I was willing to find the root cause of my problems and I assured her that I was not only willing, but eager to do so! That phone call was my first step into this new adventure, and I feel so incredibly blessed to be on such an exciting journey!

Gary and I had been praying that God would lead us to the right place at the right time in order to find help for my deteriorating health. We both believed that this new connection to the HealthNOW Medical Center was the answer to our prayers. Now...to find a way to get to the clinic in California for a full evaluation and answers. The first step was to get there, and we had no doubt that all the rest would fall into place. All we had was the will to go and the faith in a God who provides to get us there...and that, we believed, was enough.
Okay...so have you ever read a book series that started with a book or two that you just couldn't put down and then when you finished it, the next book that revealed all the secrets hadn't gone to print yet? Or perhaps you've watched a mini-series (I know, I'm showing my age) that left you hanging in the middle of the story, only for the mystery to be revealed (and whatever was unresolved, resolved) the next week? Frustrating, isn't it? But you keep reading and you keep coming back, because you know the culmination of what you are waiting for is about to come. I hate to tell you, but I am going to do that to you today. There is so much more to my story, so stay tuned...you'll be glad you did!

See you soon!
Kathie Lea