Gluten, Hallucinations, and That Guy From Law & Order: Gluten’s Terrible Effect on the Mind
Gluten can do terrible things to someone with Celiac, gluten intolerance, autism, or anyone else that is affected by it. Some people experience joint pain, stomach distress, neurological issues and psychological affects. In my case, I have all the afore mentioned symptoms and then some strange ones as well. On a recent trip on the way home from Washington DC, I had the misfortune of getting “glutenized” just a few hours before getting on a plane.
Ok so let me start from the beginning of how the gluten monster entered my body in DC….My husband Kevin and I were in DC to attend the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Newborn Screening by American Public Health Laboratories. Kevin has a rare genetic disease called Phenylketonuria (PKU) in which his body doesn’t properly break down protein; luckily his disease was caught by newborn screening when he was just a few days old. Because he was screened at birth and the doctors have treated him for the past 30+ years, he can live a fully-functional and somewhat normal life.
If his disease had not been screened at birth and he had not had treatment, then he would have had so much brain and liver damage that he would have ended up in an institution his entire life; he would have likely not been able to feed or clothe himself. So needless to say, Kevin and I are huge advocates of newborn screening. In DC, Kevin had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on newborn screening moderated by Dr Richard Besser from ABC news. We also had the opportunity to do some lobbying for newborn screening.
So we had a wonderful trip in DC. I was able to eat gluten-free and not get sick….UNTIL a few hours before I got on a plane from DC to Atlanta. We ate at a Mexican restaurant that had a gluten-free menu. I had everyone in the serving area change their gloves as a precautionary measure. I ate the meal and we headed back to the hotel to get our luggage and get on the Metro for the airport. I noticed that 30 minutes or so after eating, I started feeling really aweful joint pain and I was having a difficult time gripping my luggage. I was feeling foggy headed. At this point, I knew that I had gotten glutenized. By the time we got onto the Metro, I was having severe stomach pain and I was crying. I’m really short, so I curled up in a little ball on my Metro seat and was crying my eyes out.
I’m sure people on the Metro are accustomed to weird sights but what came next was NOT fun. Every so often after getting “glutenized,” I’ll start to see things that aren’t there. Yes, I sometimes hallucinate after eating gluten. People in the medical community tell me that this has something to do with the way that gluten affects brain chemistry in some Celiacs…almost like a drug. No that doesn’t make me feel better or less weird. Just being honest here. I have mental disturbances if I get glutenized, and it can be really embarassing to me. That’s why if it ever happens in public, then I get the heck out of dodge because I don’t want people seeing me go through that.
By the time I got to the airport, I had hallucinated (or “imagined”, whatever word you want to use) some odd sights. First it was white fluffy bunny rabbits running on the Metro tracks followed by seeing that guy from Law & Order…Sam Waterston. (I don’t know…maybe that was really him but I seriously doubt it). I’m very thankful that we were almost 3 hours early to the airport. This gave me time to become at least somewhat coherent before going through the TSA screening line. My husband was there with me the whole time, being patient as I cried and was in and out of incoherency. Kevin knows what to do when I get glutenized: make me drink lots and lots of water, hot tea, heating pad on my stomach and try to calm me as much as possible.
If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have eaten at a restaurant that I had never tried before. Or if that wasn’t an option, then I would have just spent another night in DC to get some rest. But we all live and learn, don’t we? To look on the bright side, I didn’t get hospitalized from gluten and the TSA didn’t pull me aside and ask why I was acting like a deranged maniac. I’m blessed that I know that I have Celiac; some people out there are still going through life sick as a dog and not knowing that they have Celiac or some other related disease. My point is that although sometimes restaurants get meals wrong and sometimes we get glutenized, we move on. I’m not saying “just deal with it” or anything so direct. However, what I am saying is that it may take our bodies days or weeks or even months to get back to normal, but we must remember that our bodies WILL heal if we take care of ourselves. Be patient with your self. And know that there are lots of people out here in the Celiac and gluten-free universe that are rooting for you. Count me in as one of those people.
Mara Alexander is the Founder of GlutenFreeWorld TV©, a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, a Certified Health Consultant and a Professional of the Academy of Healthcare Management. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org