I previously shared the story about the experience of one woman who obtained complete relief from the abdominal pain, diarrhea, and hemorrhage from her ulcerative colitis by eliminating all wheat from her diet, all undertaken just as she was advised to undergo colectomy and creation of an ileostomy. But it was the dismissal of her experience by a gastroenterologist that got me so upset that I wrote Wheat Belly. “It’s just a coincidence. Go back to what you were doing.”
There was another episode that occurred early in the Wheat Belly experience that also provided some important early lessons. This time it was a 52-year old businessman. I met him with early coronary disease that leads, over time, to risk for heart attack. I therefore assessed his lipoproteins via NMR and saw the usual abnormalities of low HDL, highish triglycerides, and an excess of small LDL particles, along with marked deficiency of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, a pre-diabetic HbA1c, and mild hypothyroidism. I advised him on how to correct all these factors that lead to heart disease including, of course, elimination of all wheat and grains to reduce or eliminate small LDL particles and reduce HbA1c (blood sugars).
But this man also had a disfiguring case of rheumatoid arthritis, clearly visible in his contracted, gnarled hands (similar to the example in the photo, though his were worse). Despite being on three drugs, including a monthly injection that was very costly, he still dealt with constant joint pain that had recently worsened to involve his knees as well as hands.
After beginning this process, he returned 6 months later. He was feeling good, had lost a modest quantity of weight, and corrected his metabolic abnormalities—but also reported a reduction in joint pain. He continued this for another 6 months, continuing to obtain progressive, though slow, relief from joint pain. He stopped one drug for his rheumatoid arthritis; he stopped a second drug. He returned to my office to show me near-complete flexibility restored, with very little discomfort remaining, now just on one drug.
But then he reported to me that he had taken a vacation to Germany. “My one and only trip to Germany in my lifetime. I was going to have some damn pumpernickel!” He did, but then reported that the pain and disfigurement in his hands returned within hours. Upon returning to the U.S., his rheumatologist had him resume all three drugs, once again only partially effective in reducing the inflammation and pain. It required another 6 months for the process to reverse back to the point he had experienced pre-pumpernickel.
This was one of most dramatic re-exposure reactions that I have seen, but this man’s story highlights how awful even a single “indulgence” can be. Some people have bloating and diarrhea for a few hours, then return to normal otherwise unscathed. Others have migraine headaches, skin rashes, or emotional effects such as depression or anger that lasts for several days to weeks. Some people have such extravagant re-triggering of appetite that I call it the “I ate one cookie and gained 30 pounds” effect. Then others, like this man with an autoimmune form of joint inflammation, experience months of recurrent joint pain and inflammation. I have since witnessed the exaggerated misery of recurrent autoimmune conditions with wheat/grain re-exposure in other people with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions that had initially responded to this lifestyle.
Newcomers to the Wheat Belly lifestyle often view our advice to make the break with wheat and grains 100%, not partial, and to avoid re-exposures as extreme. But it is because we recognize the power of even a small exposure to wreak havoc over multiple facets of health, including 6 months of joint pain with a few bites of pumpernickel.