There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly

For the last several years I’ve a had a few health issues that lay under the radar. (Please excuse the departure from our regularly scheduled blogging and bear with me in the descriptions)

  • After drinking milk my whole life, and even whole milk in high school and college, I became lactose intolerant
  • I’ve always had a fast metabolism, but I began to visit the bathroom with greater frequency after meals, with IBS symptoms
  • Almost 3 years ago I had my first migraine ever. I didn’t know what hit me, but I was puking and pretty out of it. Excedrin fixed me right up though. Who knew? After that point my headaches were never the same. Thanks to my Excedrin trick it never got that bad again, but there was a marked difference in how all my headaches felt from that point on, and I seemed to be getting them with greater regularity (once a week wasn’t uncommon). Tylenol wouldn’t get rid of them, only a migraine pill.
  • I found it nearly impossible to survive off of less than 9 hours of sleep a night. If I tried getting up early, I’d be slammed the next night and have to tuck in early. I just couldn’t get over the hurdle.

I shrugged these things off, believing it was just how my particular body works. But in September it started getting a bit worse.

  • My face and neck would start to get hot, to the point I had to walk around with a cold washcloth around my neck
  • I started getting strong pressure in my eyes and they would sting, accompanied by more and more frequent headaches – again only resolved by migraine pills
  • I started urinating very frequently throughout the day
  • I was waking up with headaches, sometimes waking me from my sleep

I was out of town for work as all these symptoms started getting worse and worse, inhibiting my ability to stay focused and do my job. I knew something wasn’t right but was clueless as to what. I tried WebMD and other similar sites trying to find something that fit my symptoms with no luck. For some reason some of the nonsense I had heard about gluten sensitivity came to mind. So I reluctantly started googling the fad “gluten-free” and what do you know, the symptoms for gluten-sensitivity seemed to line up. They said the best way to test was simply to cut gluten out of your diet and see if there is an improvement. So I did my best on the road and seemed to get a relief from the symptoms.

I continued after I got home and the symptoms went away. According to my wife, my headaches were showing up about once a week. After about 8 weeks I hadn’t had one. Not only that, my energy levels kicked up and I was doing fantastic on 7 hours sleep. My skin inflammation disappeared, along with the eye pressure. So clearly I was having a problem with gluten. But

What the heck is gluten?

Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture. (Wikipedia) It’s found in all kinds of things: most breads & tortillas, but also things like salad dressing and even cosmetics. It’s often used as a thickening agent in soups and a variety of other things.

Why is it giving me problems?

There are a variety of labels you will hear: gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, wheat allergy, celiac disease, etc. And honestly, the issue is extremely complex and studies are ongoing, so getting clear definitions can actually be very difficult (lots of conflicting information). In a nutshell, they all mean that your body can’t handle gluten. Depending on how it can’t handle it, it has a different name. A helpful distinction is found in Dr. Osbourne’s Gluten Sensitivity vs. Celiac Disease vs. Gluten Intolerance. He offers the following definition:

  • Gluten allergy: is typically considered to be an allergy, meaning it is an immune mediated response (IgE, IgG, etc)
  • Gluten intolerance: is considered an inability to tolerate gluten that is non-immune mediated (body doesn’t like it, can’t digest it, etc)
  • Gluten sensitivity: a mesh of the above (no rigid definition). This is distinct from celiac disease (it causes celiac disease)

Basically, a lot of people have a problem with gluten, and that problem manifests itself in a variety of different ways in different parts of the body (psoriasis, migraines, celiac disease, ADHD, asthma, etc). Gluten sensitivity implies that there is an ongoing immune reaction to gluten in the diet, usually detected as antibodies against a subprotein of gluten called gliadin. The effects of gluten sensitivity can be cascading. Initially there may be no symptoms, and because it can be difficult to diagnose, if left untreated, it can begin destroying your body resulting in auto-immune disorders, etc.

Here is a helpful discussion of the differences between types of reactions (note that this study’s use of the label “gluten sensitivity” contradicts Dr. Osbourne’s definition given above).

Researchers compared intestinal permeability; expression of intestinal proteins and genes; and immune response among confirmed CD (Celiac Disease), Gluten Sensitive (GS), and healthy (or control) subjects. For the purposes of this study, gluten sensitivity was defined as not having CD or a wheat allergy (or other overlapping diseases) but with symptoms triggered by gluten exposure and alleviated by withdrawal. Interestingly, the researchers found several differences in the reactions to gluten between CD and GS subjects; the most notable differences were that GS individuals did not produce antibodies or see persisting damage to the small intestine cell walls.

The study authors suggest that CD is caused by both an adaptive and innate immune response, while GS is primarily due to an innate immune response. Adaptive immune responses require the presence of an antigen, or foreign body, which causes the allergic reaction. It’s hypothesized that the introduction of gluten (the antigen) to our diet over 10,000 years ago could have caused this response in some individuals and carried through to modern times; however, much of this is speculation. The innate immune response is antigen-independent, which might explain why those with GS don’t produce the antibodies.

GS individuals may experience symptoms similar to those with CD, but the symptoms are generally not as severe. It’s also likely that they tolerate some gluten; dose-response is unknown at this time and appears to be individualized. The biggest challenge with this condition is that there is currently no test to diagnose GS; symptoms also vary among individuals though the most common are IBS-like gastro-intestinal problems, headache, and fatigue.

New Study Supports Gluten Sensitivity as a Real Clinical Condition

How can bread be dangerous and harmful?

In starting to read about all of this, I would come across many people who began to denounce wheat altogether: not just for those who are gluten sensitive, but for everyone. They make an evolutionary argument claiming that humans were healthiest as hunter-gatherers eating wild fruits and vegetables with lots of meat. The problems came when we civilized and starting agriculture. This is known as the Paleo Diet. My response to all of this was: the bible doesn’t necessarily prescribe a particular diet, but it certainly doesn’t seem to denounce wheat and bread. In fact, Jesus seems to positively endorse bread by calling himself the bread of life. The answer, in short, is that “It’s not possible to find the bread Jesus Christ talked about in the Bible. It’s not on the planet anymore. All of the wheat is genetically modified. It’s called the 50/50 rule. In the last 50 years the gluten content in wheat has gone up by 50%” (Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease on Underground Wellness Radio)

How can something that The Bible refers to as The Staff of Life be the source of so much modern illness? Didn’t God nourish the Israelites with the bread (manna) from Heaven? Well, according to gluten expert Dr. Thomas O’Bryan, seven out of ten people are sensitive to gluten, the toxic protein found in most grains! Were the Israelites somehow exempt from gluten’s wrath? Or was the all-knowing God just a little behind on his research?

The truth is that we are not eating the same grains that Moses may have snacked on as he hiked up Mount Sinai. In fact, we’re not even eating the same grains our grandparents ate! In just a mere 50 years, grains – wheat, in particular – have become a mutant species crafted by the hands of human intervention in the name of increased crop yields, resistance to drought, disease, and heat, as well as an end to world hunger – all of which are honorable causes and tremendous scientific achievements. However, the accelerated evolution of wheat through hybridization – a feat that would make Gregor Mendel proud – has been to the detriment of human health…

…“Hybridization efforts of the past fifty years have generated numerous additional changes in gluten-coding genes in Triticum aestivum, most of them purposeful modifications of the D genome that confer baking and aesthetic characteristics of flour. Indeed, genes located in the D genome are those most frequently pinpointed as the source of glutens that trigger celiac disease.

These Ain’t The Same Grains

Does the Bible Say We Should Eat Grains? is also a very helpful article looking at particular passages in the Bible dealing with wheat and bread.

As a side note, this makes an interesting dilemma for Romanists. I cannot eat any of the bread typically used for the Lord’s Supper, but some churches offer alternative options. But if you’re Roman Catholic, you don’t have any other options. After all, if they don’t follow their magic formula to the T then it’s not really Jesus’ body. That means you’ll have to decide if avoiding the sometimes fatal effects of gluten sensitivity in this life is worth spending millions of more years in purgatory (see @11min here Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity w/ Dr. Tom O’Bryan). Perhaps it’s just another way to “share in the suffering of Christ” as penance. And if you can’t eat Jesus, how can a Roman Catholic be saved? (The same way anyone is saved – through faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not a heretical, blasphemous, pagan practice)

Why the rise in food sensitivities?

Food sensitivities and food allergies are on the dramatic rise. My problems have opened up a huge area of study for me, and although the information is all very difficult to sort through, one thing is certain: the human body and the foods we eat are incredibly complex – much more so than we thought. We are still learning a tremendous amount about our bodies. With all of the amazing advancements in science and medicine, we still know relatively little about ourselves. Yet this issue is rarely approaching with the humility it requires. Often it is approached with a strong dose of arrogance that modern man can solve every problem through the progress of science. In altering our foods, little actual regard is given to the fact that we actually know so little about what we are doing. Tom Malterre lists the following potential factors contributing to the dramatic increase in food sensitivities:

  • environmental toxins damaging the immune system
  • chronic inflammation
  • overuse of antibiotics (notice some chicken & beef labels say raised without antibiotics – that’s because the standard procedure is to feed animals antibiotics as a regular part of their diet)
  • overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • leaky gut syndrome
  • low stomach acid
  • pancreatic enzyme insufficiency
  • not breastfeeding
  • deficiency of key nutrients for normalizing immune response
  • a diet high in processed, denatured foods, and refined sugars
  • increase in consumption of reactive foods like gluten, dairy, and soy
  • genetically modified foods
  • increase in stress

Which leads me into a forthcoming post…

Update on Me

I haven’t yet done any lab testing, as it is very complicated and a variety of different tests test different things and I’m not certain which one to do yet. I’m nearing the end of a 28-day elimination diet designed to cleanse the system, cut almost everything out, and then slowly add things back in one at a time to determine what you have a problem with (right now it appears to be gluten, eggs, and dairy, which is actually a common trio… and a rather difficult menu to prepare 🙂 Gluten problems can actually create other food sensitivities intolerances). While I have eliminated my original symptoms by cutting out gluten, my energy level ebbs and flows (and I’ve lost 11% of my body weight, from 185 to 165). Gluten sensitivity wrecks your digestive system resulting in malabsorption of nutrients from all foods. So I have some work to do in rebuilding my system. I’ve actually decided to visit a naturopathic doctor in a couple of weeks because traditional doctors, even gastroenterologists, are not as open to evaluating and treating gluten issues because so much of the research is ongoing (they dismiss it as a psychological condition or a fad diet with no scientific basis). I’ll keep you posted.


Because gluten sensitivity takes on so many forms, it can be very difficult to diagnose. I can guarantee you that if you go into a doctor with the symptoms of GS, you are not going to be diagnosed with GS (maybe celiac, but not the more nuanced NCGS). It’s going to take some research on your own and some experimentation. But I strongly suggest that you consider looking into it (some experts say as much as 10-30% of the population is gluten sensitive). It is amazing how the food we eat can affect us in such a myriad of ways that you would never think. Just read some of the testimonials here: Success Stories


9 thoughts on “There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly

  1. Brandon,
    Thanks for this; my family will benefit from your research, though I am sorry for your suffering (excpet as it helps conform to the image of the Master).
    Is your sensitivity so heightened that even a teensy communion wafer spells trouble? Yeouch!
    One is immediately reminded of your film, “Bread Alone.” Ironic, that.
    I was not aware of the global glut of gluten.
    Had a very bad experience with a naturopathic doc; can explain in an email if you’re interested. But maybe it was the odd oddball…
    Blessings in Christ, brother,


    1. Thanks Hugh. I’ll continue to post more info. I have found podcast helpful in at least getting a grasp of some of the different perspectives out there. This episode was interesting

      And yeah, for some people as little as a few parts per million of gluten will set them off. No eating out as kitchens have traces of gluten from shared pans, etc

      I tried to be careful in selecting a naturopath as I am sure there are many nuts out there, and they are often into homeopathy. But hopefully this one will be worth the time :/


  2. Pingback: I’m a Leper in a Leprous House | Contrast

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