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That Lightbulb Moment

I am writing this small Blog in the hope that I can help at least one other person who has been suffering constant stomach and digestive issues that no well meaning advice, diet or operation has been able to lessen or cure.

Hi there!

I am writing this small Blog in the hope that I can help at least one other person who has been suffering constant stomach and digestive issues that no well meaning advice, diet or operation has been able to lessen or cure.

You’ve probably heard it all before…

  • “It must be gluten intolerance!”
  • “You probably need to FODMAP.”
  • “It’s just IBS, you really just need to deal hey”.

You know what? None of this helpful advice actually helped me and it took me six long and painful years to figure out what was actually wrong with me but now that I have, the relief has been so instant and so freeing that I feel like I can’t be the only one who could have the chance to feel this good again.

So, me, well I have spent the past six years or so, suffering increasingly worsened digestive issues. Chronic constipation, bloating, painful (hospitalising) cramps…not to mention constant tiredness, puffy face, heightened depression. You name it!

Over the years, the symptoms only got worse. I’d have a good few days and then- bam- I’d be in back in pain again with no idea why.

I had completely cut out gluten and dairy, I rarely ate fruit, I ate vegetables 99% of my life. I have always been conscious of what I eat and would consider my diet to be a very healthy one.

Eventually, one night after dinner, my stomach bloating reached a whole new level of ouch that was soon accompanied by very, very, very painful cramps, keeping me up-doubled over in agony all night and preventing me from going to work the next day as I simply could not stand up!

Long story short, I ended up in hospital which then led to an Endoscopy and Colonoscopy along with food allergy testing. Long story shorter, nothing was wrong. No celiac disease, no major dairy intolerance, no mango intolerance(?). I probably just had IBS as well as gluten sensitivity and should go talk to a FODMAP nutritionist. Not a great result for a $3000 operation but hey.

I started reading about FODMAPPING. Apparently avocados, beetroot, hummus and about 9000 other foods were all triggers of IBS and would now need to be eliminated were I to follow this diet path- coincidentally, I read this information while enjoying an avocado, beetroot and tahini based salad and felt very sad for my future in general. This just couldn’t be the right thing to do. These foods had not been a problem for my first 30 years of life and a life avoiding them seemed fairly intolerable in itself. I did not FODMAP.

So I kept circumventing gluten and dairy and my symptoms… again grew worse.

Then, last week, walking home from another painful day at work -my jeans straining to contain my distended stomach- I had a thought, like one of those lightbulb moments people talk about. I was thinking about the possibility that my stomach had been causing me even more grief than usual that week due to the almond milk I had been consuming (I work in a cafe) which I normally wouldn’t touch. Then, the left-field thought flashed in that when I had first started experiencing my problems, I had started using Vitasoy Soy Milky Lite on my oats and as a drink. The almond milk was also long life…could they share an additive, preservative or something? I have often toyed with the idea that an oil or preservative could be my nemisis but nailing one down seemed fairly hopeless.

I raced home, hopped on the computer and looked up the ingredients of both. Shared listings: VEGETABLE GUM 407 and 415. Okay, could this be something? I started to look up other foods I had considered safe for me that I consumed on the regular since cutting out gluten…

  • Burgen gluten free toast
  • Schiracha chilli sauce
  • Mighty Mite gluten free vegemite

And then the foods that I had consumed lately on the semi-regular, special treat foods but still, foods I chose specifically to try to be good to my stomach: gluten free burgers, dairy free gelato, hummus and other dips; gluten free hot cross buns, muffins and breads; bliss balls, barbeque sauce…

I definitely did not eat these foods daily or even weekly but as I thought of and checked the ingredients of each one, I found on every single occasion, the presence of 400 and 1400 additive number gums!

The food choices I had been making in order to ease my symptoms had possibly, actually been contributing to a continuous building up and increase of my pain. This would explain why, over the past six years- my condition had worsened despite all attempts to control it. In avoiding gluten, I had been consuming foods with the very gums and thickeners that are used to replace the gluten!

I now had a decent theory as to what had been going on. All I had to do was cut these additives out of my diet completely and observe what happened. So I did.

 

Additive Free Pizza

maxresdefaultSo last week I decided to make pizzas. I found the easiest recipe ever on Pinterest and went out to get the two and only two ingredients needed: plain greek yoghurt and wholemeal flour. Going in to Coles, (after already being unsuccessful at Harris Farm) I thought for sure that the difficult gum free ingredient to track down would be the yoghurt for sure but the first one I picked up and read the label of ‘Farmer’s Union, Greek Style Natural Yoghurt’ was completely additive free, all natural, as advertised.

The ‘hard part’ already accomplished, I walked over to the flour section, ready to grab a good old normal bag of self-raising plain flour, which, not being gluten-free, I thought would just be pretty much flour. I checked three of the four bags available and each one had a gum additive added. Flour! The fourth brand ‘Jimmy’s Masterchef Range Wholemeal Atta Flour’ was, thank god, just wheat flour and wheat bran, gum free.

Now, how was that task possibly that hard? A fricken two ingredient pizza base! The easiest pizza base in the world and it took me two store visits and almost ten flour label investigations. Imagine a pizza with three ingredients!

After all my effort though, the pizzas were delicious, covered in vegetables, pineapple and additive free cheese. The recipe is here if you would like to try it. No stomach disturbance approved!

My theory on gum additives being the cause of our stomach ailments is helped by this grocery incident due to the fact that regular basic, non-fancy flours now too contain gum food additives, so, people eating them may experience all the bloating, constipation and discomforting symptoms of what they think must be gluten intolerance and cut the wheat and gluten containing foods from their diets needlessly, still experiencing the same symptoms as they will still be consuming the same gum additives, just in gluten-free foods instead.

So…that’s that story.

 

Someone Else’s Food Gum Additive Story.

So, the reason I started this little ol’ blog in the first place was the simple hope that in sharing my experience, I would be able to help maybe one other person with their own unresolved digestive issues and make their life happier and pain free, as mine now is.
I have had many girls (no guys yet) contact me to say how similar their own experience is to my story and that they think it could make sense to try avoiding preservatives in their diet, but, most say it sounds too difficult and they couldn’t keep it up, which I find hard to hear, but hey.
Knowing this has been the standard response, I was so over the moon to meet (on the internet) another person, Anne from Sydney, who had had basically the same experience as me, and had, on her own thinking, experimenting and persistence, figured out that she too had a severe intolerance to some e400 food additives and this intolerance had been causing the majority of her own digestive problems. On avoiding the additives, she felt much, much better.
After speaking with Anne more I learned all about her experience and asked if she would be willing to share it. Luckily, she is a fantastic recount writer and luckily, she said yes! Sometimes it’s just nice to hear about someone else with the same experience as yours, it validates your own existence a little bit. So, instead of me banging on about me for another week, here are Anne’s own, un-edited words telling her story:
“I’ve had gut and headache issues since childhood, and it’s only been in recent years that I’ve been able to get these under control through diet.
It’s been clear to me for a long time that foods were causing many of my heath problems: One minute I would be fine, and then after eating a meal, my mood would suddenly change, I would rush to the loo and pass diarrhoea and then I would get debilitating fatigue and sometimes headaches. I would often have to stay in bed then and hardly do any work. This would often sabotage my plans for the rest of the day.
For 15 years I kept to a wheat free diet because I believed that it reduced my fatigue. Around four years ago I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and my most frustrating symptom of this was constant fatigue, worse than ever before.
While being sick with Crohn’s I have tried many different diets: the elimination diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the low FODMAP diet.
I should note that I was studying my PhD during my period of being most sick, while also testing various dietary changes, so I was not required to show up for work every day: I worked in my own time. There is no way I could have followed any of these protocols effectively had I had full time work or caring responsibilities. Each has been extremely difficult, confusing and frustrating to follow properly, and sometimes led me to lose weight to the extent that loved ones sometimes convinced me to change tack. Systematically testing ingredients is hard since there are so many potential placebo effects: your mind can play tricks on you very easily, however each diet has taught me something useful.
In the last two years I’ve had some breakthroughs in improving my health, and it’s come from identifying certain vegetable gums, particularly guar gum as causing some of my symptoms, as well as several other foods such as mushrooms, which I identified when working with a dietician on the low FODMAP diet. I have tried to keep a food diary, and to write down all foods I have eaten and how I felt after. I have particularly tried hard to remember everything I have eaten when I start to feel sick, and have a look at packets and take a note of the ingredients.
There were several mornings in a row I became sick after eating a certain gluten free bread that I bought from the local markets. I looked at the ingredients: it had rice flour, yeast, and guar gum (412), and one or two other things. But if I had sourdough bread without guar gum, I felt ok. I realised guar gum was a big problem for me.  Also, carrageenan (407), which is often in coconut milk and ice cream. Even after eating one teaspoon of ice cream with carrageenan as an additive I have gotten stomach pain.
Emulsifier 471 has also been a problem, and likewise is in many ice creams. After feeling particularly bad one time, I searched for each ingredient one by one on Pubmed. I found an article on emulsifier 471 and Crohn’s and learned there are several recent studies that link the physical properties of emulsifiers with the dissolving of the protective bowel mucus, and with compromising the lining, therefore causing leaky gut. This is an area of medical research which is worth following: A friend has told me that at a recent international gastroenterology conference, emulsifiers were being discussed as a theme of interest with regard to inflammatory bowel disease. This makes a lot of sense, as the same properties that change the texture of food may also be messing with the texture of our gut lining. E471 seems to sometimes give me a fever and cause some Crohn’s symptoms. Yet the strange thing is that the other common emulsifier 322 (soy lecithin) does not give me the same problem.
My food exclusions are still a work in progress. Only in the last two months I have cautiously reintroduced wheat to my diet, often but not exclusively in the form of sourdough. My body seems to be coping OK. At the moment I am unclear about whether xanthan gum affects me negatively, similarly I don’t know if I have a problem with yeast. I had previously believed that brewers yeast was an issue, having often felt sick very soon after drinking beer but now I’m not so sure, I am still testing these ingredients. I try to avoid products with long lists of additives, and try to make foods from scratch as much as possible.
Since avoiding guar gum, carrageenan, mushrooms and emulsifier 471, my health has improved dramatically. I have less headaches, less diarrhoea, less fatigue. I am still not 100% but I have been able to progress with my work, being able to concentrate better, travel overseas, and finish the doctoral thesis- also with the help of caffeine, licorice root tea, chicken soup, probiotics: home made and greek yogurt, fermented vegetables, and prebiotics such as oats and various other high fibre foods.”

Guar Gum: a bit Scary, a lot confusing

So, they use guar gum in Hydraulic gas fracturing- Fracking for short; an environmentally devastating method for obtaining natural gas from the earth as fast, cheap and bountifully as possible. The guar gum is added to the fracking fluid to make the water thicker, tougher, which allows it to be more powerful in pushing into the rocks underground and getting more natural gas out. The viscous liquid it creates is also great for carrying sand particles which are blasted with it into the rock, keeping the rock open to be fracked again and again.

Guar gum is also now used widely in food production, providing food producing companies a cheaper alternative to real ingredients and a more ‘palatable’ product. You can read pro gluten-free web sites praising it’s ability to make GF bread less crumbly; Ice cream smoother; it’s a miracle ingredient! I definitely don’t remember my Mum ever turning to me while making a cake and saying “now, just pass me the Guar Gum dear”.

Now, everything, every single piece of writing that I have read states that the main ill side effect caused by Guar gum, when consumed in regular doses, is diarrhoea, which actually may as a consequence be a benefit- lowering symptoms of bloating and discomfort in IBS sufferers.

So, combining these two pieces of info, you could conclude that as with fracking, the guar gum combines with the liquid passing through our digestive systems to strengthen its viscosity and move it through faster. This conclusion would kind of make sense. It doesn’t sound like something healthy that you would willingly put into your body, but the simple reaction to action part would make sense

But…my new questioning lies in the fact that when my body digests foods or drinks containing guar gum, it doesn’t create a fracking force power liquid that shoots through my intestines, it actually does the opposite. My digestive system slows down upon first consumption of this gum and, if I continue to consume anything containing it, it just stops -shuts down completely- no bathroom for me for days. Pain, discomfort and annoyance ensue. Now, why would this be? My digestive system, though lovely I’m sure, cannot be a one of a kind anomaly! Could the guar gelled water moving through my digestive system perhaps be acting like the fracking liquid, carrying the sand particles into the rock to keep it open, stopping my system from completing its’ full job and relaxing?

The gluten-free movement continues to grow; there are whole aisles dedicated to its’ wares in supermarkets, and more and more people seem to be falling prey to the ills of its’ consumption. I did this too. I thought that it must be gluten affecting me, my doctors agreed.

I justified the senselessness of my conclusion on this by reading about how wheat has been genetically modified in size and shape over the years into a new more harvestable form ours bodies weren’t used to and how this fact alone must be the reason it was affecting me now when it never had before. There were endless articles, videos and websites to confirm this conclusion for me.

But, you know what? It never made sense and it still doesn’t.

What does make sense, what I can draw a logical arc of reason across is the direct link between the increased use of guar gum and other gum additives in our food and the increase of digestive problems for people; especially people who think they are gluten intolerant. Because, the kicker is that in gluten-free baking and cooking, it is the gum additives that are subbed in once the gluten is removed, making the gluten free alternative an actual agitator; making the symptoms worse rather than appeasing them. I never had a problem with gluten until I started avoiding it.

The more you eat, the worse you feel, the greater your problem becomes, the greater intolerance to gluten you believe you have. The circle continues…

If Food Gums are Harmless, Why are They Hurting Me?

This is the hard bit I guess. I have developed my theory: Food gum additives are the actual cause of my stomach and digestive distress. I have put this theory into practise for the past three weeks. As a result of this action, I have experienced complete success (apart from the blip) in eradicating my stomach and digestive distress.

Now, the next questions to ask, well, what I want to ask are:

  • Does it matter why this has worked?
  • If my results are so extreme, why isn’t this easily singled out possibility of intolerance included as a first call for testing from Doctors, Nutritionists, Allergy Specialists and Gastroenterologists?

Any information that I have been able to find on the effects of FOOD GUM additives (guar gum, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, carageenan etc) on our bodies, seems to conclude that- yes you could/should avoid them if you have gut issues like IBS, but that the small amounts of these substances used in foods really shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

Not once in all my visits to Doctors, to Naturopaths, to the Gastroenterologist, were the words ‘food attitives’ even mentioned, not even in passing. I put the puzzle together myself. It seems to me that a lot of additive intolerant people may be suffering needlessly on a doctor recommended FODMAPS diet when they may not have to.

These e400 additives are sold as natural ingredients, organic ingredients; alternative ingredients made from nature that will help you be healthier and your body happier. We see them on the labels of foods and think they must be the better option for us, they must be safe because they’re natural. I definitely thought this. I listened to the information being given to me by others instead of to the information my own body was giving me and I consumed these additives, even though my body was telling me not to. The information being given to us hasn’t caught up with our bodies yet. It’s taken however many years for the fact that sugar is bad to finally be accepted by the majority- and sugar is a natural substance too!

I was looking again at one of the almond milk cartons at work the other day just to check more closely the wording, ingredients, just being inquisitive really, when I noticed something that I find perplexing. See below the pictures I took of the carton:

IMG_9987

IMG_9986

Now yes, the wording printed does clearly (and proudly) state that the drink is free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, but, how natural and non-artificial are they really? Xanthan gum is: a sugar, fermented by a bacteria, precipitated by isopropyl alcohol and then ground into a powder. Now, to me, that doesn’t exactly sound 100% natural. What does non-artificial even mean? Do studies on the effects of food gums on rats provide enough information for us to feel okay with these substances? Especially with the rapidly increasing rate in the uptake and consumption of the gluten free foods which contain them.

I don’t know enough yet to answer these questions- no one does- but I do know enough now to question them, to ask myself what additives like these are really doing to my body and what they must be doing to the bodies of others with digestive problems like mine.

 

Why Gluten Free Choices Were Actually Hurting My Stomach

So I keep reading things about food additives, websites, blogs etc, all saying how CARAGEENAN, GUAR GUM, XANTHAN GUM and friends should be avoided if you happen to be that one in a million person who cannot tolerate them. The thing that I am finding common to all these sources of advice is that, along with the above, they all go on to recommend eliminating gluten, grains, legumes, beans and high sugar foods first; then, if you are still experiencing digestive issues, only then should you begin to try eliminating food additives from your diet.

Now, the problem I have with this advice is that the simple act of implementing the -perhaps knee-jerk- reaction to avoid gluten, actually exposes a host of people who are not gluten intolerant, to a whole bunch of extra FOOD GUM ADDITIVES that they would not be eating otherwise.

Gluten free breads, cakes, energy bars, drinks, protein powders, even basic all-purpose gluten free flour…all contain a combination of added FOOD GUMS. These guys seem to be added when the gluten is taken away. The GUMS serve as food thickeners so they are subbed in to fill the thickening role that gluten based flours must leave. People even include XANTHAN and GUAR GUMS in recipes! You can buy bags of this stuff at your local health store! Regular breads, cakes and the like, do not contain these extra GUMS as the unmodified ingredients do just fine in forming delicious treats by themselves.

This week, I took it upon myself to perform the one major experiment necessary in confirming my theory; my theory that it is indeed FOOD GUM ADDITIVES and not gluten and dairy that have been causing my digestion problems for all these years. However, after many years of judiciously avoiding something, being told to avoid something, the thought of not avoiding it feels very, very weird- like eating meat after years of being a vegetarian. I have been feeling this way about eating bread: proper wheat and gluten filled bread; and cheese: real dairy filled cheese. What if I end up in pain and my whole theory is wrong?

So, the other night, Husband and I went out to try this new wine bar down the road. Lucky for me, the wine was delicious and after a couple of glasses, eating some silly ol’ bread didn’t seem quite so scary. We ordered some cheese and bread and some more wine and set about having a fabulous time. A fabulous time made all the more fabulous by the fact that my stomach was completely enjoying things too. Feeling pretty confident, and hungry, we ordered more bread, more cheese (more wine), and still, my stomach remained a perfectly behaved guest at our table.

The next day, the day after, the day after that…no problem at all. No bloating, no indigestion, no cramps, no pain, no constipation- nothing. As long as the cheese and the bread (and the wine) do not contain e400 food gum additives they will not be a problem for me!

Looking back at the dairy that upset me growing up, before this whole thing even started, it was always cheesecake or cream cheese based dips and things that hurt me. These would have been made with e400 containing cream cheeses. Knowing this now, and following the other night’s success, I have been eating (for science!) a number of delicious cheeses this week, all e400s free and all completely welcomed by my stomach! Yeah, I’ve had some weird dreams, but that is a whole other cheese dream theory that really isn’t up to me to solve.

A Small Blip Helps Me Realise I’m Definitely on the Right Track

So, last week and the week before were going oh so very well. I had managed to avoid all E400 FOOD GUM ADDITIVES (and most other additives, just for kicks) and was feeling like a super person, a super person with no fear of eating the wrong thing! And then…well, I ate the wrong thing.

My husband and I had gone to Grill’d one night and it was a success! I had experienced no resulting complications at all. This is completely due to the fact that Grill’d actually have an extremely helpful website that lists every single ingredient in every single individual item on their menu Simply Grill’d and I had researched the hell out of it for half an hour before leaving to go there. But, my theory was working- even out in the big wide world! I really thought that I was on a roll (an additive free roll, but hey)! I really thought I had this new eating thing down.

Then, a few days after the successful burger venture, I had a tuna salad at the cafe I work at. Yes, I was very iffy about this salad as it has mayonnaise in its’ dressing and yes, I should have waited to check the tub ingredient label but it had already been thrown out and I was sick of eating trout every day, so I ate it anyway. I thought I would be okay (I justified to myself one hundred reasons why I would be okay) but my stomach went a bit funny fairly quickly.

The following day, husband and I decided to try the restaurant thing again and went out for lunch. I asked the waitress about the food gum additives and she assured me that I’d be safe. I had also looked up and self approved the ingredients of Protein Bread prior to the visit as I thought that was the bread this restaurant used. I have a feeling the bread may have changed or maybe there was just a sneaky sauce or milk used in something because, the next day, I was in trouble again. My stomach was all bloated and sore and there was to be no bathroom trips for a couple of days.

Now, I have no way of knowing which meal had been the cause of my return to pain or whether they both combined in their effort to hurt me. I have though, learned the cruel but very true fact that if I wish to keep my stomach happy, I will need to be forever vigilant in label reading and very, very, very careful when dining out. I also won’t be able to be slack. I won’t be able to just have one little tuna salad because I’m bored of trout. Following the blip, my discomfort again dissolved with vigilance in food selection and I am again living pain free. There are plenty of food options out there for me, I will just need to choose the ones that help my body and my body will,in turn, thank me by not stabbing me from the inside out. Thanks body.

When you think about it, food additives are in EVERYTHING. Unless food is fresh, undressed or researched confidently prior to its’ being eaten, there is a good chance that it will have additives in it and these are most likely the food gums that are so damaging to my stomach and probably lots of other stomachs out there. I simply can not be the only one.

I was actually talking with a girl today at the cafe. She ordered gluten free toast with Vegemite so I decided to ask her if she was gluten intolerant- Vegemite has gluten in it. She told me she knew it did but that she wasn’t sure about the gluten intolerance thing for her. She thought she probably just had inexplicable IBS. She knew that some foods caused her pain but that it seemed to be a build-up situation for her. She had been told to avoid gluten and to try FODMAPing but still couldn’t figure it out.

These are the very words I used to say to people all the fricking time! It was the only way I could try to make sense of the advice I been given to avoid gluten, paired with the fact that the gluten free foods I was eating still hurt me. I mentioned my experience thus far in avoiding the E400 food gum additives and the success I had had. She seemed wary of all the label reading and all the foods you need to avoid but I emphasised the pure and simple joy of living pain free and how worth it it is. Maybe she’ll give it a go. I hope so! I’d love to know if my experience can help someone else.

What Additives I am Avoiding

It’s now been one and a half weeks since I made the connection between FOOD GUMS and MY STOMACH PAIN.

As I am still just figuring this out as I go along, I am being very strict on exactly which food additives I am steering clear of. At this stage, I am living with a 100% success rate of

  • NO PAIN
  • NO BLOATING
  • NO FATIGUE
  • NO FACE PUFFINESS
  • NO POOR SLEEP

These stats may seem unremarkable for a meer two weeks but, with what I’ve lived through for the past six years, I can tell you straight faced- this is indeed remarkable! I wish to remark on it as much as possible!

While my stomach adjusts to its’ new normality I am avoiding and will continue to avoid:

  • 412, Guar Gum
  • 415, Xanthan Gum
  • 407, Carrageenan
  • 410, Locust/Carob bean gum…

Basically…all the 400s- all the gums. These are not always displayed on food labels with their numerical listing so I am trying to get as acquainted as possible with each of their many names to make my time choosing the right foods as easy as possible.

I am also currently avoiding the 1400s. As these are used as emulsifiers, thickeners and stabilisers in foods. They are also sometimes referred to as gums on certain listings. 1412 (Phosphate Distarch), is a common one, found in sauces and spreads.

Again, as I am not a Scientist or Nutritionist in any way, I am just using my brain and choosing to avoid these particular additives as these are the ones that linked everything together for me.

These are the additives that were in my gluten free bread, my gluten free Vegemite, my cashew icecream, my almond cold brew coffee, my Schiracha sauce. These are the additives I was consuming daily in what was a concerted effort to avoid Gluten and Dairy.

The funny thing is, that these particular additives are not commonly found in regular bread, cheese, cream, and cow milk. So in my avoiding these simple foods and choosing their alternatives in the name of health- these are the additives that have actually turned out to be the cause and sustained reason for all my digestive problems.

I don’t have a WHY for all this yet, but as least I have a BECAUSE and that is the instant results I’m experiencing. I’ll get back to you on the WHY.