Can a wheat-free diet help with a hereditary degenerative joint disease? Going wheat-free certainly helped me.
My Great-Grandmother, My Grandmother, and Me
For as long as I can remember, my paternal grandmother (she died in 2012 at the age of 98) had fingertips that were almost right angles. Both she and her mother suffered from osteoarthritis. My grandmother loved to play the piano and write long letters – both things she was unable to do later in her life because of the pain in her fingers. Of course, my grandmother didn’t want to pass it down to me, but I, too, suffer from osteoarthritis.
I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my late 30s. I wore a hand brace for a while on the hand that bothered me more, but that didn’t really work. In looking at options for relief, I didn’t want to take oral medication or rub a medicated cream on my hands every day. I considered having surgery, but at the time I was too young. The older I got the worse the pain got, particularly when I was cooking and baking – my version of my grandmother’s letter writing and piano playing.
Going Wheat-Free was Worth a Try
In the fall of 2013, I met a woman who told me about a book she had recently read called Wheat Belly and how she had gone wheat-free with the hopes that it would help with her migraines and osteoarthritis. I was intrigued enough to read it myself. Dr. William Davis, a practicing cardiologist, made a compelling argument that modern wheat (that grown in the last 50 years or so) has been so genetically modified such that it contributes to a whole host of health issues including (but not limited to) heart disease, diabetes, obesity and an increase in the occurrence of Celiac disease.
On January 1, 2014, I committed to removing wheat from my diet for 90 days. While I didn’t feel entirely better at the end of that time, I had less pain in my hands, so I made the decision to give up wheat for good. It’s now been over four years and I am happy to report that my hands feel much better than they did when I was eating wheat. The additional bonus is that my body in general just feels better without wheat.
A Wheat-Free Diet is Not Impossible
Is it difficult sometimes? Do I feel like I’m being a burden to family and friends who cook for me? Do I really want to eat a piece of French baguette on occasion? Yes, yes, and yes. But then I think about the pain I could be in and how I wouldn’t enjoy cooking for those same friends and family and I know that my decision was the right one.
In the last four years, I have been amazed at how many more options there are for people who don’t eat wheat. Gluten-free sections of grocery stores have grown, package labeling has improved, and restaurants often label items as gluten-free. Technically I’m not gluten-free; I still eat barley and rye (the other two components of gluten). I will often say that I’m gluten-free as it’s easier for people to understand than wheat-free. Also, “gluten” doesn’t rhyme with anything. I’ve confused people by saying “wheat-free”; they think I’m saying “meat-free” . Once a colleague thought I said “weed-free!”
Nothing Tastes as Good as No Pain Feels
I also love a good cooking challenge and this has been the biggest one of all. I have been able to adapt many of my favorite recipes with substitutions; gluten-free flour in place of all-purpose flour, quinoa in place of couscous, rice in place of pasta. Or, I focus on recipes that start out wheat-free – there are plenty of them, even when it comes to dessert. I have an outlet to share these recipes on my weekly blog, Riegl Palate. I’m not only helping myself but others as well.
Someone jokingly referred to those who eat wheat as normal. Not having pain in my hands is now my new “normal” and I embrace it.
-- Nicole Teillon Riegl
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