What Came First? Soy or Egg Allergy?

Something wonderful happened the other day.

I ate an egg for breakfast and I didn’t get sick.

The next day, I ate another egg.  Again, I didn’t get sick.

This is a big event in this allergic foodie’s life.  For over five years, I haven’t eaten eggs, or foods containing even the slightest amount of egg, because I’ll react with stomach pains and other unpleasant symptoms.  Then a few weeks ago, while perusing Whole Foods, I came across Soy Free Organic Eggs from Chino Valley Ranchers.  The gray and orange package read: LARGE BROWN EGGS FROM FREE RANGE HENS FED A CERTIFIED ORGANIC SOY FREE DIET.

Chino Valley Ranchers Soy Free Eggs

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, soy is my worst allergen; I’ll react immediately and the horrible symptoms will last for days, sometimes weeks. It’s crossed my mind that it may not be the eggs making me ill, but rather the soy the hens ate and passed onto me, but I had no way of proving it.

Until now.

I’ve eaten the entire carton and not one symptom.

Thrilled about eggs being back in my diet–Can you tell I’m really excited?–I called the family-owned company in Arcadia, California. David Will, the general manager, was appreciative to get the positive feedback. He said the soy-free eggs were a direct response to the company receiving so many calls from customers asking for eggs without soy. Proof that some companies actually listen to those of us with serious food allergies!  Just go over to The Gluten-Free Dude’s blog to see how many companies don’t.

David went on to say it took seven years for a nutritionist to come up with certified organic feed that could equal the nutritional values in soybeans.  Then a third-party laboratory tested and verified that absolutely no soy or soy protein could be detected. The company website has lots of great info if you want to know more.

I did find another company called Grass Fed Traditions that produce and test soy-free eggs (the chickens are fed coconut), but they are mail order only and prices are extremely high. If you know of another egg farmer that offers certified soy-free eggs, let me know.

What about other allergies?

Explaining to David that I, along with most of my readers, have multiple food allergies and/or celiac disease, I asked specifically what the hen’s feed contained.  About 50 to 60 percent is corn; corn is one of my allergies—a one on a scale of four–but I do not react to these eggs at all.  I’d be curious to find out of if those of you with more serious corn allergies do react to eggs–these or others.  The feed also contains field peas, sunflower meal, flax seed, alfalfa, along with grains and seeds.

Of course, the mention of grains threw up a red flag.  David assured me that although the eggs are not tested for gluten, the chickens only eat miniscule amounts of wheat, if any.  As those of us with celiac disease know, eggs are considered gluten-free by the celiac disease medical experts, and many bloggers and gluten-free cookbook authors encourage us to include eggs in our GF diet.  Of course, a reaction to eggs is possible if hens eat mainly a diet of wheat and barley, but this isn’t a concern with the chickens clucking around Chino Valley Ranchers.

chickens

So eggs are back in my life, and I’m one happy allergic foodie. In fact, I’m thinking about making an omelet with green peppers and onions and mushrooms for dinner tonight.

If it’s ever crossed your mind that maybe it’s your soy allergy making you react to eggs, try these soy-free eggs and let me know what you think.  I’m sure the kind folks at Chino Valley Ranchers would like to know, too.

Have Celiac Disease? Blame Your Birthday

I chuckled when I read that children born in the spring and summer are more likely to develop celiac disease than those born in fall and winter. C’mon, really?

Baby August's First Cake

Baby August’s First Cake (Photo credit: tainkeh)

Then I got thinking about how my son and I both have celiac disease and our birthdays are in April, a week apart.  Hmmm . . . .So I dug a little deeper.

While research is minimal, there are indeed a few studies examining the season of birth and the incident of celiac disease.  I listed them below in case you are a nerd. . . uh, a really inquisitive person . . .  like me and like to read such things. The theory goes like this: Babies born in spring and summer start eating solids containing gluten–wheat, barley, rye–around six months of age. That’s smack in the middle of cold and flu season.  Having a viral infection could play a role in a baby’s autoimmune system’s response to gluten.

Now that doesn’t seem so farfetched to me.

In fact, one Swedish study reported that the highest risk of CD was seen in children who had several infections within six months of age and who ate large amounts of gluten (as opposed to small and medium amounts), soon after gluten was introduced, and if breastfeeding had stopped before baby started on gluten.

Oh my, I just had a flashback to all those Cheerios I fed my sons!  And thanks, researchers, for another guilt trip for not breastfeeding longer.

What these studies don’t tell us is whether these children had a genetic predisposition to CD.  Back when my kids were babies, I didn’t know CD ran in our family.  If I had, and I’d read these studies, I’d have introduced gluten slowly and in smaller amounts.

I certainly wouldn’t have kept that continual supply of Cheerios in the diaper bag!

Season of birth in a nationwide cohort of coeliac disease patients

Multicenter study on season of birth and celiac disease: evidence for a new theoretical model of pathogenesis.

Food Allergies and Celiac Disease: Sharing My Story

A few weeks ago I received an email from Stefanie over at PeanutAllergy.com. She said she liked my positive attitude on living with multiple food allergies and celiac disease—thank you, Stefanie!–and asked if I would share my story for their website. While flattered, I found this invitation a bit odd since I don’t have a nut allergy.

Then I took a look at the website.  All I have to say is WOW.

PeanutAllergy.com is the ultimate resource for anyone living with a nut allergy, but it offers tons of info and support for those of us coping with other food allergies. Every time I click over there, I learn something new.  Today I read about dogs with food allergies, which of course I had to tweet!

Desk-writing

Putting years of poor health, medical procedures, and doctor visits into a few paragraphs–and without sounding like a big fat whiner–proved difficult.  Eventually, I decided to write my story as if it was a synopsis for a book.

This exercise turned out to be quite therapeutic; a few tears may have been shed. You may want to try it.

I also asked myself,  What could I share that might help someone out there struggling with strange unexplainable symptoms and looking for answers?  Click here to read my story.

Already I’ve received a few grateful emails.  What more can an allergic foodie ask for?

I’m a Picky Eater! And Proud of It!

There I was at a pizza party grazing off the veggie platter when a friend–for the sake of my future social life let’s call her Deborah–leaned across the table and announced loudly that her daughter who has celiac disease doesn’t need to be nearly as careful as I do.

“Well she kind of does,” I explained good-naturedly while the other guests rolled out homemade pizza dough.

“But her symptoms aren’t nearly as bad as yours,” Deborah said. (Oh, and did I mention Deborah is a nurse?) “At our house, we use the same toaster, the same utensils, the same cutting board, and my daughter is just fine.”

Maybe I was just being overly sensitive that night, but it felt like Deborah was announcing to all the other guests, as well as the lovely hosts, that I was just being a picky eater.

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Guess what?  I am a picky eater! I have to be. Otherwise, I’ll end up spending the evening in the restroom and the following day in the fetal position on the sofa.

Yes Deborah, I really can’t eat the gluten-free pizza dough that’s been rolled out with a rolling pin covered in flour. Nor can I cook the gluten-free pizza in the really cool pizza oven because it’s also been contaminated with flour.

My husband doesn't have CD enjoyed the pizza!

My husband doesn’t have CD enjoyed the pizza!

There was no convincing this woman that her daughter with mild symptoms should follow strict contamination guidelines. She didn’t want to change her cooking habits or reorganize her kitchen. I went to bed that evening worrying about her young daughter who could possibly develop serious complications from uncontrolled celiac disease later in life.

According to Peter Green, MD, author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, “Many patients who do not have diarrhea think that there is no need for treatment. But the longer individuals have celiac disease, the more like they are to get other autoimmune diseases. Even without symptoms, patients need to be treated to prevent further damage.”

As those of us with CD know, “treatment” involves removing all gluten out of our diet and avoiding cross contamination. For those newly diagnosed or who are cooking for a loved one with CD or gluten sensitivity, learning to avoid cross contamination takes patience and practice. Following are some basic guidelines; even if you are an experienced gluten-free eater, it’s a good idea to review these.

  • Always wash cooking utensils with dish soap and water before using—you never know where that fork has been!
  • Maintain designated non-wheat cutting boards, strainers, and toasters. Color code if possible; at my house, gluten-free cookware is apple green. I also label items with a Sharpie and keep a gluten-free cupboard for my supplies. In our vacation home, I label everything I cook with, and when I think guests won’t follow the rules, I lock my cookware in an owner’s closet.
  • Never double dip. If a contaminated spoon has been dipped into the peanut butter, don’t eat the PB. If the flour tortilla has been sunk into the salsa, don’t eat the salsa. If it looks like the crouton spoon at the salad bar has been swapped with the cucumber spoon, pass on the cucumbers.
  • Clearly label the jars that you eat out of (for example, “Amy’s Jam”). I especially find this helpful since I have lots of food allergies and my food is expensive. My husband can eat the cheaper brands. 🙂
  • When eating food that’s typically cooked in oil, such a French Fries, ask if breaded items are cooked in the same oil. Some restaurants, such as Red Robin, are now cooking gluten-free fries in separate oil.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the server or chef lots of questions—whether eating at a restaurant, at a wedding, or at a friend’s house. Be specific about your needs. Can you cook my salmon on foil to avoid contamination? Can you leave the pasta out of my minestrone?
  • If you are still getting sick even after taking cross-contamination steps, keep a food diary and consult a nutritionist/dietician. Gluten hides in so many products and can easily contaminate foods–don’t be afraid to ask for help!

As for Deborah’s daughter, I hope she learns to be a picky eater. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Could Wheat Have Caused My Son’s Early Birth?

During an ultrasound the doctor told my husband and me that our son was too small for his gestational age.  I’ll never forget his words: “Your baby isn’t growing; the placenta looks old.”  He sent me home on strict bedrest. But being a couch potato didn’t last long. Within a week my blood pressure and weight spiked and my feet and hands bloated like water balloons. A visit to my OB confirmed what I’d already self-diagnosed from reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  I had toxemia and needed to go to the hospital immediately.

The minutes, hours, weeks and months that followed were like riding on a frightening rollercoaster without breaks.  Uncontrollable vomiting (all over the staff!), dizziness, and a pounding headache.  A noisy ambulance ride to a second hospital with a better neonatal intensive care unit.  My husband’s ashen face and shaking hands when a doctor we had never met before said matter-of-factly, “If the baby isn’t delivered now, both your wife and son will die.”

Daniel arrived three months early weighing one pound 11 ounces (a baby his age should weigh over two pounds).  He could literally fit in the palm of my hand.  I’ll never forget the overwhelming feelings of guilt and failure when I first saw my son.  His chicken-size body was covered in a web of wires and a respirator breathed for him.  I fled the NICU.

Throughout my pregnancy I’d done everything right: no alcohol, daily prenatal vitamins, exercised and ate right.  So why did this happen?

Twenty-two years later, it breaks my heart to learn something as simple as eating wheat could have caused our son’s early delivery as well as my other pregnancy complications.  (Prior to Daniel, I’d had a late miscarriage followed by rare life-threatening bleeding during a D&C. Our second son, Steven, arrived after complications and bedrest.  Pregnancy and my autoimmune system are incompatible, to say the least.)

I wasn’t diagnosed with celiac disease until long after my childbearing years.  Funny, what first popped into my head when I learned gluten wasn’t my friend was how I reacted to wheat during pregnancy–I craved starch and carbs and ate lots of spaghetti, lasagna, and bread!  Mealtimes often ended with stomach pains, diarrhea, heartburn, and indigestion, which the nurse practitioner said were “common symptoms of pregnancy.”

I now know these are signs of celiac disease, too.   In fact, they were probably my first symptoms.  Experts say that CD symptoms often first appear during pregnancy.  Too bad I didn’t have a doctor who knew that.

While some studies have found little or no connection between CD and pregnancy problems, recent data supports a link.  An ongoing large study by Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, still to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, indicates women with celiac disease report a higher likelihood than other women of having difficulty with conception and pregnancy, including a greater chance of preterm birth.  Surveying 1,022 women, they found:

* 43 percent of women with CD reported miscarriages prior to CD diagnosis compared to 37 percent without celiac disease, and

* 23 percent of CD women gave birth prematurely compared to 14 percent of non-CD women.

A 2010 Danish study found that mothers with untreated celiac disease gave birth to smaller babies and delivered early compared with women who didn’t have CD.  On the positive side, after mothers were treated for CD with a gluten-free diet, they had healthy deliveries.

Of course, these women needed to be diagnosed with CD first.

I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out differently for my children if I’d know about my disease. While Daniel is a healthy college senior now, his childhood was plagued with respiratory illnesses, surgery, hospitalizations, and developmental therapy.  (Ironically, it’s our full-term child Steven, now a college student, who has celiac disease.)

And what about the baby we lost?  Could something as simple as eliminating gluten from my diet have saved him or her?

Soon after Daniel and Steven’s births I wrote and published two books, Your Premature Baby and Child and The Pregnancy Bed Rest Book.  During substantial research and interviews, I never came across untreated celiac disease being a risk factor for infertility, low birthweight and preterm birth.  This needs to change!  Obstetricians must recognize the symptoms of celiac disease and listen to their patients–not just brush aside a woman’s complaints as pregnancy related!  Books, websites and other literature should inform pregnant women of the risk of untreated celiac disease during pregnancy (keep in mind, 1 in 133 people have CD!).

I can’t do anything about the outcomes of my pregnancies, but I might be able to make a difference in the life of another young woman and her family.  You can too. Please won’t you join me in getting the word out about celiac disease and pregnancy?

Further Reading

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, “Pregnancy and Celiac Disease,” by Amy Burkhard, MD, RD

Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign, “Women with Celiac Disease More Likely to Have Trouble Conceiving, Pre-Term Births”

Living Without, “Why Can’t We Have a Baby? Unexplained Infertility and Celiac Disease” by Christine Boyd

Companies That Make Life Easier

For many  months after my diagnosis of celiac disease and food allergies (dairy, eggs, corn, soy, vanilla, nutmeg, to name a few), I often left the grocery store in tears.  Sure I’d find an organic gluten-free pizza sans dairy, but wouldn’t you know soy was listed in the ingredients.  I had no idea which brands of deli meats I could buy or which gluten-free breads didn’t use corn flour.  Which chickens and cows ate soy and corn and wheat, and which fed only on grass?  I’m embarrassed to say I often found myself throwing packages back onto the shelves in total frustration.

Today food shopping has become much easier thanks, in part, to the various companies who specialize in organic and non-allergy foods.  I plan to blog about my favorites in the near future, but the first I’d like to mention is Mile High Organics, an online retailer serving Colorado’s Front Range and the first online grocer to be USCA certified.  Every Saturday a box of organic, non-genetically modified fruits and vegetables, as well as other items I’ve ordered, arrives on my doorstep.  It’s like Christmas.  Thankfully the order comes with recipes because I don’t always know how to prepare kale, beets and other veggies.  What I like best about this service is the time it saves me from scouring the produce aisles and reading packages.   I also find that it makes me try new foods and preparations, which is great for someone with leaky gut.

To see if you have such a delivery service in your area, search online organic grocers on the Web, and please share any of your favorite allergy-aware companies.