I didn't know I had food intolerances until I was in my 30s.
I'd had trouble with my digestion since birth. As a baby I had a lot of gas and would often get diarrhea. My mother thought it was because I was a preemie. Those stomach problems eased by the time I was 6 months old, and I was relatively healthy as a kid. But then what appeared to be seasonal allergies kicked in. In fact, by the time I hit puberty, my symptoms were so bad that my eyes would often seal shut with crust, and I had terrible sinus pain and headaches.
Milk may do a body good, but not if you’re one of 30 to 50 million people who suffers from lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance results from an inability to digest the natural sugar (lactose) found in milk and milk products. Lactose intolerance symptoms can include bloating, diarrhea, gas, and cramping. But there are ways to manage lactose intolerance while reaping the nutritional benefits of dairy products.
The worst part was the fatigue. I went to doctors, but no one seemed to know why I was so tired. I started to believe it was all in my head. So I worked really hard -- I was president of the student council, was on the yearbook committee, even worked 20 hours a week -- but then I would come home and crash. I did the same thing in college: worked hard, ignored the symptoms, but was exhausted all the time.
Throughout my 20s, I developed chronic chest and stomach pain, plus acid reflux. I hit bottom about six years ago, when I was 30. I developed such a sharp pain in my chest I thought I was having a heart attack. My left arm was numb and I was short of breath. I went to an urgent care center, which you should always do if you have chest pain, and the doctor told me I was just having heartburn.
When I went to a gastrointestinal specialist the next day, he told me the same thing. I was relieved it wasn't a heart problem. But the medication didn't really help.
Food Intolerances and GERD
After my family and I moved to New Hampshire in 2004, a new gastroenterologist figured out what was really wrong: I had multiple food intolerances -- to gluten, dairy, rice, most grains, monosodium glutamate, and cane sugar -- and these had caused me to develop gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which was the source of the crushing chest pains I'd had. The GERD also triggered my sinus problems.
My new doctor put me on a new diet, as well as a regimen of probiotics, antifungal medications, and vitamins. Part of me wanted to cry; I felt so relieved that I wasn't imagining all this stuff. Another part of me was totally overwhelmed by the diet he recommended; I'd read about similar ones on the WebMD boards and thought they sounded way too hard.
But I tried it and now, three years later, I'm so much better. Now that my body's not constantly fighting me, I have the energy I need to do things with my four daughters, such as taking them to after-school activities or reading to them at night. And I can walk through my life without constant stomach and sinus pressure. Without the pain, I almost feel like I'm floating. It's a kind of euphoria.