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.
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.