Here's another anecdote related to the locavore project I promised, and this is about wheat. If you haven't read it yet, here's part 1.
During the year-long locavore project, we were allowed three non-local food items a month, with the option to switch them out to other foods at the end of every month. We also were allowed other foods when out for non-local dinner (only two times a month) or when out of town. After a few months of tinkering, I settled on a plan I would keep to for the rest of the year. I would pick one grain, one meat, and then something extra, like chocolate, cinnamon, milk or coffee, and everything else was local.
I usually picked rice for the grain, but was looking forward to pasta and home-canned tomato dishes in the summer. So I couldn't wait until June, when I switched from rice to wheat. Starting June 1, I started eating wheat at almost every meal. That meant cracked wheat for breakfast, wheat bread for lunch and pasta for dinner. I thought I would be in heaven.
After the first week on the project, I lost about 6 pounds on mostly pork and rice with local vegetables, but I hadn't given up wheat entirely. I still ate bread on my free meals out and oftentimes had some when I was out of town. But, I never had it several times a day until June.
Around the middle of the month, I got very sick. I went to the doctor and they did lots of tests and diagnosed me with lupus. For some strange reason (fever-induced dilirium??) I just couldn't eat certain foods. One look or thought of them and I felt sick. I purged my kitchen of foods that made me feel sick: milk from Von's but not Fresh and Easy, all my garden fava beans and unfortunately, wheat.
I called the locavore project leader, Kris Young (you can find him featured on primal docs) to discuss the situation, and he said it was OK for me to switch from wheat to rice for the remainder of the month, and I wouldn't have to abandon the project.
Slowly I regained my health, and learned lots about the failure of "modern" medical care. I realized that once you are diagnosed with lupus, you can't get a doctor to take anything else seriously, because just about everything else is a symptom of lupus, which they really don't treat. So I was on my own to find out what was happening and what to do about it.
I visited the rheumatologist every 4 months, did even more and more tests, and was eventually diagnosed with UCTD and secondary Sjogren's. I was given pain pills (which I quit taking because they made me sick), dealt with fatigue, extreme morning stiffness and other symptoms. This went on for about a year and a half until I went lower carb and all my autoimmune symptoms and obesity went away.
One thing I noticed on my food logs is that the little wheat I still ate greatly affected me. Like Dr. Oz recommends, I had standardized my vegetarian breakfasts. I had two of them. One was a small glass of beet kavass, a small amount of yogurt with fruit, a small amount of oatmeal and one egg. On the alternate day, I added in a bit more yogurt and substituted the egg for a piece of toast with butter. I started noticing a zig-zag pattern on my food graphs. Of course, the cholesterol zig-zagged as I went in and out of eating eggs, but my total caloric intake for the day had the opposite pattern. Interesting! Then I looked some more at my food diaries and realized that I had much greater trouble with cravings on the bread days. Reading that it might be the protein in the egg that caused less hunger, I added an egg to breakfast every day, and I still got the same pattern. Eventually I figured out it was the bread, and after seeing the craving pattern, it was pretty easy to cut the rest of it out of my life.
After two months on lower-carb, I went back to the rheumatologist. This time, she took the autoimmune diagnosis off my chart, replacing it with "POSITIVE ANA". I had no more symptoms, no complaints, no markers of AI disease of any kind. I still hadn't really connected my illness to the wheat, and of course, with an N=1, there could by plenty of confounding variables: menopause, stomach bug, tick bite, virus, etc. One thing I do know is that when I add whole wheat bread back into my life, most of the symptoms return. After three days of a higher-carb wheat-containing diet, I am tired and achy. After just one meal of wheat, I wake up the next day feeling sick, and my fingers are locked together.
I still hadn't connected what was happening to the autoimmune disease symptoms to wheat. I think it is a stretch to say that the great increase in eating wheat caused my illness, but I know for sure that avoiding wheat and excess carbs fixes the symptoms. When I tell people that I have given up wheat, many tell me they could never do it because they just can't give up their bread. Well, for me at least, I am happy to give up the lupus symptoms in exchange for being breadless.
Update 5/1/14: Since I first wrote this post I have blood-tested positive for celiac. I now believe that the great increase in eating wheat IS what caused my illness. This new diagnosis was a surprise, since I thought I was merely wheat-intolerant since I don't have any of the classic celiac symptoms. I hope the readers of this blog who have any AI disease be tested for celiac. I chose to NOT do the intestinal biopsy, for I feel it is cruel and harmful. The fact that I tested positive on a blood test panel after giving up wheat for more than a month indicates to me I have a real problem. Now, in addition to being 100% percent (vs. 95%) wheat-free, I am also gluten free.