How a Gluten Free Lifestyle Saved My Kidneys

Note: This post first appeared on Food4ThoughtNYC.

As I lay in the medi-copter several years ago getting ready to be flown to another hospital, I thought back to the first day I had experienced wrist pain, which I had just ignored.  What I didn’t know at that time was how quickly this autoimmune disorder would progress.

What began as a single joint pain led to multiple painful joints. Next came the muscle pain and then almost immediately came the swelling in my feet and hands.  Although I’d never had heart trouble, I was now experiencing a rapid heartbeat and bloody urine that morning.

I thought of all the things it could be: pericarditis, endocarditis, anemia, kidney/urine infection. That day in the medi-copter, I arrived in the ER ordering my own tests.  It all came crashing down as I lay on the gurney bewildered at the sudden course of events.

After countless tests, ultrasounds, and CAT scans, I endured the most painful kidney biopsy.

My diagnosis: Stage 4 lupus nephritis.  The best prognosis my doctors could offer me was kidney transplant in 5 years.

(Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that afflicts 5 million individuals worldwide. It can affect all organs and causes widespread inflammation.)

For a long time, I struggled with my diagnosis.

Gluten Free Lifestyle - Margaret Romero From Lupus to Living

photo credit: iStockPhoto

I had placed all my power in the hands of my specialists, and I had hit rock bottom.  Then I started to notice that my joint pain worsened after meals and I wondered about being celiac or having a gluten sensitivity.

I discussed this with my rheumatologist and she discouraged the test.  So I ordered a DNA test and performed it myself.  (When it comes to my own health, I have become quite the rebel.) It revealed a severe gluten sensitivity and 2 non-celiac gluten sensitive genes.

Then something magical happened.

Almost as quickly as I became gluten free, my joint pain and swelling finally started to disappear. I could finally start to walk up and down stairs without tearing up. That day changed my life.

5 years later, I practice hot yoga and have since lost 30 lbs from all the prednisone and water retention.

And I am NOT on the kidney transplant list.

Aside from my food choices, I also corrected my vitamin and hormone deficiencies.

In fact, I am healthier and more vibrant than before I became ill. Being gluten free literally saved my life.

If you too have been thinking about embracing a gluten free lifestyle, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Eliminate the pasta, bread, crackers and bread crumbs from your pantry and replace with gluten free products.  If you cannot find any in your supermarket, you can buy all products online. Trust me, your life is not over if you eat gluten free pasta compared to regular pasta.  This comes straight from a huge comfort food eater!
  • Replace your toaster. It’s difficult to clean every single crumb!
  • Check your seasonings and vitamin supplements for gluten.
  • Buy 1-2 gluten free cookbooks and/or a magazine to help with cooking at home. My first cookbook was by Carol Fenster. I also took cooking classes and began learning about different flours and thickeners.
  • Talk to your family about going gluten-free and teach them what that means. If you are going to a dinner party, bring your gluten free pasta. Trust me on this one. Bring your own bread, pizza, waffles and keep it in their freezer. They will get over it. And they will love to see you feeling and looking better!
Basket of vegetables for gluten free living - Margaret Romero From Lupus to Living

photo credit: Will Merydith via photopin cc

If you’re not sure that going gluten free will work for you, ask your doctor to check a Food Panel IgG at your next blood draw or see an integrative or functional medicine practitioner. Both of these courses of action are a great way to determine whether you have food sensitivities.

If you are going through a health crisis as well, I hope I have inspired you.  Feel free to reach out by email and share your story with me.