Autism Linked to Immune Disorders – Including Celiac

A friend just emailed me a link to an article in the Sunday Times about Autism being caused by immune disorders such as Celiac Disease. It states that at least one-third of Autism (and “very likely more”) is caused by inflammatory diseases that start while in the mother’s womb. The more active a mother’s immune system is, the more likely a child is to be born with autism. And Celiac Disease can send an immune system into overdrive, causing severe inflammation.

So I found this article especially interesting for several personal reasons. First, I have to follow what some people call the “Autism” diet. My Celiac disease means I must avoid gluten (GF) and my casein allergy forces me to avoid all dairy (CF). So I’ve done a lot of research on a GFCF diet. Many parents of autistic children have found that strictly avoiding gluten and casein can to help lessen symptoms. From a personal “normal” adult perspective, I can completely see how being GFCF could help alleviate symptoms of Autism. When I have the tiniest bit of gluten, within an hour I feel what must be a chemical reaction taking place in my brain. First I become super-anxious (Chicken Little has nothing on me! Not only is the sky falling, but everyone’s going to get hurt or die – it’s a terrible, out of control feeling that no matter how many times I tell myself “it’s just a gluten reaction,” it still feels very, very real!). The next day my super-anxiety is coupled with a hair-trigger raging temper. Which is fun for the whole family. Then for days after gluten exposure, my mind is foggy, sluggish and unresponsive. Words are lost. Thoughts are abandoned mid-sentance. Many things are forgotten. It take about 5 days for the mental effects from a single particle of gluten to begin to clear my system and weeks before I can start to feel “normal” again. So I can only imagine how it must be for an autistic child if they’re having a similar reaction to the proteins of gluten and casein that they eat on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s similar to my cognitive disfunction but magnified to such a degree that it causes the much more drastic, impairing symptoms of Autism….

Secondly, my Celiac “kicked in” when I was pregnant, so I would have been a prime candidate for having an autistic child. The article states that according to a large Danish study (10 years and 700,000 births), women with Celiac Disease are three  and a half times more likely to have an autistic child!! Not twice as likely as someone without. Not twice as likely. But 3.5 times more likely to have an autistic child. Wow!! So I’m even more thankful for our little man now.

And finally, we have a nephew with Autism. I’ve always felt a rather special connection to him, but really never thought much about it. I always felt like we somehow have more in common than meets the eye. To most people, we look like an 18-year-old autistic boy and a (gulp) middle-aged woman. But I’ve always seemed to be able to “get” some of what and why things bother him. Not everything – no, not even close. But I’ve always kind of understood and been comfortable with him and his habits. So I’ve been interested in the theory that a GFCF lifestyle like mine might help him. And this article seems to suggest that we may have more things in common than I thought. If autism is indeed caused by inflammation brought on by an overactive immune response, perhaps my own gluten-induced overactive immune system (that causes swelling of my digestive system and brain) causes some not dissimilar symptoms in me (albeit decidedly to a lesser extent). I just wonder what would happen if my nephew and I followed the same strict gluten and casein free diet for a few weeks…. would there be a difference in his cognition too? I don’t know.

But a recent event really solidified the connection I’ve always felt to him. Last weekend I was accidentally contaminated at a large family party (where I brought all my pre-prepared homemade GFCF food and methodically washed my hands but STILL got “glutened”). I was experiencing the first throes of gluten-induced mental changes literally while walking around, following and watching over our Autistic nephew. And I tell ya, there must be something to this connection. While I’m sure every individual’s experience is different, I felt like I could honestly understand just a tiny little bit of the overstimulation that he must feel from the noise and energy of over 50 happy, loud people milling around in one house. Things like patterns in carpets are more visible, lights are brighter, sounds more sharp. If that bit of gluten could effect my brain the way it did, what must it be like for him?

As for the article’s postulation about introducing “domesticated” parasites into autistic systems… well, I’m not too sure what to make of that. Although I *am* a HUGE proponent of probiotics – which are, after all, living organisms that help balance our digestive systems. (And if you’re even contemplating a GFCF diet, I’d advise you to look into probiotic supplements – it was the final piece to my recovery puzzle). But the idea of taming my overactive immune response by “raising” worms from pigs to put into my sad little modern, white-bread (pun intended :)) digestive system, well… that seems a bit radical. But who knows?

Anyway. The article is a very interesting read. Check out the NY Times article here and let me know what you think.

Just a milligram of gluten a day?!

Did you know that an article posted on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website states that just one milligram of gluten, once a day, can keep a Celiac from recovering?!

One milligram! One thousandth of a gram! That’s the equivalent of one tiny spec of sand. And not just any sand: very fine, small sand!!!

This might be something to think about the next time we’re tempted to take  something…! One little crumb of gluten can keep us sick for up to three months. And one a day for two years is enough to keep us as sick as if we were eating gluten every day and not on a gluten-free diet.

It also make you wonder how much we’ll be eating under the acceptable 20 PPM rule….

Nutty for Nuts.com’s Gluten-Free Snacks!!

In the last three years since going gluten-free, I’ve missed nuts. I don’t know why but I have a reaction to most commercial brands of nuts (every single time I would hear of a Celiac who can eat some brand of peanut – like Planters – I would get really excited that I’d go try some and get SOO sick!!). So in my busy life as mom, wife and editor, the search for nuts slipped through the cracks and I went without…. That is, until a couple of weeks ago when I found Nuts.com! And ohmigosh, this company (formerly NutsOnline.com) is totally AWESOME!!

Nuts.com has an entire Gluten-Free section on their website dedicated to GF nuts, snacks, chocolates & candies, GF flours (and more!) that are all CERTIFIED safe by the Gluten Intolerance Group!!! I was so excited to see this, I immediately purchased several items (cashews, peanuts, dried ginger and pine nuts). I made the order late in the day on a weekday and boy was I shocked when the delivery guy came to the door the VERY NEXT MORNING with my Nuts.com package!!! Practically 18 hours after the purchase was made it was on my doorstep!! WOW! And I only paid for regular ground shipping!

And everything was so delicious, I went through the one pound bag of cashews in less than a week. Um, yeah… I have to admit, I ate One Yummy Pound all by myself…. (Their marketing cracks me up: it’s not just “1 lb. bag” it’s a “One Yummy Pound” bag – I love it!!) So what did I do? Um, of COURSE I went back and ordered more! Oh, not one or two more orders, but THREE orders later our little family is swimming in Yummy Pound bags!! We’ve tried dried cherries, pineapple, banana chips, mango, sun dried tomatoes and pistachios. And I haven’t had a HINT of gluten contamination after eating anything! Whoot!

We’ve each made our own personalized bags of trail mix (we each have different faves, so buying the 1 lb bags – I mean, One Yummy Pound bags – was great. At first I thought a pound of each would hang around forever and possibly be wasted, but no, they’re all so good they’re gobbled right up!!) I also made GF Pasta (not from there, but Tinkyada rice pasta) made with some GFCF Pesto, mixed with the Nuts.com Sundried Tomatoes and their Toasted Pine Nuts. Ohmigosh, the whole family loved it so much we all went nuts — LOL: Nuts.com, that is!

Just remember to only order from the “Gluten Free” section of the site ’cause there are lots of things on Nuts.com that are NOT gluten free!! But everything in the Gluten-Free section on their website is safe because they follow these guidelines (from the Nuts.com website):

  • We analyzed ingredients, vetted suppliers, and got facility certificates ensuring non-contamination of ingredients and production aids.
  • We completely segregated our production lines to eliminate any possibility of cross-contamination.
  • We established policies and procedures to ensure compliance and randomly test products in our gluten-free production room.
  • Not only do we voluntarily comply with USDA federal guidelines, but we’re also certified by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization.
  • We show the GF logo on each product page that is gluten-free.

In short, Nuts.com has great, safe, GIG certified gluten-free products, an easy-to-navigate website, super customer service, and a great sense of humor in their marketing. You need to check out out Nuts.com because it’s One Yummy Company!! 😛

Finding a SAFE Gluten Free Restaurant on the Road

My little family took a BIG road trip last week: Florida to Massachusetts! While on the road and at our destination, there have been several chains that offer gluten-free menus, we didn’t always come across those while on the road. And now that we’re here in Cape Cod, the chain restaurants are few and far in between. So I was searching around for some sort of database of gluten-free restaurants and boy, did I hit the jackpot! I found the Gluten Free Registry and found a new, local place to eat safely tonight! Whoohoo! I’m going to the Coonamessett Inn and am going to check out their seemingly extensive menu. I’ll post back and let you know how it is. :)

So if you’re looking for a new place to safely eat, check out the Gluten Free Registry site. It seems like not every place has a very gluten-free friendly environment, but there are user reviews and contact info, so you can pick and choose a place at which you’re comfortable eating. And remember: when dining out, even at places that know about Celiac and safe handling of gluten, you always have to speak up and be your own advocate. Let the restaurant staff know about your need to be completely gluten free. Here are some tips on how to dine gluten-free. 

Gluten Symptoms: Do They Vary with Amount?

I’ve always wondered if there is a difference in severity of symptoms based on the amount of gluten ingested. Like, if I ever dared to eat a roll or a whole slice of pizza or something, would I get the same symptoms with the same severity as if I accidentally ingested a tiny bit of contaminated food?

So to answer this question, I think the next time I get some accidental contamination I’ll test it out. (Here’s where my year as a Beta Tester for a video software company comes in handy – or gets me in trouble… The curiosity of wondering “what if I do THIS….” is a great trait for that job, but may be getting me in trouble here….)

But if I’m already “doing the time” (suffering from gluten symptoms that I didn’t purposely ingest) I may as well “do the crime” (do this test and eat, like, a plate of “real” pasta or sandwich or something – yikes!! I get freaked out by the mere thought!). But it usually takes me two weeks to feel remotely normal. And that’s only ingesting what I assume is a small amount of gluten from the cross-contaminations I’ve had, since I’ve never intentionally eatten gluten since going gluten free. (Honestly, if you had told me three years ago that I would be able to have this much resolve, that you really couldn’t PAY me to eat gluten now because it makes me feel so hideous, I never would have believed you!!!)

But if I have to pay with gluten symptoms for two weeks, maybe I’ll test it out and eat some serious gluten and see if the symptoms get noticably worse.

Unless I chicken out.
Which is entirely possible.

What do you think? Have you ever tried this test? Have you found that symptoms worsen with amount of gluten ingested? I’d love to know if you’ve already gone through this….

Pulled Buffalo Chicken Recipe

This weekend is one of my favorite awards shows: the Oscars! It’s the “Superbowl” of film geeks everywhere. Since we’re going to have some people over for a viewing party, I was trying to think of some yummy gluten-free appetizers that would satisfy my non-GF friends. And since this worked so well for the Superbowl (which I also ADORE watching!), I figured it would be a great Academy Awards party appetizer too.

This recipe is super easy and it warms your whole house up with delectable smells. It’s a bit more healthy than “normal” buffalo chicken since it uses healthy oils instead of buttery, yet it tastes so buttery and awesome that everyone will love it and no one will believe it’s dairy-free! (Yum! This is making me hungry and it’s 7:30AM!)

You’ll find the recipe below, or you can go here and download, save and print the recipe PDF. Because if your family is like mine, they’ll be requesting this dish over and over. So I printed mine and put it in My Very Own DIY Gluten-Free Book and we make it a few times a month. Yum!!!

Noi’s Pulled Buffalo Chicken (CrockPot) Recipe

INGREDIENTS
6 tablespoons oil (2 of olive oil, 4 of sunflower oil)
          + additional olive oil if browning chicken
1/2 cup Frank’s Original Hot Sauce
2 teaspoons tomato paste
4 teaspoons chile powder
3 teaspoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken broth (approx. 1 small 14 oz. package of Pacific Brand broth)
2 pounds chicken (either 4 breasts, 8 cutlets or 2 packages of tenders – I get whatever’s on sale)
Corn starch

DIRECTIONS

Turn Crockpot on High
Combine first three ingredients in small mixing bowl and stir until fully mixed.
Whisk in the spices.
Whisk in chicken broth
Transfer to crockpot with heat on high
Brown chicken in additional olive oil (med heat: 6). Just brown it though- Don’t completely cook  or it gets tough
                    (I’ve done cutlets and tenders raw and they cook in about 3 hours without browning, no problem)
Place browned chicken in crockpot and spoon sauce over to cover
Turn crockpot heat down and cook 3 hours on low.
After about 2.5 hours, you can thicken sauce: carefully remove chicken (it’ll break apart easily) and whisk in cornstarch 1/2 tsp at a time until desired thickness
Replace chicken and use a fork to break it up until it’s all “pulled” and soaking in sauce

SERVING SUGGESTIONS  

You can bake up some oven fries (slice white potato, coat with olive oil and sprinkle with a little garlic, salt and pepper)…

or ladle over a baked potatoes…
or use as an appetizer by serving with GFCF crackers (Glutino Garden Veggie are our fave)…
or cut up a tray of celery “spoons” (trim and cut celery stalks in half, put a tablespoon of chicken on the fat end and top with some blue cheese dressing)

Gluten-Free Cheesecake Factory Menu Items 2012

I heard back from Cheesecake Factory today. It actually seems like they have quite a few options for us. I have no idea whether they’re really safe or not (I would bet cross-contamination runs pretty rampant in that kitchen). But I thought I’d share the list in case you wanted to give Cheesecake Factory a try. And if you do, let me know how it goes!! And I’ll post back after I go on Thursday for the birthday celebration. :)

___________________

Thank you very much for contacting us regarding gluten free items on our menu. Currently we do offer a number of dishes that are gluten free or that can be modified to be gluten free upon request. We do not presently publish a list, but are working towards doing so in the near future. Additionally, we are in the process of determining which of the newly added items are gluten free, and should have that information very soon.  In the meantime, for your convenience I have provided some gluten-free suggestions below. Due to our frequent recipe changes however, we highly recommend that you check with a manager before ordering. Because sensitivities vary, please note that we do not have separate cooking facilities, and we cannot guarantee against cross contamination of ingredients. Our managers receive extensive training on the ingredients of every dish and are happy to answer any questions or take additional precautions with the preparation of a guest’s meal, so please speak with a manager to ensure that your dietary requirements are met.

White Bean Hummus– If ordered without Warm Flatbread

Little House Salad– If ordered without Balsamic Vinaigrette

Quesadilla– If ordered without Corn Tortilla and with Simply Grilled Chicken

Fire-Roasted Fresh Artichoke– If ordered without Spicy Vinaigrette

Ahi Carpaccio– If ordered without Soy-Ginger Sesame Sauce and Togarashi Aioli

Thai Lettuce Wraps– If ordered without Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette, Thai Peanut Sauce and Sweet Red Chili Dipping Sauce

Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes– If ordered without Tomatillo Cream Sauce

Tossed Green Salad– If ordered without Croutons

Caesar Salad– If ordered without Croutons, and with Simply Grilled Chicken

Boston House Salad– If ordered without Croutons or Ranch Dressing

French Country Salad– If ordered without Balsamic Vinaigrette and Shallot Vinaigrette

Fresh Vegetable Salad– If ordered with Simply Grilled Chicken

Factory Chopped Salad– Order with Simply Grilled Chicken and without Balsamic Vinaigrette

Cobb Salad– If ordered without Balsamic Vinaigrette

Chinese Chicken Salad – If ordered without Wontons and Chinese Plum Dressing

Herb-Encrusted Salmon Salad-without Balsamic Vinaigrette

Gluten free salad dressings:  Caesar, Citrus Honey, Lo-Cal Mustard Vinaigrette

Factory Burger– If ordered without Sourdough French or Wheat Loaf.

Classic Burger– If ordered without Hamburger Bun

Grilled Turkey Burger– If ordered without Hamburger Bun

Fresh Grilled Salmon– If ordered without Tartar Sauce

Fresh Grilled Mahi Mahi– If ordered without Tartar Sauce

Grilled Pork Chops– If ordered without Honey Mustard Glaze

Grilled Rib-Eye Steak– If ordered without Onion Rings and Au Jus

Petite Filet– If ordered without Onion Rings and Au Jus

Filet Mignon– If ordered without Onion Rings or Au Jus

Sweet Potato Fries– If ordered without Chipotle Mayonnaise

Sautéed Snow Peas and Vegetables– If ordered without Soy Sauce

Hope this helps you have a great time dining at Cheesecake Factory! If you go, I’d love to know all about your gluten-free experience, so leave a comment below. Thanks!!

Gluten-Free on the New Cheesecake Factory Menu??

Well, it‘s that time of year again. My best friend just loves the Cheesecake Factory, so I’m off to another birthday bash next week. So I was just trying to figure out if there was anything I would dare order this year. (I chickened out last year because I didn’t want to get sick).

Turns out The Cheesecake Factory is in the process of rolling out a new menu across the US right now: Feb 10-March 6th. But there is NO indication on the website as to what the new menu contains. So I have an email in to see if the new menu may offers any GF options. But since there is absolutely no mention of gluten anywhere on the entire website (they simply refer to a generic “allergies”), I think it may be another birthday meal of watching all my friends eat super rich, gluteney food while I abstain. We’ll see what they reply to my gluten-free menu item query.

Have you been to a Cheesecake Factory lately? Have you seen the new Winter 2012 menu?

Wait! In the 5 minutes between leaving the Cheesecake Factory site to start this post until now, they updated the menu!! Wow. Talk about timing!! So I just scoured the new Cheesecake Factory Winter 2012 Menu and not only are there not “gluten-free selections” (which the servers and corporate were promising for the last year), but the word “gluten” is not used ONCE on the entire 19 page menu!!!! Neither is the word “allergy.” (I did a Search on the PDF and came up with ZERO results. Amazing.) The only mentions that remotely address our GF issue are these lame disclaimers: “Please alert your server of any food allergies, as not all ingredients are listed on the menu.” and  the website’s FAQ answerWe will do our best to accommodate any special health and/or dietary requirements that our guests may have. When placing your order, just inform your server of your special requests and we will be happy to offer substitutions.

Hum. Don’t think you could pay me to eat at the Cheesecake Factory next week. But I’ll still post back when I get a reply from my email.

Ian’s Alphatots… Gluten Free??

While I usually like to prepare more healthy, whole foods, I’m a working wife and mom to a very active 7 year old. So on those days where it’s pick up from school and go-go-GO until dinner (karate, soccer, homework, play dates, music lessons… phew!) , sometimes I “cheat” and have fast, premade meals in the freezer to save time. Like last night we got home from practice at 6:45 hot, tired and sweaty and ready to eat! Since my husband was out of town, it was just my son and me. So I needed to save some time and pop something into the toaster oven to cook while I gave him a much needed bath. (Okay, at what age can you trust your kid to actually CLEAN themselves in the bath, not just whip a washcloth across their extremities without actually cleaning anything?! But I digress…)

So one of my go-to brands of simple kid-friendly food is Ian’s Red Banner allergen-free line of gluten-free, dairy-free foods: chicken nuggets, fish sticks, onion rings and -the subject of this post – Alphatots, the alphabet shaped french fries. Not the healthiest foods, but not bad either. Now, Ian’s says on their website that they have a very strict allergen policy. And while we’ve had the Gluten Free Fish Sticks and Chicken Nuggets many times and I’ve never have any reactions, I have to say that I’m concerned about the Alphatots GF status. Now for the third time in a row (from the same family sized bag…? Maybe, not sure…) I’ve had a pretty serious reaction after eating these Alphatots. And it’s not an allergic reaction (I actually took a Benadryll last night in the midst of the reaction, just to test and be sure that it wasn’t some other odd allergy that I have yet to identify, but no, there was NO relief from Benadryll).  So within an hour of eating I started to have my classic “Oh no! I just ingested gluten!” symptoms.

Sigh.

All that from one ingestion of a “gluten free” product. It couldn’t have been any cross contamination: we don’t allow ANY gluten in the house any more. And the timing of the onset of symptoms says that it can only be one of the two Ian’s foods, the Alphatots or the Nuggets. And the Red Line Chicken Nuggets have never given me a problem before.

Oh! I know what I’ll do!! I’ll try one of those ELISA gluten tests that I purchased at the GIG Conference to test for the presence of gluten in the remaining Alphatots!!!! At more than 10 bucks a pop, I’ve been hesitant to actually use them. But this is a perfect thing to test it on. I’ll do it this weekend with my son and videotape it, so you can all see the results. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do: I’ll take a negative and make it into something positive. Which is why I do this blog in the first place: if I have to be gluten-free, I may as well share what I learn and so more positives can come out of what’s not always easy….

So, have you had any experience with Ian’s Alphatots? Or is it just me… I’d love to know if I’m not alone! :)

Beware the Hair!!

After two and a half years of leading a very strict gluten-free lifestyle, I really thought that I had completely eliminated all traces of gluten from my daily food and beauty regimen.

Wrong!!

I recently ran out of my usual Bumble and Bumble texture creme and had to dig waaaaay back in my bathroom closet (which, BTW, I had gone through TWICE to purge gluten containing products). I found what I though to be a suitable substitute and happily used it for a few weeks. But I kept feeling mysteriously icky… I wasn’t getting full blown symptoms all the time or anything very obvious. I’d just occasionally feel like crap (tired, bloated, anxious, diaharea, etc.) and couldn’t figure out why! I kept thinking it was cross contamination from my boys bringing in crumbs from the “real” world of food they eat outside the house…. Or that maybe one or more of my usual safe foods had changed manufacturing practices and may have been contaminated. I kept throwing sponges away … washing hand towels every other day… washing EVERY surface I could think of with throw-away wipes…. But I kept feeling this low-grade ick.

Until I ran out of my backup hair lotion.

So I went to my salon but after all this they were sold out of my usual creme. Grrr… So I stood there for a good 15 minutes reading ingredients, looking for a suitable new hair styling product. Gluten… gluten… not good for colored hair…. And then I saw my old standby backup lotion. And without realizing I was doing it, I quickly ran through the ingredients.

And there it was: wheat. Plain as day, one of the last ingredients was gluten. My jaw literally dropped. I could NOT believe it. I left without purchasing anything, ran home to check my empty bottle. Surely the formula had changed. Surely my cute little purple bottle couldn’t be the reason for my unexplained ick. Surely I couldn’t have been *that* stupid! But there it was. Wheat.

Wow.

Some people will argue that skin and hair products don’t need to be gluten-free because you don’t eat them. Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree.

Think about it. You make a nice GF corn tortilla wrap, prepared in your totally gluten free kitchen, and you wrap it to take to a lunch with friends. At the restaurant, you wash you hands right before eating, politely turn down an offered sample of a friend’s salad (“but it doesn’t have any croutons!”) and unwrap your healthy GF Hummus and Veggie wrap. But you’ve unknowingly used a wheat-containing lotion on your hands. When you pick up the wrap, a bit of lotion gets on it. All your hard work goes down the drain and your lunch becomes contaminated and makes you sick for days.

Or you use a gluten hair styling product and run you hands through your hair before picking up the same wrap. Or you drive with the windows down and a piece of hair whips into your mouth (that’s soooo me!! No wonder….!).

Or you rub your tired eyes while eating and a few tiny clumps of glutteny mascara or a light dusting of gluten-filled eye shadow join the contamination party.

People will argue that the tiny trace amounts found on the end of the strand of hair that finds it’s way into my mouth or the fingertip of eyeshadow can’t be enough to cause a reaction. But who’s to say what’s enough for each individual? Why can a speck of peanut send on allergic person I to anaphylactic shock and make another a little phlegmy? It depends on the person’s level of sensitivity. Maybe having the product in my hair didn’t cause the contamination. Maybe it was just that I didn’t wash my hands after I applied the lotion to my hair. Who knows…..

All I know is that I’ve had way to many unexplained icky days lately and now I believe I know why: wheat protein found in my TIGI Bed Head Superstar Blowdry Lotion. And now that it’s been 7 days since I’ve used it, I’m starting to wake up out of the brain fog and am not running to the bathroom all the time.

So I vote to avoid gluten in beauty products at all costs. It’s just not worth it.

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