Monday, September 14, 2009

An Ode to the Awesome Power of Wheat

When we learned that Ryan is allergic to wheat, I could only imagine how difficult it would be.  I know there supermarkets sell far more wheat-free options today than ever before, but it's still a pain in the ass.  There's a good reason people bake primarily with wheat and opt for rice/tapioca bread if they don't have to.  Wheat provides a taste and texture that's hard to match, and impossible to beat.  Have you ever tried wheat-free bread?  The brands we've tried range from spongy-but-tolerable-if-toasted at best to who-the-hell-labeled-this-as-food nasty at worst.

Ryan's wheat allergy doesn't make him break out in a rash or stop breathing, thank God.  Instead, it affects his brain chemistry.  His body digests wheat gluten improperly and builds up a high level of a usually-short-lived by-product of wheat digestion that chemically resembles morphine.  So bread makes him stoned.

I didn't realize how important wheat was until I tried to eliminate it from Ryan's diet.  Wheat is everywhere, not just in obvious places like bread and cereal and crackers and pretzels and pasta and everything else that's worth eating.  There's wheat in Twizzlers.  There can be wheat in soy sauce, salad dressing, canned fruit, hot dogs, soup, fried foods, MSG, ice cream with cookie dough or whatnot mixed in, and anything that contains "modified food starch." 

We started eliminating wheat shortly after re-introducing milk and eggs (the allergist discovered the wheat allergy in the same battery of tests that confirmed he was no longer allergic to dairy).  Flying in the face of everything I had read about the benefits of a GFCF* diet for reducing autistic behaviors, Ryan improved when we re-introduced milk.  Within the first 36 hours of having milk and cheese, Ryan started doing amazing things:  he willingly played barefoot in the back yard, he wore sandals, his language blossomed into longer sentences, he became more willing to try new foods, he started treating his father better, and he became more patient and generally more cooperative.  His play improved, becoming more independent and imaginative - overnight his animals developed different voices.

Then a week later, we eliminated wheat, and everything went to hell.  He went through two weeks of withdrawal - imagine a three-year-old having a nic fit.  By the fourth day without wheat, I was ready to kill him - moody, whiny, emotional, obnoxious, tantrum-prone, refusing to use his hands, lethargic, speaking only in echolalia.  I was tempted to give him a bagel just to shut him up.  After two weeks, though, I started to see the positive side of wheat elimination.  Language seemed to be improving, he was a little better at paying attention to Chrissy, and he started to get the hang of potty training. 

So up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't even really sure the sacrifice was worthwhile. I couldn't tell if his recent improvements could be attributed to wheat elimination or if they followed the arc that started when we re-introduced milk - an arc which had a horrible two-week-long withdrawal dip.

Then Ryan ate wheat.

I don't know where he got it - maybe I didn't clean the cutting board well enough, maybe I didn't read a label properly, maybe the corn tortillas at the restaurant were cooked on the same surface they use for wheat tortillas - but the last week of August/first week of September hit us with our second dose of wheat withdrawal hell.  I didn't figure out what was going on until the end of the first week - we saw the sudden regression, but thought it might have been due to the weeks without school and therapy.

Now that he's coming back out of his morphine withdrawal, it's obvious that wheat elimination really is important for him.  Still just as much a pain in the ass, but a sacrifice I can appreciate is doing good things for his developing brain. 

*GFCF = gluten free / casein free.  Gluten is a protein found in wheat and many other grains.  Casein is a protein found in milk. 

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing the power food has over our bodies. Even with my kids, I try to avoid sugar. When the each too much refined sugar they turn into demons! Thanks for the post.


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