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The Hidden Food Sensitivity That Could be Causing Fatigue and Gut Issues

One woman came off her pain and depression meds completely.

“This is just hopeless,” Tami Stackelhouse, 49, told herself glumly, clutching the vacuum cleaner for support as she sank onto her steps, hot tears splashing rivers down her cheeks. “Company was due soon, yet crippling fatigue left me pajama-bound and unable to muster the energy to tidy up. It was time to admit that I could barely keep up with my house, let alone my job. But reflecting on the bleak prospect of applying for disability made me wonder, Will this really be my forever reality?

“Fatigue had been my unwelcome and constant companion for decades. Plus, I was plagued by body pain, searing headaches, and flu-like symptoms.

“I managed the support department for a software company, but staying awake and focused for those eight working hours felt like a Herculean effort. The fatigue also made it hard to wake up, so getting to work on time was a challenge, and I was reprimanded for being late. I became depressed and felt like my control was slipping away and my body was against me.

“The more I worried, the worse my symptoms got. And it wasn’t just my career that was affected; fatigue forced me to say ‘no’ to every fun invite that came my way. It hurt to miss out on making memories with my friends and family, let alone meet new people. Plus, I was living off cereal and PB&Js — survival mode was the best I could muster.

“As fatigue wreaked more and more havoc on my life, I was determined to find answers. I devoured books on adrenal fatigue, blood sugar, and candida overgrowth, but it wasn’t until I read about fibromyalgia that all of the puzzle pieces clicked together. I described my symptoms to my doctor and asked if I might have fibromyalgia, but she quickly dismissed it, saying the real culprit was depression triggered by my job stress. She referred me to a counselor with no further discussion.

“Thankfully, I met and married my husband, Scott, during this difficult time period. Seeing the challenges I was facing at work, he urged me to quit my job and focus on my health. With new insurance, I needed a new doctor and chose one at random, but I truly believe it was God who chose her. This new doctor listened to me as I shared my symptoms, and examined my records and labs with patience. She validated my fears, confirming that I had fibromyalgia but saying it was time to get my life back. Finally, someone who can understand and help me, I thought with relief. I cried all the way home!

A New Beginning

“I was on a lot of prescriptions from my other doctor, so my new doctor started rotating the meds to find a mix that would bring relief while I worked toward long-term health. Despite this, there were days when getting out of bed was a triumph. It was like my body had finally collapsed.

“Desperate to feel better, I asked my doctor what else I could do, and she suggested I meet with a health coach. So I made an appointment with Bonnie. She taught me so much and helped me realize that when I made good choices, like getting to bed early, I felt better. My mantra became: If I do what I need to do today, tomorrow will be better. I no longer admonished myself for being ‘lazy’ for resting and not working once I realized I was doing what I needed to get better.

“After just a few months of coaching, I lost 25 pounds and had so much more energy that I decided to become a health coach myself. In the process, I found I have a sensitivity to gluten and was amazed that going gluten-free significantly reduced my exhaustion and pain. After I’d been gluten-free for three months. — and lost 15 more pounds! — my doctor wanted to start decreasing my meds.

I had been dependent on them to remain functional for so long that the idea worried me, despite all the positive changes in my health. But she promised to take it slowly. First she took me off my antidepressant, then my sleep meds. A few months later, I went off all of my pain meds, and today I’m medication-free.

“Last year I won the ultimate victory when my doctor declared my fibromyalgia was in remission. I was shocked! So many doctors say there’s no cure and patients should get used to their ‘new normal.’ Today, I’m channeling all my energy into my new passion, helping women with fibromyalgia. Not only am I a certified health coach and fibromyalgia coach, but I’ve written two books (Take Back Your Life and The Fibromyalgia Coach) and host the Fibromyalgia Podcast. My life couldn’t be better!”

Is this food sensitivity making you tired?

If you’re constantly exhausted and experience two or more of the following symptoms, an undiagnosed gluten sensitivity may be to blame.

  • Body aches/pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin rashes
  • Dandruff
  • Excess gas
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impaired balance
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Brain fog

Gluten Sensitivity Fixes

“I would argue that 100 percent of humans have a wheat or grain intolerance,” says cardiologist William Davis, M.D., author of Wheat Belly. “And nearly 50 percent have some form of gluten sensitivity that can cause irritable bowel, skin rashes and all-over aches.” The main culprit? “Gliadin, a component of gluten that triggers a condition called leaky gut, opening barriers between intestinal cells to allow foreign substances into the bloodstream,” Dr. Davis explains. “Research shows leaky gut is the cause of many autoimmune diseases.”

“Many people with gluten sensitivity may not have GI problems, but instead have fatigue, joint pain, or neurological symptoms,” notes Harvard-trained doctor Akil Palanisamy, M.D., author of The Paleovedic Diet. “Many of these symptoms overlap with and mimic fibromyalgia, which makes diagnosis difficult.”

Cutting out grains is the best way to sniff out a gluten sensitivity. And even women who have fibromyalgia — not just symptoms that mimic it — can benefit. “About half of people with fibromyalgia will obtain substantial or total relief by cutting out grains,” promises Dr. Davis. In addition, the strategies below can help heal a leaky gut to restore energy.

Reach for coconut oil. “It contains a natural antimicrobial that helps balance the gut microbiome, which can help heal the gut,” says Dr. Palanisamy. What’s more, studies show coconut oil cuts the growth of harmful gut bugs in half and boosts metabolism by 50%. Aim to eat 1 tsp. a day, mixed into salad dressings or stir-fries.

Sip a cup of bone broth daily. It’s rich in glutamine, an amino acid that was found to decrease gut permeability by 40 percent in a German study.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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