I stopped eating wheat for a few years in the mid-90s. I had been getting sick a lot and a doctor recommended I give it a try, postulating an allergy. I immediately stopped getting sick. It was great. I was happy. I must have had an allergy, right? The thing is, I didn’t start getting sick again when I started eating wheat again. And, around the time I went back on wheat, I got skin-tested for food allergies and wheat did not show up. Did this mean I never had an allergy? That it had been a coincidence that I had stopped getting sick? That I had an allergy that didn’t show up because my tissues had been clean for so long? That I had an allergy and skin tests are no good? That I used to have an allergy and I had grown out of it? Food sensitivity, I have decided, along with most food-related ideas, is a murky domain, and I’m sorry to say that looking into the opinions of experts has not been helpful.

The idea I developed at the time, and still believe to some degree, is that I do have some kind of sensitivity to wheat that may or may not be an allergy (whenever that term finally gets a good definition), and that surfaces during times of stress, like rocks when the tide goes out. I don’t have much evidence for this. Just that the story I presented above happened during a stressful few years of my life, and that wheat seems to be one of the three foods (along with red meat and sugar) that I get clear “you just overdid it” signs from my body: If I eat a lot of white bread, I can count on getting a little irritated in the back of my throat and feeling a bit…yucky, I guess, is the technical term.

I have some evidence against my idea, too. First, no noticeable reactions to moderate amounts of wheat. A true Celiac, for example, will be extremely uncomfortable for days after eating any wheat, rye, or barley–bloating, diarrea, various symptoms. Also, by far the most stressful period of my life was a few years ago, and I ate wheat through it and barely ever got sick.

Anyway, I have this idea, and I’ve been thinking about this set of symptoms I have. I’m not sick, but not being sick is not good enough, you know? I have these symptoms: 1) I have dandruff. Dandruff is an inflammatory reaction to a kind of yeast that lives in our scalps. 2) I’ve been having some pain in my joints and tendons, mostly in my hands, feet, and low back. Joint pain is often associated with inflammation. 3) I have what a urologist called epididymitis, inflammation of an epididymis, which feels like a slightly achy testicle. 4) I’m itchy. Couldn’t that have something to do with inflammation?

As you may have guessed, I’ve come up with a hypothesis, the Nathen Has Low-Grade Systemic Inflammation Hypothesis. NHLGSIH, for short.

I’ve also come up with a plan that sounds really fun, starting this weekend and going through to my birthday, at the end of September. Part of it is going off gluten (or, strictly, gliadin, the molecule in the protein complex that is called ‘gluten’ and that is in the gluten of wheat, rye, and barley, and that seems to be the problematic element) because of my food sensitivity idea–maybe I’m reacting to it at a low level and I’d be better off without it. Part of it is supplementation: anti-inflammatories (fish oil and turmeric, mostly) and bioflavanoids (picnogenol and grape pips, mostly). I can honestly say that I’ve never felt a clear benefit from a supplement, but what the heck, I’m giving it a try.

I’ll be watching for a clear improvement in any of my easily trackable symptoms (pains, dandruff) by my birthday. It would be nice to experience obvious changes, but I’m skeptical. Inflammation is another murky topic. It’s a very, very complex part of our immune response, involving a bunch of hormones and chemical cascades. No doubt in a hundred years inflammation as we know it will seem very quaint, along with balancing the humors. Anyway, without obvious improvement, I’ll go back to the good, crusty breads and not reading labels.

There are several weaknesses in my methodology. First, no control group. I need a second Nathen to eat gluten all summer but otherwise do exactly what I’m doing. Second, these are not the only diet changes I’m making. I’m also going off sugar and pretty much all other processed foods. I’m also going to be eating 50-70% raw food, by volume. I’m taking glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin. I’m also going to start eating protein three times a day. Third, there are the lifestyle changes. I’m moving. I’m not going to school. I’m not going to be reading/computing/stressing as much. I’m going to be excercising a lot more. And meditating. I’m going to be making music. I’m not going to be dancing as much. I’ll still dance every day, but I’m not planning to do any camps or exchanges until December.

So it’s not even a very good quasi-experiment. But I’m so looking forward to it! I love changing up my diet. I get so much more creative about what I eat. I’m looking forward to my summer, in general. I’m going to stay in Eugene for most of it, which is unusual for me even though it’s my favorite time of year here. I’m going to relax. I’m going to eat some great food.

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