The more I learn about the many triggers of Celiac Disease and look back on my personal health history, the more I have come to realize that my initial symptoms started developing as a child, more than forty years before I was officially diagnosed.
I grew up in Barcelona, within a loving family with a Mediterranean lifestyle and cooking. Vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, bread, pasta, herbs, seeds and vegetable oil were part of the wide variety of different foods that were on my plate on regular basis. Despite this, and before I was two years old, I had several ear infections (Otitis), that were “fixed” by repeated mega-doses of antibiotics. Thereafter I had three or four sinusitis attacks every year. I experienced many problems at school because I had such difficulty trying to concentrate, study, and pay attention in class. And, regularly, I vomited my morning glass of milk on my way to school. Just the smell of milk made me feel sick to my stomach. It was no surprise to me when, many years later, I discovered I had a Lactose intolerance.
I was a lethargic little girl, sad, and with almost constant pain in my intestines. The pediatrician told my parents I was just nervous and irritated due to the birth of my brother. I was only three years old and I adored my little baby brother! A few years later, at around five or six years of age, I began to have horrible nightmares almost every night. I sweat, couldn´t sleep well, woke up shouting or crying, often combined with some uncomfortable digestive conditions. Different pediatricians told my parents I had no problems at all and was 100% fine. I wish they knew about the lack of certain minerals and the correlation to having nightmares.
Around the time I was going through puberty I suffered excruciating pain in my knees that didn´t allow me to get to school on some days. The pain was so intense I cried and cried for hours. Doctors told my parents I was fine and nothing was wrong with me, and that perhaps it was something psychological, such as wanting to stay at home instead of going to school because I was having a hard time there (due to my “brain fog” and my difficulties in concentrating and studying). These doctors had never heard of Juvenile Arthritis caused by gluten affecting the joints and muscles. So I went on to struggle through my childhood with extreme fatigue, sadness, concentration difficulties, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, and painful menstruations, among many other physical, emotional and mental issues.
My adult life became a cycle of never-ending visits to doctors and specialists, trying out new procedures, different treatments, with a seemingly endless search for a solution to the symptoms - but never looking for the root cause of the problem.
Looking back, I do not know how I did it, but I managed to graduate from the University of Barcelona with a degree in English Philology. Taking into consideration my health issues, I was proud and amazed to accomplish this. My majors in English as a Foreign Language and Spanish allowed me to spend ten years as a teacher in the United States of America from the mid-eighties to mid-nineties. Alongside my much-loved career, I continued with the cycle of illnesses (that I was learning to live with) until my body began to fail - massively. I had to make the huge decision to either begin immediate treatment in the USA or to go back to Spain. I decided to return home to be near my family but it sadly meant I had to break up a three-year relationship with my American boyfriend.
When you do not have health you don´t have a life. All the areas of your life are affected by your lack of wellbeing, and optimal and vibrant health, to allow you to live your life to your fullest potential and to develop your mission in this life.
That year was one of the worst years of my life. I was under the care of between three to five different specialists, all with different diagnosis’s and all giving me treatments for the outer symptoms. Once again no-one considered looking at the root cause of the problem. I was in my early thirties and I still had no life to speak of.
During the following decade, as I began to accept my state of illness as “normal-for-me”, I managed to hold down many teaching positions, mainly because I was so passionate about my career. Unfortunately, my work was severely affected by my poor and fragile state of health, as was my personal life; relationships, friends, family, as well as any other areas of my life. When you are tired, exhausted and anxious, when it is so hard to get up, almost impossible to get through the day without many visits to the bathroom, being sick, in pain, sluggish and bloated, all areas of your life are affected in a negative way.
It may seem laughable now but one of the symptoms of having Celiac disease is that the intestines swell abnormally, and with the pain it caused I was often absentmindedly rubbing and massaging my swollen abdomen and also my sore back (slipped disk) so I looked like the eternally pregnant woman! The wonderful school children, friends and family very often congratulated me and asked when I was due! On the other hand, I always got a seat on public transport!
In 2006 after several surgeries I FINALLY got to know what was wrong with me. I still thank this surgeon for his thoroughness in asking for a second opinion because while under the knife for the removal of two inflamed ovarian cysts, he noticed the adjacent intestine was four times the normal size. It was ONLY then that I was FINALLY tested for Celiac disease. I was forty three years of age.
I wish that they knew then as much as I know now on how to treat this disease. From the moment I discovered that I had Celiac disease I immediately removed gluten from my diet and started to feel physically better in just a matter of few days. I felt an IMMENSE relief when I finally understood that the cause of all my illness and misery was what I put on each forkful, meal after meal, and year after year. I felt I could finally clear ALL my physical, mental and emotional problems and conditions and FINALLY have my life back!
It was in this state of immense relief and gratitude that I went to the recommended specialist with an open mind, believing that now was the end of all my problems. After reviewing the laboratory results and sending me for an intestinal biopsy, the specialist gave me his dietary recommendations which were that I could eat anything labeled “gluten-free” from the supermarket. At the same time, I went to a highly well-known dietician in order to know more and get educated in my new style of nutrition. Thus, I began eating my new diet based entirely on their “expert advice”.
It took me less than two months to reluctantly acknowledge to myself that I was feeling really unwell, if not worse than I did before.
Even though I believed I had completely removed gluten from my diet (by eating gluten-free muffins, gluten-free pasta, gluten-free bread, etc.) when I was tested at the hospital the results showed high levels of gluten antibodies. I was told, emphatically, by the doctor that I was cheating and lying about my consumption of gluten. Unbelievable! My diet was strictly anything that I found that was labeled gluten-free, as specifically directed by my specialists. So, where was I going wrong?! After only two months since my diagnosis, and religiously following a strict diet and the medical advice of several top specialists in Celiac and digestive disorders, I was now worse than I was before. I could not understand it. Yet I had an overwhelming certainty that they were still missing what was really wrong with me, so much so, I even begged my family, in case I died, to please donate my intestines to the highest expert/scientist because I KNEW that my intestines would show the truth. I was feeling lifeless, very depressed, with many symptoms of immune dysfunction and I suffered antibiotic resistant urinary tract infections that were recurrent every few months. If only these doctors had known about Candida and Leaky Gut. I later learned how unhealthy the traditional gluten-free diet actually is.
Three years and three surgeries later I was a death´s door. I had lost more than 25 kilos in less than two months (78 kilos down to 53 kilos) after a severe Intestinal Occlusion (total blockage of the intestines). I was not expected to live more than few weeks because my intestines did not get back to their regular motility and due to the side complications of the emergency surgery I had undergone on July 4, 2009.
To me, it was so obvious that I did not fit into the standard category yet the surgeons were insisting that my treatment followed the standard rules. This included prescribing me a sleeping pill containing Lactose, when my notes clearly stated that I was Lactose intolerant, causing all-nightly reactions in my body – and no sleep!
If I had not significantly recovered after a fixed number of days, the next stage of the “standard procedures” was to take me back into surgery. The day prior to this, it was obvious (only to me, apparently!) that I was totally unfit for surgery. In response to the tremendous pressure to undergo another operation, and my deep inner knowing that I would not survive this, I pulled out my IV tubes and attachments from debilitated and damaged body and slumped onto the floor, where all I could think was “I give up”.
Aware of my potential, imminent death, I felt calm and relaxed. In this state of peace, I began to realize that, if I was to die, I wanted it to be in my own way and not on the operating table, or as a direct consequence of it.
This was the moment when I declared to the universe that if I survived I would find out what was wrong with me and, if needed, would dedicate the rest of my life researching it. This momentous revelation meant I was finally taking my life into my own hands. This determination filled me with a sense of utter relief. For the first time I felt I could see the light, as if a part was unfolding before me and I knew exactly what I had to do for healing my damaged body. I knew I didn´t want to be sick anymore and reaching for a healthy, vibrant and vital life was the priority from that day on. I was 46 years old and I wanted to feel a happy and healthy life for once in my life. That was my purpose and my mission from that day.
This inner knowing guided me beyond anything I had learnt from the medical professionals. My strong intuition told me I needed sunshine, warmth and physical movement. I knew I could not accept any food from the hospital. (Even though it was a top private hospital in Barcelona, they could not guarantee a hundred per cert gluten free diet).
In response to my extreme action, but still not exactly listening, the medical staff gave me 48 hours, to see if my intestines would regain motility before they intended opening me up and force-feeding me in the operating room. My family and dear friends rallied around to bring me natural organic, liquidized food, mainly juices and pureed soups, and my body responded rapidly. We all stuck together to counteract the enormous pressure from the staff and finally persuaded them to take my blood and other tests that showed what I knew; that despite my poor condition my body was actually receiving the essential, basic nutrients through my liquid food and that I did not need to undergo the operation for artificial feeding.
I checked myself out to stay with my parents at their country home with lots of sunshine, little walks that my condition allowed, fresh air, with the most wonderful home grown vegetables and fruit trees, and my lovely family and friends nourishing me.
After only one week, upon my return to the hospital for my first check-up, the surgeon was stunned by my obvious improvement. When I continued to improve, other people saw my dramatic transformation, on all levels, and began to ask if I would help them and their families and friends. Helping others and seeing others transform their lives also was incredible rewarding in itself and encouraged me to share the knowledge and expertise I was learning with anyone who wanted to experience the same magic.
I went back to study and to get well-informed and educated. I found thousands of studies about gluten from cutting-edge doctors, scientists and experts, from Canada, the United States and Australia, mainly. Thanks goodness I had majored in English! As I learned what my body needed to give me a healthy life, (to give me a life!) I also recognized a truth that freed me and changed my life forever; that my intuition already knew that the culprit was not my body, my mood or my mind but simply the food I ate! And now, after more than nine years, 10.000 papers of research and about 1,000 scientific studies and countless conversations, seminars, books, webinars and conferences, I emerged from my personal health journey totally reborn.
So now I share, as I have been sharing for many years, the knowledge that only natural, organic, and healthy foods can regenerate cells, reduce inflammation, rebalance metabolic hormones, increase good digestive bacteria; the list goes on. Only natural, organic, healthy food can make people healthy, vital, energetic and happy again. We have a completely new body every seven years. So when people asked me how old I am, I can honestly respond “I am seven”!
I now dedicate my life to helping people achieve their healthy gluten-free goals and healthy lifestyle, with cutting-edge data and scientific facts in easy-to-follow guidance. I have a mission to teach and educate others, to spread the word:
•You can transform your body to live a really healthy and anti-inflammatory REAL gluten-free life!
•You can enjoy an astounding level of vibrancy, love and satisfaction in your life if you feel better. If you ARE better!
•If I can do it, I know YOU CAN DO IT!
With my caring sister, Olga,
but feeling ill, bloated and listless.