Going gluten-free may help nasal congestion

As many of you know, I took a big step in 2015 and got married. Chris Whelan asked me to marry him at Red Mountain Spa in Ivins, Utah, the exact same place where I had met him three years earlier.

Just an hour before he asked for my hand in marriage, we were eating dinner and I out of the blue said to him, “Now that we are at the spa, this would be a great time to go gluten-free.”

Why did this come up?

Ever since we met, I’ve noticed Chris’ sinuses are always clogged and he clears his throat quite often. As a bodyworker, I’d work on his face and sinuses with hands-on work and mention how spongy the walls of his sinuses were and how even his bronchioles were always tight. He’d often even wheeze on his exhale. In the dry air of Utah, I figured resting his body here was the best option to see if we could reduce his sinus issues. I had read that eliminating gluten can help with nasal congestion.

Diane Marks, writing for Livestrong.com, explains it this way: “Gluten may trigger an exaggerated immune system response that causes the production of histamine in the sinus cavity. When gluten enters the body, the immune system mistakes the protein for an intruding substance. It reacts to gluten the same way it would to an infectious organism, such as a bacteria or a virus. Antibodies are created to attack the gluten, which trigger white blood cells to produce histamine. Histamine helps protect the body from infection, but in high quantities it causes swelling, irritation and inflammation.”

As for me, well, I naturally am 90 percent gluten free. During my time as an active fitness professional, I was taught not to eat anything white. That included flour, rice, and any type of bread source. So it’s easy for me to remain mostly gluten-free. It helps keep inflammation down as well as maintain a healthy body weight.

But back to the scene at the dinner table…

His eyes got big and as his gaze wandered from my mine and towards the red mountains in the distance he said, “So, that means no more English muffins? Does this place have bacon?”

I’m surprised he still asked me for my hand in marriage that evening.

I also figured out this was preparing me for learning how to compromise in marriage. Good thing Red Mountain Spa serves bacon. Knowing that, Chris agreed to the terms, immediately went to the health food store down the road and bought numerous gluten-free munchies like cookies and chips. (I’m still not sure he quite gets that eating gluten-free food is not the same as calorie-free foods. But it’s a start.)

In just three days we started noticing his breathing was much better, he produced less mucous, and his speech was less stuffy sounding. We were onto something. When we returned home, we also made big changes because Chris is allergic to my cats. So we took all the carpets out of the apartment, and closed the cats to 80 percent of the rooms in our place.

Lots of progress was being made.

So was staying gluten-free difficult? Well, actually it’s easy to find gluten-free foods. The hardest part of going gluten-free is the first 4-6 weeks where you are dying for a piece of bread and you realize that 80 percent of the things you don’t associate with bread or wheat actually have gluten in them. The FDA has developed “gluten-free” labeling standards for food products, but these standards do not apply to every item that could contain gluten. So if you have celiac disease and need to avoid gluten, beware of hidden gluten sources. It can be found in medication, beauty products, and vitamin supplements. It’s in pickles, bouillon cubes, soy sauce, gravy, hot dogs, bleu cheese, and even hot chocolate.


Tips for getting started

A really important tip when you first start is try to avoid the same types of foods you generally crave even if it’s gluten-free. For example, my husband loves sugar cookies. Just because we found gluten-free cookies doesn’t mean they are calorie free and eating them still drives your brain into a spiral desiring sugar. This throws off insulin, dopamine, cortisol, and norepinephrine. This can sabotage the benefits of changing your diet and keep you craving your gluten-filled foods.

(Note: Sugar also causes inflammation so that’s another reason and calorie source I’m trying to keep out of his diet. I’ll write more on that topic with an update blog on his surgery.)

Allow your body to adjust by truly decreasing volume of food and changing what you eat. Try eating more water-filled foods like bright colored veggies and dark leafy greens. They are filling and add nutrients to improve absorption and stave off hunger cravings.

Although changing my new husband’s diet gave great benefits and reduced his need for Benadryl because of my cats, sadly, 30 years of sinus infections caused damaging scar tissue to his sinus cavities leaving him in need of sinus surgery. I’ll be doing an update on Chris’ condition, but so far staying away from gluten has helped Chris keep his sinuses clear and breathe easy.

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