Doctors are just starting to understand how certain individuals can be greatly affected by gluten, the main protein in wheat products. Cases of celiac disease and gluten intolerance are rising every year and symptoms and complications are vast and varied, affecting almost every part of the human body. Recent research is showing a link between sleep disorders (or just poor sleep) and gluten sensitivity.
Because it is a relatively new diagnosis with very wide ranging symptoms and complications, celiac disease (or it's milder cousin, gluten intolerance) can go undiagnosed for years. Individuals with either of these disorders may have no idea where their symptoms and health problems are coming from. But as the body of research is beginning to grow, doctors and scientists are finding that your morning bowl of cereal (or your sandwich at lunch, or your dinner roll - let's face it, wheat is a huge part of the American diet) may not be as safe a food choice as it seems.
Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Eating gluten triggers an immune reponse that, over time, causes increased inflammation and microscopic damage to the gut. Healthy digestion is a key component of of overall body health, and when it's not functioning properly, you can see a variety of whole body and mind symptoms.
So, what does this have to do with your apnea? The newest research findings (as well as tons of online anecdotal testimonies from patients who've tried gluten-free diets) are linking celiac and gluten to poor sleep, sleep disorders, and obstructive sleep apnea. No one knows exactly how this occurs yet (though, we do know that increased inflammation in the body, from whatever source, can cause a whole host of conditions such as diabetes, cancer or heart disease), but it is occuring. Gluten sensitivity often causes heart burn or acid reflux so maybe that's the connection? Regardless, it's important for you, as a sleep apnea sufferer, to know that there might be something more underneath your health problems.
Getting tested for celiac disease is not the easiest process, and, here's the tough part, there is not current, conclusive test to tell whether or not you have the milder version, gluten intolerance. Many doctors would encourage patients to try and elimination diet where you completely eliminate gluten for a period of 2-4 weeks to see how you health changes overall. Does your joint pain get better or disappear? Does your acid reflux quiet down? Are you sleeping better and for longer stretches? These would all be signs to get tested for celiac disease. If those results come back postive, you'll work with your doctor to determine the best lifestyle changes for your health. And if they come back negative but you still felt better while gluten free? Then keep doing it! Again, no test exists to tell you whether or not you are gluten intolerant, but your symptoms are real. Eliminating gluten (regardless of a celiac diagnosis) has improved the quality of life for thousands of people (myself included!). Google "gluten intolerance" to read countless blogs and articles about how eliminating that one pesky protein has changed the lives of so many.
And many people think being gluten free is too restrictive, and, at first, it can feel that way. The first time I went to the grocery store after making the choice to eliminate gluten, I was lost. Proper research about gluten free products and restaurants in your area can make the biggest difference. My entire family has been without gluten for three years now and it doesn't hold us back from enjoying food at all. Being gluten free has eliminated asthma, eczema, reflux, persistant vomiting, skin rashes, migraines, joint pain, and has calmed the effects of a major auto-immune disorder - all just in my home!
Below are some resources for you to begin... it can seem daunting at first but it may be the step you need to get your energy, life and sleep back on the right track!