5 Ways Herbalists Have Immensely Helped Me

Many of you know the story of how a crazy autoimmune disease I was diagnosed with was just the result of a gluten intolerance. I found out this monumental piece of information with the help of an herbalist when I was 21.

No one I knew had ever seen an herbalist and I’m not sure why I felt driven to find one. Maybe it was because I was facing a life of chemo. Maybe because I was in chronic pain. Or maybe it was just something bigger telling me that this wasn’t the end of my journey.

I’ve worked with two herbalists since the one I originally saw moved away. Here’s how these women have immensely helped me improve my health and quality of life with some simple suggestions!

Note: I am not a doctor. Please take the following information from my experience only. This information is not intended to provide medical guidance.

Discovering the Cause of My Autoimmune Disease (Hint: It was Gluten)

When I was 21, I was told by a well-known doctor in a city near me that I would most likely be on chemotherapy for the rest of my life. Although I felt like I wanted to give up hope at that time, I ended up pursuing another option—finding a natural treatment for my autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.

Through an herb shop about an hour away from me, I located an herbalist who agreed to see me. During my second visit with her, she told me that she thought gluten was causing my illness. I thought she was crazy. I hardly knew what gluten was.

She turned out to be right. A protein named gluten was causing my immune system to attack all my muscles and my skin. Within a week of going gluten-free, all my autoimmune symptoms disappeared and I was able to stop taking all of my medication. That was seven years ago.

The fact that I spent over four years on detrimental pharmaceutical medications, gained 30 pounds, and felt sick all the time was all undone by a woman who knew that food could make us sick. Her simple but profound knowledge dramatically changed my life for the better.

Without discovering that root cause of my illness, I would likely still be on all those medications today and still feel terrible. My quality of life would have been compromised all because doctors are still grasping the idea that food can cause such severe illnesses.

Saying Goodbye to My Crazy-Bad Menstrual Cramps

I have more or less always had bad menstrual cramps. They aren’t consistent, though. Some months are absolutely terrible. Other months aren’t bad at all. Trust me, I’ve yet to find a pattern (although I have a few theories after trying to figure it out for the last 16 years).

When I began working with an herbalist to learn more about the Fertility Awareness Method, we also worked on addressing the cause of my crazy bad cramps. The solutions she suggested have helped me to remain mostly pain-free during my period today.

Through drinking a ginger infusion, taking magnesium glycinate, and taking omega-3 supplements, my menstrual cramps have majorly improved. In the last seven months, I have only had one episode of bad pain thanks to her suggestions.

Since, unfortunately, I’ll be having a period for a long time, her help has enabled me to not feel like I want to die just because I am a woman.

Helping Me Realize Fats Are Not Bad

I have yet to have an herbalist not recommend fat to me (except, of course, the horrible kinds like trans fats).

Saturated fat such as animal fat and coconut oil as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados and olive oil are all part of a healthy body. Yes, people will argue against this. I’m not getting involved in that discussion here. I’m here to say that my herbalists helped me realize that fats are not bad—in fact, they’re pretty essential.

Through their help, I’ve been getting more fats from all types of sources (except for Twinkies) and have more energy and better skin!

Implementing a Natural Method of Birth Control

The Fertility Awareness Method has been an enriching experience for me and my husband. I would have never been able to learn the method as intimately as I have without my herbalist.

The method enables my husband and I to forgo conventional methods of birth control, many of them toxic, and simply track my cycle via taking my basal body temperature (BBT) and monitoring my cervical fluid to know when I’m fertile and avoid intercourse on those days.

Implementing a natural method of birth control has allowed me to honor my body and also choose a conscious form of contraception that doesn’t rely on toxic pharmaceuticals. This is a huge benefit for someone who doesn’t want kids (cough, that’s me).

Allowing Me to Realize Food Is Medicine

Before I began working with herbalists, I didn’t understand how much food impacts our health. Food is everything to our health. What you put in your body, the supplements you take, whether you choose to smoke and drink, all have huge effects on our systems.

Perhaps this is the most important gift herbalists have given me, being able to realize that I have so many chances to put either medicine or poison into my body. By choosing the foods that I feel are best for me, I choose medicine (by medicine obviously meaning plants and grass-fed, free-range meat).

Whether it’s probiotics or herbs, food and supplements are a powerful form of medicine, one that I feel grateful to have tapped into with the help of a professional.

Working with an Herbalist

I would absolutely recommend working with an herbalist if you’re facing any health issues that do not yet have an identified root cause. In many instances, conventional doctors are only trained to treat our symptoms, not the cause of our illnesses.

Even for people who believe they have discovered the root cause of their illness or symptoms, an herbalist can help you better manage your health. I’m so grateful to have worked with my herbalists to be as healthy as I am today!

Is Gluten Bad for Everyone?

So is it? Is gluten bad for everyone?

Gluten Bad?

Me back in spring of 2009, when I shaved my pits, had no arm tattoos, and thought gluten was all fun and games.

Oh, and I love how those signs say “Better For You” in the background. REALLY?

Short answer: no. My answer: possibly.

Some people have negative reactions to gluten. Others do not. When considering is gluten bad for everyone, consider that the reason for this probably has to do with a combination of genes, your immune system, and the kind of gluten you are eating, and maybe even where you live.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. And it doesn’t have to be whole wheat. That white all-purpose flour you use is chock-full of gluten.

Gluten is what makes bread dough sticky and well textured. Certain kinds of breads and other bread products have more gluten than others. For instance, bagels are reckoned to have one of the highest gluten contents of all bakery products.

Gluten Today is Different

Let’s be honest: gluten today is not the same gluten it was 200 years ago. This is why you’re probably considering is gluten bad for everyone. It’s just not.

It’s processed differently, making many of the nutrients in it unavailable to our bodies or nonexistent, and giving rise to hordes of people who have an adverse reaction to the protein.

What Gluten Is In

Gluten is present in but not limited to: pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, soups, sauces (soy sauce!), dog/cat food and treats, cereals, oatmeal (doesn’t contain gluten itself but is likely contaminated with it through processing), pretzels, etc.

It’s in so much stuff that it’s kind of amazing people are wondering is gluten bad for everyone.

How Being Intolerant to Gluten Works

A lot of people are eating gluten and feel “fine”. I put fine in scare quotes because some people think they feel their best only because it’s all they’ve ever known. They don’t know that they can feel better. And then you have some people eating this who are really sick like I was years ago.

Gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, and celiac disease are considered to be responses that are auto-immune in nature. What this means is that the body attacks itself in the presence of this protein (gluten).

The body can attack any part of itself, meaning it could be the cause of irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD/ADD, lupus, acne, migraines, autism, bipolar depression, schizophrenia, dermatomyositis, and more.

For me, my body attacked my muscles in the presence of gluten. I was eating gluten for about 16 years and was totally “fine” until one morning in June 2007 I woke up to some minor muscle pain. In 5 days, I was crippled and could not walk. I was in a wheelchair at age 16.

This sounds bizarre, but this can happen with food allergies, and you need to understand that it can happen. Your body can be totally cool with gluten for years and years, and then one day, it can develop an autoimmune response to it, sometimes seemingly overnight (like in my case).

The same goes for other potential food allergens, which is why many people are wondering today if gluten is bad for everyone.

So some people may have a problem with gluten and not even know it. Have an out of control child? Try eliminating gluten. Have IBS? Again, try eliminating gluten. You could go get tested, but I’ve found the best way to know for sure, due to tests being rather inconclusive due to a variety of reasons, is to just cut it out and see if you see a difference.

If you are going to go gluten-free, you need to do it 100%. You cannot just eat gluten “sometimes”. This is not how it works. You need to be 100% gluten-free for at least 14 days and up to 30-90 days in order for this to work, or to see any difference.

Who Reacts?

I think it’s entirely possible that while not everyone may have an adverse reaction to gluten, many people are living with the consequences of having a gluten sensitivity/intolerance/celiac disease and don’t even know it.

So instead of thinking is gluten bad for everyone, think about whether or not it’s bad for you. Get tested or go gluten-free to know for sure.

I would definitely encourage you to do this if you are experiencing some painful/odd health symptoms and your docs can’t figure out what is going on, or they think they know what is going on but they put you on meds that don’t help. I would extremely encourage you to do this if you are living with an autoimmune disorder such as lupus, dermatomyositis, eczema, Crohn’s disease, etc.

My Gluten Reaction

After what happened to me, I think trying the gluten-free diet for at least two weeks would be beneficial for everyone who thinks that they could feel better.

But of course, I’m biased. The only way to know is to decide for yourself what would be best, not just is gluten bad for everyone.

People ask me if being gluten-free is hard. I say, “Well, it’s easier than chemo.” I was on and off chemo for nearly five years after being misdiagnosed with an illness that gluten was causing.

Where to Find GF Stuff

There are so many gluten-free options out there.

Many restaurants have gluten-free pasta and pizza, if you’re still into cheese (which I’m not). People are understanding that many people have issues with gluten, which is why people are thinking is gluten bad for everyone.

Grocery stores, even ones that are non-specialty now, carry many gluten-free breads and cookies. For me, I don’t like to replace all the things I used to eat back in my Oreo days with gluten-free alternatives.

Why? Because it’s expensive, mostly disappointing (you’ll soon find out why; it’s hard to make healthy flour alternatives taste and look good), and not exactly healthy.

I prefer to eat mainly vegetables and feel good. Plus, you shouldn’t be eating all that sugar!

Gluten FAQ

What is the difference between gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, and celiacs?

Gluten sensitivity: a mild form of gluten sickness. People who have a gluten sensitivity may have little or no symptoms from eating gluten. This could stay the same for years, or it could turn into…

Gluten intolerance: a bad form of gluten sickness. People who have gluten intolerance will almost always experience negative symptoms. These could range anywhere from severe unexplained muscle pain to autism. Again, this could potentially stay the same if you keep eating gluten, or it could turn into…

Celiac disease: the most severe form of gluten sickness. People who have celiac disease cannot eat any gluten at all or they will be really sick and experience severe symptoms. This sickness could have symptoms ranging from stomach problems to migraines to skin or muscle problems. The most common symptom is stomach discomfort.

Are gluten and wheat the same thing?

Technically, no. All wheat contains gluten but not all gluten contains wheat. Gluten can be present in wheat, barley, and rye. Wheat has gluten in it, but gluten does not have wheat in it, if that makes sense. If something says “wheat free”, this does NOT mean it is gluten-free! You need to read the labels carefully!

To further complicate finding gluten-free items, you need to understand the definition of gluten-free according to the FDA, because these products can still have small amounts of gluten in them that the body can react to.

Why doesn’t my doctor know about this?

We shouldn’t blame the docs, necessarily. They’re certainly not thinking is gluten bad for everyone. They are trained to treat your ailments with pharmaceutical products. Most of them are only required to take 1-2 nutrition classes (if that) throughout their entire medical education. Plus, they are making some cash monies by pushing pharmaceutical products on you.

Ultimately, you need to educate yourself about your health and you need to decide what is best for you.

Of course, you can consult with your doctor, but don’t let them tell you what to do with your body. They are there to advise and treat you, but they won’t look at food as the first cause of your ailments when they really should. I have firsthand experience of how wrong this can go.

Should my pets be eating gluten?

Depends on your pet.

Some dogs and cats, like people, do fine with gluten. Others have a lot of problems with it including allergies (dark eyes, constant itching, seizures, etc.), poor stools (bloody, loose, constipation, etc.), hyperactivity, lethargy, etc. The list can go on and on.

If your pooch is experiencing any type of health problem (think arthritis or gastrointestinal issues), eliminating gluten might be a good idea. The problem is, most grocery stores carry shitty dog food and cat food brands like Purina and Friskies. You need to go online or try a different store to get quality food that’s gluten-free.

Does alcohol have gluten in it?

Depends on what kind. Beer, yes. Wine, whiskey, vodka, rum: no.

Surprisingly, most alcohols are gluten-free. Beer is a big no-no except for gluten-free beer. But even liquors that are made with barley/malt, like whiskey, are gluten-free because the gluten is processed out in the distilling process. Interesting!

I tried going gluten-free and didn’t notice a difference. Is it possible that another food is causing my symptoms?

Absolutely. Dairy, corn, and soy are more of the big allergens. Dairy is a big one for causing acne due to the hormones in the milk. Everyone’s body is different. It’s going to take some work to discover what’s best for you.

Remember, you didn’t actually “try” to go gluten-free if you didn’t give up 100% of gluten for a period of at least 30 days.

Should I be worried about foods being “contaminated” with gluten if I am gluten-free?

Depends how sensitive to gluten you are.

If you have celiac, you need to be worried. You probably shouldn’t even be eating in restaurants that have gluten in the kitchen.

If you have gluten sensitivity/gluten intolerance you might not even notice if you eat french fries that have been cooked in the same oil as wheat flour. It just depends on your body.

For me, I won’t use the same knife or cutting board that had wheat bread on it, or the same spoon to stir pasta that’s not gluten-free. But I’m down to have those french fries.

So which form of gluten sickness do you have?

I believe I have a gluten intolerance. I have never been tested for gluten intolerance for various reasons, among them being:

1. I was super sick when I realized gluten was making me sick, so I immediately stopped eating it.

2. Tests can be inconclusive, especially blood tests (I know this from being a former phlebotomist). Stool tests are the most accurate tests for gluten sensitivity/intolerance/celiac disease.

What if I have other questions?

Feel free to contact me, but there’s a ton of information out there via books and the Internet. You can also see an herbalist or nutritionist. Your doctor may not be so educated about gluten-free, but this will depend on your doc. Stay tuned for my next post about foodie literature, including some gluten-free staples!