A Doctors Personal Medical Journey leads to a Line of Nutritional Supplements for Celiacs
By Dr. Christine Doherty of www.glutenfreevitamins.com
Celiac disease, a brain tumor, heart racing, low thyroid function, infertility, immune failure, migraines, gestational diabetes and psoriatic arthritis are just a few of my diagnoses. I have had six surgeries, five since I started practicing medicine in 1999. I have endured two heart, one brain, two gastrointestinal surgeries and a tonsillectomy when I was seven.
I was a medical mystery from the get go. I was pale, anemic, tired, constipated, cranky and always had some level of pain. My parents brought me to a lot of doctors, none of whom had useful answers. At one point they were told I was just blonde and blue eyed and that was the problem. This frustrating lack of answers is part of what led me to become a doctor. I always had a feeling somehow food was causing my symptoms. I was drawn to naturopathic medicine, I liked that the focus was on finding the underlying cause of symptoms and working with diet, lifestyle and supplements to correct the root causes. I also liked that I would have the same medical training as a medical doctor so I could understand pathology, labs and pharmacology.
I went to Bastyr University in Seattle in 1993 and spent five years working really, really hard learning everything I could. When I graduated in 1998 I knew I was hypothyroid but knew I was still missing something. After med school I got married and we started trying to have a family. I suffered with infertility for two years and finally got pregnant after doing a detox where I eliminated gluten and took high dose vitamins. I went back to eating gluten after I was pregnant. Big Mistake. I had a horrible pregnancy; I went into premature labor, had to be on bed rest for two months and became septic while delivering my daughter in 2001. Eight weeks post partum I had surgery to remove a fibroid tumor the size of a cantaloupe that had grown during my pregnancy. Along with the tumor (which turned out to be benign) they removed ten enlarged lymph nodes, half my small intestines and two thirds of my colon. The next two years were one serious infection after another; I was told I was surgically immune compromised and that there was nothing they could do.
One day in 2003, I came across an article on celiac disease. I felt like I had been hit by lightning when I read down the list of symptoms. I ran the bloodwork on myself and it came up positive. I already had an endoscopy scheduled but it was four months away and I didn’t feel I could stay on gluten one minute longer. I went gluten-free and things began to turn around.
My immune system has now healed, and I only get mild colds a few times a year! My gut functions well despite half of it being gone, but I had to keep on top of taking supplements in order to avoid deficiencies. I started crusading to educate the public and medical professionals about recognizing, testing for and treating people with celiac disease.
I began to work with gluten-free patients almost exclusively, and started to see patterns emerge that showed things that were not addressed by the gluten-free diet alone. I found that I didn’t tolerate multivitamins well, even though I desperately needed them.
Despite eating a whole food, primarily organic gluten-free diet, I had many ongoing nutritional deficiencies. I attended the NIH consensus conference of celiac disease in 2003 and I was once again “hit by lightning” when Cynthia Kuppher, RD quoted a study that 50% of celiacs still had multiple nutritional deficiencies ten years after going gluten free! As a naturopathic doctor I had spent hundreds of hours studying nutritional biochemistry and had been personally experimenting and working with supplements in my practice. It became part of my crusade to help people understand what role nutritional supplements could play in improving their quality of life and resolving the often-lingering symptoms that persisted even after they had mastered a healthy gluten-free diet.
I found six supplements and learned which specific molecular forms of the vitamins and minerals worked best as a base program for many of my patients and for me. It was unwieldy and expensive to have to take six different products, all the bottles ran out at different rates and it was a lot of work to manage. I figured out that digestive enzymes were the key to tolerating the fat-soluble vitamins in the multi and that essential fatty acids, probiotics, extra calcium, magnesium and vitamin D3, were the key to renewed vitality for my patients and I.
I spent years researching formulas and manufacturers and finally produced C-liac Vitality Packs, combining all six products in to one cost-effective, convenient bottle. My initial product was the twice-daily packs, which were ideal for timing different supplements to maximize energy, sleep and absorption. I decided to focus on selling them directly to patients and the public so I could sell them at wholesale prices. My chosen manufacturer is here in the United States and holds the highest FDA certifications, making my supplements in a clean room. Even so, I have them batch-tested to below 5 ppm for gluten contamination by the University of Nebraska Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. My husband and I started selling the packs and expanding the product line to include other supplements I use a lot in practice in 2005 at our website GlutenFreeVitamins.com. I like to think of it as my way of being a virtual naturopath. Not everyone can come and see me as a patient but I wanted people to have access to these important keys to restoring health.
I wish that had been the sum total of my medical history. Unfortunately two years ago, I slowly started having progressively more severe neurological symptoms, vertigo, ringing in my ears, difficulty swallowing, trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain), migraines, anxiety, weeklong bouts of nausea and severe fatigue. To make a long story short, I had a rare benign brain tumor that I was likely born with that was pressing on my cerebellum. It affected my motor function and was wrapped around all my facial nerves on the right side. In 2010 I had brain surgery in Los Angeles at the Skull Base Institute. After the surgery, I woke up with a searing headache unable to see, hear, walk, talk, and swallow. I later discovered I could not write or type. I had to re-learn to walk, and the writing and typing has been gradually getting better.
But wait, there’s more! I had issues with my heart rate spontaneously shooting up to two hundred and fifty beats a minute for years (normal is under 100). I wore holter monitors, had many trips to the ER where they would always miss the rhythm while it was happening. My heart looked perfectly normal when it wasn’t happening. Six months after the brain surgery, my heart rate shot up again and we made it to the ER where they finally diagnosed me with supraventricular tachycardia. They gave me a shot that stopped my heart to regain a slower rhythm, and I was admitted to the hospital for my first cardiac ablation. This procedure is when they thread catheters in to your heart and kill some of the electrical circuits hoping to stop the nerves that are hijacking the normal heart rate. Six months and another hospitalization later I had to have a second ablation because it was discovered I had another extremely rare from of tachycardia.
If you met me you would never believe the story I have just told you. According to most people I am the picture of health. I work hard at balancing my lifestyle and trying to be as functional as possible while continuing to practice medicine, write, lecture and run GlutenFreeVitamins.com. It helps give meaning to my suffering that what I have learned has helped thousands of others lead healthier lives whether it is as their doctor or because their lives have been changed by my C-liac Vitality Supplements. That gives me the strength I need to be the Phoenix rising from the ashes!
Posted on Wed, April 25, 2012
by Christine Doherty, N.D.