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It’s My Birthday Week, So Bottom’s Up! (And I’m Not Talking About Beverages Here)

March 19, 2012

At the American Cancer Society, we observe March as Colon Cancer Awareness Month and we work to educate the public and lawmakers about the important of early detection and prevention of colon cancer through recommended screening tests like the colonoscopy.

I turn 43 on Thursday, and I’ll be celebrating early by meeting with a gastroenterologist for a consult on a colonoscopy. Bottom’s up!

I’m not getting a colonoscopy because of any cancer concerns, although it is certainly possible polyps could be found during the procedure. Rather, I will undergo a colonoscopy to help determine whether I have a gluten/wheat intolerance.

My story begins in January, on the Saturday I ran a frigid 11 miles in Cades Cove. I ran with a couple new to our long distance training group, and as we ran our cold 11 miles, they talked about a book they had been reading called Wheat Belly. In the book, cardiologist William Davis talks about the perils of the wheat we eat today because it has been genetically modified to the point of being unrecognizable when compared to the wheat our ancestors ate. As a result of modifications to make wheat a hardier, fast-growing, plentiful grain, the end product has become an addictive substance with a higher glycemic index than sugar.

Davis traces the result of the current obesity epidemic to the USDA’s recommendations in the 1980s to eat plentiful whole grains. In addition, Davis posits that wheat, and our body’s response to it, could be responsible for a number of health ailments, from acne to cancer to diabetes and more. Davis writes that prescribing his patients go completely wheat free has resulted in better health and significant weight loss.

I was interested in reading the book in part because last fall I began having intestinal difficulties: the need to go urgently and nothing resulting, or the need to go urgently with explosive results. Additionally, some bathroom results included blood and/or mucus. Something was wrong, and I knew it.

So, I picked up the book and decided to experiment with giving up wheat, which I did for two weeks. My symptoms eased up and things returned to a more normal state. Then, on Valentine’s Day, the lovely Sarah and I shared bread and cupcakes as part of our dinner. For the next two days I was miserable with the return of my symptoms.

Ironically, I made this connection at a time I needed to be bulking up on carbs to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon as an American Cancer Society DetermiNation athlete. How was I going to do this without pasta, bagels and other high-carb foods? Thank goodness for rice, potatoes, tortilla chips and the like.

Since the marathon, I’ve continued to live as close to wheat-free as possible, although wheat is in all kinds of products that look nothing like cupcakes or bagels. One of my favorite candies, Red Vines, is made with wheat flour. Wheat can also be found in seasoning packets for tacos, chili and the like. Wheat is in some lip balms. Wheat is also in some processed luncheon meats.

Wheat is everywhere, and for me it may be the devil! Davis writes in his book that later-life allergies to wheat and/or gluten are becoming more common.

Wednesday I meet with a gastroenterologist. Sarkis Chobanian, M.D., at Gastrointestinal Associates. He’s truly one of the best. While I don’t know him personally, I have heard him tell the story of performing a colonoscopy on President Reagan. It seems the president didn’t want to be put under anesthesia for the procedure because that would mean transferring power to the vice president. Instead, Reagan white-knuckled the scope while completely conscious.

So there it is. I’m not worried about “getting scoped.” I don’t fear it at all. And, I don’t fear the “Go Lightly” or whatever it is they give you to clean the pipes before the main event.

Knowing is always better than not knowing.

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