Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Journey

Going corn free sounded easy. We stopped buying corn chips, I stopped making that "healthy" polenta. I avoided popcorn and corn on the cob.

Since we were also, at the time, learning to live with a nut allergy in the house I was cooking a lot of food from scratch. There are nut warnings on a LOT of packaged foods. I was feeling better.

When my oldest daughter started school, I began looking harder for prepackaged foods. We would have mac and cheese, pizza, packaged cookies. There wasn't as much time for cooking, or shopping. Slowly my IBS was getting worse again. I went to the dr and was given Bentyl. That made things worse, so I went back. She thought for awhile, then shrugged and suggested I try giving up things I'd previously thought were corn syrup.

I cried. I thought she was giving up on me.

Then I squared my shoulders and decided if that was her only idea, I would go totally corn free and *prove* that corn was not the culprit. I needed a cure. I needed to be well. I had two kids and was running out of fun ideas to do while curled up with a heating pad.

I went shopping, both kids tucked into the cart, and began reading labels. Halfway down the cereal aisle they started fussing and I began to cry again. There was nothing there that I could eat. It all listed corn syrup or corn starch.

A few months later it was apparent that corn definately played a major part in my IBS. I didn't want to admit it, but it was true. The trouble was, I was still having some unexplainable problems. I picked up a bottle of motrin one day to help quiet the cramps and noticed the words "corn starch" on the label. That helped, some.

I began to notice patterns, and slowly eliminated other foods that bothered me although I didn't know why. Microcrystalline Cellulose? Citric Acid? Modified food starch? Xanthan gum? What could those have in common? How many additives can someone be allergic to? (Don't ask, it only tempts fate.) A websearch held the answer. According to the list at all of the above can be derived from...CORN.

I was still wary until I decided to just start contacting companies. I bought a small package of cheese and was fine after eating it. So I found a larger loaf of the same exact brand of cheese and bought it, trying to save money. I blew up like a balloon after the first slice. The next day I ate the last of the small loaf. I was fine. I contacted the company, figuring this proved once and for all there was more than just a food allergy at work.

I told the customer service rep that this probably sounded crazy, but I was fine when I ate the small loaf of cheese and got really sick after eating a slice of the larger loaf. He had to call me back. When he did, the answer made me sit down, hard. The only difference between the two sizes was that the larger loaf is dusted in corn starch to prevent it sticking to the packaging. They did not feel this was a significant issue, especially since corn is not a common allergen.

It was a month later that I began reacting to a cereal I *knew* had been safe previously. I called the company again. "There's no chance that there could be some sort of corn in here, is there?"
They eventually got back to me. They'd switched suppliers of their Vitamin E. The new supplier used a small amount of corn starch. They did not consider this to be a significant concern, but of course I should consult my dr.

I didn't need to consult my dr to know I was reacting I ate, and felt better if I didn't. I didn't need help deciding not to eat food that bothered me.

I did need her help figuring out what on Earth I could eat, if corn was hidden everywhere. Unfortunately, she was as surprised as myself to discover corn was EVERYWHERE. I've spent the 3 years since researching this frustrating allergy and learning that there really is very little known about it. But there are others suffering from the same thing.

We've all been told it was stress, in our heads, ridiculous. We've told ourselves the same thing. But in the turns out that for at least part of the population, corn is evil. It causes everything from migraines to IBS. It complicates celiac disease (guess what they replace gluten with in baked goods?) Its in the medecine we use to try and feel better, or at least function in society. And its hidden. Even the food companies don't always recognize corn derived ingredients.

In my web journeys, what gets to me the most are the desperate parents. Women who have weaned their children b/c they seemed to react to everything from rice (which can contain corn starch in the vitamins dusted on top) to soda pop. Even certain fruits can be waxed with a corn based substance. (Don't forget, corn can be organic and is all natural. Its just corn, after all.) At the end of their ropes, these women have turned to formula in an attempt to isolate the issue. Is it milk proteins? Soy? And it turns out to be corn. Or worse, corn and milk. There is one formula on the market that does not contain corn...and it contains milk.

What would you do if there were nothing you could feed your child without hurting them? How do you find the money to have a formula specially created just for your kid? And should the insurance company pay for it? After all, what choice do you have?

I can't help but wonder how many never figure it out. How many colicky babies are just suffering from corn allergy. Or intolerance. Or an immune reaction that hasn't been identified yet.

We need to know whats in our foods. And we need to escape the concept that "just a little won't hurt," or "What you don't know can't hurt you."

At 5'6", weighing in at 106 lbs (due to food intolerances, NOT choice) I can say, definitively, that what you don't know can hurt. A lot.


Von said...

Love the post. Avoiding corn can be daunting, and its amazing how its in everything and no one seems to know it.

purple_kangaroo said...

Great post. I'm a mom of a corn- and soy- allergic baby (also avoiding milk because *I* have a problem with it), and you're right, it is hard figuring out what to feed the little ones. I plan to nurse her as long as I can, because my own milk is the one thing I can be pretty sure doesn't have corn in it--as long as I follow a strict corn-avoidant diet.

I really think we need to lobby for all ingredients and additives to be declared in all foods, if at all possible. There are simply too many undeclared allergens in almost all foods and medications.