“Are you cold?” is a question I was frequently asked growing up, due to the fact that my arms were seemingly always covered with goose bumps. I dreaded warm weather because that meant short sleeves and exposing the bumps that started at my shoulder and went down to my elbow. Growing up, I never knew what these bumps were, aside from calling them “goose bumps” or “chicken skin.” It wasn’t until I was an adult and sitting in a naturopathic doctor’s office that I finally learned that there was a formal name for my “chicken skin” — keratosis pilaris. With that official diagnosis I was able to learn what triggered it, how to heal it, and was finally able to enjoy the fact that I’d be able to wear short sleeves without being embarrassed.
My first question for the doctor was “what is keratosis pilaris?” He explained that keratosis pilaris (also known as KP) is patches of non-contagious dry skin that look like goose bumps. Phew! I didn’t have to worry about my condition spreading to my husband or daughter. I hadn’t ever given it much thought prior to that moment, but it did seem like a mystery as to how the bumps suddenly appeared and never went away. My doctor explained that the bumps can occur at any time in your life and can be flesh colored, white, or red. The patch of KP on my left arm consisted of red bumps and my left arm had flesh colored bumps. This was likely a hereditary condition within my family and since KP can appear in a multitude of locations on the body, it is possible that I hadn’t noticed any visible KP patches on family members.
The funny thing about that visit with the naturopathic doctor was that I was not seeking advice on my patches of KP. I was there as a last resort stemming from my failed attempts to get answers from mainstream doctors regarding my stomach issues. I had struggled with IBS-like symptoms my entire life. However, after having my first-born, I noticed an increase in the stomach pains and painful bowel movements. My primary care physician had no recommendations for me other than to take Imodium daily. No thanks. I wanted to get to the root of my problem and didn’t want to mask the symptoms with a medication! So my primary care referred me to a gastroenterologist at one of the nation’s best hospitals; I was hopeful that I would finally get some answers.
Instead of getting answers, I wound up baffled after having extensive lab work and a colonoscopy that showed there was “nothing wrong” with me. Once again, I was told to stock up on Imodium and map out my bathroom stops while out in public. What does this have to do with KP? Well, I had hoped that a doctor practicing alternative medicine could shed some light onto what was going on with me. Sure enough, during my initial visit with the naturopath, I explained my issues and he interrupted me to say, “You have a gluten intolerance.” A what? “A gluten intolerance. All of your symptoms, they are due to your body’s inability to digest gluten. Just look at your arms. You have keratosis pilaris, which is often triggered by gluten intolerance.” I had tested negative for Celiac disease and also tested negative for an allergy to wheat, so I was confused as to how I could be intolerant to gluten.
Truth be told, I didn’t even fully comprehend what gluten was. I was embarrassed to admit that not only did I not know what this strange sounding name for my goose bumps was, but I also had no clue how to avoid eating this alleged trigger food! My naturopath explained that gluten is found in a multitude of foods — not just wheat — and that oftentimes people can be intolerant without actually being allergic. This explained my “normal” lab work results and also explained why I didn’t test positive for an allergy to gluten. After that visit with my naturopath, I was sent home with strict orders to immediately eliminate all gluten from my diet; this included wheat, barely, and rye. I was told to also be cautious of foods such as oats, because they can often be contaminated with gluten while being manufactured. Talk about overwhelming and upsetting. Bread was a staple in my diet. Italian was my favorite cuisine. How the heck was I going to give up my favorite foods?
It took some time and lots of perseverance and control, but I successfully eliminated gluten from my diet. Doing so immediately alleviated my stomach troubles, and within subsequent weeks I noticed an improvement in my skin. Within five weeks of going gluten-free, my ketatosis pilaris was gone. My husband noticed how smooth my arms were and wondered if I had used some new cream or lotion. While I wish it were that easy, the truth is that no cream or lotion is able to cure KP. I know that clearing up my KP was a secondary benefit to eliminating gluten, but I am so glad that my failed attempts with mainstream doctors led me to discovering the trigger to my health issues. Now I no longer suffer from IBS or KP, and I can proudly wear short sleeve shirts year-round.