Disclosure: I’m a sponsored Align Influencer, on behalf of their gluten-free probiotic, but all opinions are my own.
When I was in high school, I took an advanced anatomy and physiology class. We were the only high school in the country to have a cadaver. My senior year, I was the teacher’s assistant and helped with the dissections. I don’t talk about this experience often — this is a food blog, after all — but it was one of the most important of my life. For a couple of years of my life, I had every nerve, bone, tendon, muscle, and vein in the body memorized. I could place them on a chart and find them on the cadaver. There was no doubt in my mind — I would become a doctor someday. And write about it.
I didn’t become a doctor. Somewhere in the midst of college, I realized I loved the writing about it more than I loved chemistry class. Art history moved me as deeply as the idea of dealing with arthritis or atherosclerosis. I gave myself a year to take all the humanities classes that called to me, before I dove into pre-medical training. Comparative literature and creative writing called to me more than the idea of 8 years of training before practicing medicine. The dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist slowly faded away.
However, that ardent curiosity for understanding the human body never went away. I never could have predicted I’d make my career from writing a gluten-free food site. But understanding the way villi works in the small intestine, and the role of bacteria in the large intestine, comes in handy, it turns out. I often joke, when I teach gluten-free cooking and baking classes, that my real job in life is to talk about the state of my intestines.
After all, as someone with celiac sprue, I have an intimate understanding of the nature of my insides when I get gluten by mistake. I’m lucky. It hasn’t happened in awhile. But when it does — and it only take ⅛ teaspoon to trigger the autoimmune response and make me feel ill for 5 days, at least — I’m reminded again how important it is to have the intestines in good shape.
For years now, I’ve been passionate about gut health. We drink a lot of homemade chicken stock around here, including a cup of hot broth in the afternoons instead of tea. I eat a fermented food every day: sauerkraut, kefir, lacto-fermented vegetables, miso, or gluten-free sourdough bread. Partly, that’s because I love the taste of these foods. But it’s also because these foods are good at tending to the gut, building up the “good” bacteria in the large intestine.
I also take a probiotic, pretty faithfully. No one knows how much probiotics affect gut health. After all, this careful consideration of the gut as the “second brain” is relatively new. There are a plethora of studies out there that suggest vigorous beneficial bacteria in the gut promotes good health — in 2015 there were over 1000 published studies alone. We’re learning. But I know this from my own experience: when I take a good probiotic daily, I feel better. My immune system is stronger. And I take on the world with more energy.
For a couple of years, I switched brands, depending on the price of them and the availability on my rural island. Some of them seemed to help. Some of them seemed to make me feel worse. Then I read this news on The New York Times: many probiotics on the market contain gluten, including many of the ones labeled gluten-free.
“The researchers found that 12 of the supplements – or roughly 55 percent – contained detectable levels of gluten. Eight of these 12 products carried gluten-free claims on their labels.”
Man. Why does it have to be this hard?
That’s why, when the makers of Align probiotics asked to be our latest sponsor, the first question I asked was whether or not it was truly gluten-free. They were thrilled to say that Align has been rigorously tested and is certified gluten-free.
Whew. Finally a probiotic I could trust.
This is why Align is our latest sponsor on gluten-free girl. It’s also why I have taken Align every day since December. It might be part of the reason I maintained digestive balance this past winter, as opposed to previous years. This was one of the best winters of my life.
It seems that, decades after studying that cadaver, and many years of suffering with celiac and its after effects, I’m finally starting to make my own intestines strong and healthy.