Tag Archives: working towards health

When is Enough, Enough?

28 Aug

One of my best friends lives out of state and struggles with very similar medical issues. Unlike me, she’s lived with some degree of chronic illness since she was a child. We chat on the phone frequently (sometimes multiple times per day!) and keep each other updated regarding the different things we’re trying in order to improve functionality and restore wellness.

Lately, we’ve BOTH been incredibly frustrated at the lack of improvement despite serious overhauls in diet and supplements. I have severely limited my carbohydrate intake in order to squelch the GI issues that my functional MD and nutritionist suspect are related to small bowel bacterial overgrowth. If the little buggers are in there, they aren’t dying fast enough!!

I have achieved marked improvement with my diet overhauls and supplement regimens. Improving my digestion with enzymes, supplements, and HCl has been instrumental in working with my body to restore a state of wellness. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut” (of course he said it in a much fancier way that certainly made the concept appear novel and sexy), so it boggles my mind that physicians are telling patients “changing your diet won’t help”. How can all of the processed chemicals and foreign substances be GOOD for optimal health?

My friend has reached a point of decision in her healing journey. Food has always made her feel unwell so she has decided to just say “screw it”. To her, there is little point in dealing with the aggravation and frustration of being so limited in her diet when her health continues to decline. I completely understand where she’s coming from. When is enough, enough? When is it time to say, “This is how my body is, let’s accept the reality of the situation and move on“.  For a recovering perfectionist, this is not an easy thing to do. Move on? Give up? Quit?

During the years I struggled with an eating disorder, one of the major hurdles I wrestled with was the fact that the combination of foods my doctors and dietician were telling me to eat made me feel worse – bloated, fatigued, heavy, and every anorexic’s worst nightmare – fat. Recently, my mitochondrial disease specialist said, “I doubt you ever truly had an eating disorder. I think there was more to it.” In hindsight, I suspect he is right on the money. I remember having insatiable cravings for carbs and sweets as young as 12 years old. Not understanding why and feeling powerless to stop my body from this seemingly out-of-control cycle, I started dieting. Food intolerances and gut dysbiosis can cause a wide range of seemingly unrelated and unexplainable symptoms. When you ignore these symptoms – all hell breaks loose. You start to feel out of control and your health deteriorates. A sick GI tract leads to malabsorption and nutrient deficiency which in turn lead to psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, worthlessness, and general malaise. Before you know it, you’re sitting in a doctor’s office being labeled as “depressed” or “bipolar” or “just-a-little-stressed-out”. The vicious cycle begins as you start popping the latest and greatest “wonder drug” (or combination of wonder drugs).

Will I ever truly be able to restore my body to wellness? Today is one of those days where I’m not exactly sure. They say that disease rushes in on horseback, but walks out on foot. Maybe I just need to give it more time. Perhaps the lesson to take away from this aspect of healing is that patience is a virtue and putting life “on hold” until wellness is achieved would be quite a waste of an opportunity to enjoy all that is out there.

Crazy Train Part 1

18 Aug

I have a LOT of friends who suffer from mental health problems. From depression, to panic attacks, to bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia, it seems that the diagnostic rate of mental illness is on the rise. One thing I have always found peculiar about our treatments for mental illness is the fact that we focus so heavily on pharmaceuticals that are meant to correct neurotransmitters. Most people are unaware that the bulk of our neurotransmitters are made in the gut – not in the brain. Psychiatrists and Big Pharma would have you believe otherwise, but if you stop and think about it, you’re putting pills into your GUT in order to correct your brain….hmmmmm.

Babs loved a challenge which is why she took on the “difficult” patients. And why she owned three primitive breed dogs that ran out the door at every chance they got and refused to come when called. I probably should have taken a hint from the dogs.

The downfall of treating mental illness with pharmaceuticals is that many of these drugs come with life altering (and frequently, life THREATENING) side effects and we don’t even understand how most of them even work. Like many with chronic illness, my symptoms originally manifested as psychiatric in nature. If you think my adventures in allopathic medicine with traditional docs are entertaining, just wait until I share THIS gem about one of my psychiatrists (not the one who dismissed me through her secretary over the phone for being “too complex” and leaving me without a referral and no one to manage my medication…yeah, THAT was a good time and I was a MINOR!). This might take a few entries, so grab some popcorn and prepare to go “WTF??!” Yeah. It’s one of THOSE.

Like many young overachievers, I spent a good portion of my adolescence in therapy with … you guessed it … a slew of bogus diagnoses. I was bounced from one therapist to another, dubbed a “complex case” and was actually dismissed from more than one clinic before I was even seen. At the age of 18 I consulted with a psychiatrist who had a reputation of being a pharmaceutical whiz (read: drug pusher) and it wasn’t long before I was doped up on a cocktail of 5 or 6 pills in an effort to treat the side effects left behind from the meds that were treating the symptoms. I was rapidly gaining weight, hungry ALL the time, felt like crap, exhausted, couldn’t concentrate, and on top of all this I was STILL depressed and anxious.

For narrative purposes we’ll refer to this uniquely incompetent psychiatrist as Dr. Nutso. I’d prefer to call him Dr. Lazy Eye, but I’m not one to poke fun at others’ physical limitations, and could the man help that his right eye looked like it was about to fall out of the socket? Talk about awkward though because I swear I’d have a panic attack just thinking about which eye I was supposed to look at while speaking to him.

Anyway, Dr. Nutso came to the conclusion that as a result of sub-standard parenting (his words), I had developed a personality disorder and would be best served under the therapeutic talents of a woman we’ll call  Babs. Babs was supposedly the best of the best at treating youth gone astray and when I told the psychiatrist I was serious about getting well and I asked “whom do you recommend”, he was adamant that Babs was the real deal. I remember the first thought that crossed my mind when she opened her front door to greet me for my first session: “How the hell is this broomstick-thin woman supposed to help me with an eating disorder??”

Turned out, she had an eating disorder of her own (as well as a lot of other problems that she readily shared with patients). Her refrigerator contained NOTHING except for a small collection of Red Bulls and supplements. You might be thinking it’s rather odd for a person to have seen the inside of her therapist’s refrigerator. Well not long after I began seeing her, there was a disagreement among my parents regarding my progress and payment. They were going to stop paying Babs for therapy sessions. So what did Dr. Nutso do? Kicked me out of the clinic. He told me that since my PARENTS clearly weren’t interested in cooperating for the greater good (my wellness), he couldn’t continue to see me as a patient. He then told my nutritionist and Babs that they’d be well-advised to dismiss me too. What??

This wasn’t the first time that Dr. Nutso had dismissed me. When I first began seeing him my psychotherapist at the time was working to have me admitted to an inpatient facility for eating disorders. Dr. Nutso told me I didn’t have an eating disorder, despite the fact that I had been in and out of treatment for one for nearly 6 years at the time. His theory? The “personality disorder” was causing the eating issues and if I treated that, all would be ok. I thought the man was full of it and made arrangements to go inpatient anyway (best decision I EVER made, really) and he kicked me out then too. My therapist at the time called and smoothed things over and all was well. I was back in the fold as the compliant patient. When I returned from inpatient in much better health, he raved about how he was so glad HE suggested it!! (insert raised eyebrows here)

So anyway, Dr. Nutso dismisses me for the second (and final) time because my parents stop paying Babs and refers me to a community mental health clinic. I said “screw it” there was no WAY I was going to be treated at a community mental health clinic after being a psych major and learning about how those patients are treated. In fact, I was beginning to suspect that the cocktail of drugs I was on were the bulk of my problem. Please know that I do NOT advocate doing this, but I stopped ALL of them. I researched how to wean off and tapered off all 6 medications on my own. And I NEVER felt better. The depression lifted, the anxiety dissipated, the brain fog and impaired concentration melted away, and I had more energy! The very pills that were supposed to be helping me had clearly been doing WAY more harm than good. In fact, they were likely poisoning me. Especially since the onset of my mitochondrial disease and central nervous system disorder kicked in not even 6 months later. I don’t think this was a coincidental correlation and sometimes I wish there were a lawsuit (or two…or 6) I could hop on in order to help pay for the enormous expenses I’m incurring trying to undue years of damage.

Fast forward a few months and Babs emailed to tell me that she recognized how badly I wanted to be well and she was willing to help me. We’d “work out” payment through a barter system and I wouldn’t have to worry about the bills. I could make her jewelry, walk her dogs, help her around the house, house-sit for her when she went on trips, help her catch her dogs in the middle of the night (she owned three that would escape and have to be flanked in order to catch them again. It was insanity)…you get the idea. Was there a part of me wondering if this was unethical? HELL yeah, but I silenced that inner voice by telling myself that she was a licensed professional and would never do anything to jeopardize my health and well-being. ::shifty eyes:: Plus, I was the ever-compliant patient and I was willing to do whatever it took to get well again. Even if it meant chasing untrained, Japanese dogs around my therapist’s waterfront neighborhood at 10 o’clock at night…

Tackling Chronic Illness and Autoimmune Disease with Nutrition in 4 Complicated and Heavily Involved Steps

30 Apr

…(I told you it wasn’t easy!)

Ok, now that we’ve covered the who, what, where, when, and why, it’s time to cover the “H” word … HOW! How do you go about working towards health and giving your body what it needs to heal? How do you work on repairing damage to the GI tract that may have accumulated over years and years? And more importantly, how much is this going to cost?! Let me preface the following list of steps by saying that I will explore each one more thoroughly as time goes on, but tackling this problem is a huge commitment and requires patience and dedication. You’re worth it. Your health is worth it. You can do it!

1)      Reduce the inflammation in the body by identifying and eliminating the foods or substances causing it

This means going on what has been coined an “Elimination Diet” for a period of time, and I hate to break it to you, but pretty much everything you’re eating right now…yeah. The 8 most common allergens need to be avoided, along with artificial colors, flavorings, additives, coffee (yes, kiss your cuppa goodbye – at least for now) and anything else you suspect might be giving you problems. The issue with delayed reactions, or IgG reactions, is that symptoms may not develop for up to 72 hours making it nearly impossible for you to figure out if the sandwich you just ate for lunch or the pork ribs you had last night for dinner are causing the problem. My suggestion is start with one of the largest offenders – gluten. Gluten is in everything. Literally. It will take some time for your body to detox and you might feel a bit crappy for a bit, but if gluten is contributing to your symptoms, you should notice them starting to subside in a couple of weeks. Some other foods to eliminate at first include, but are not limited to:

  • corn
  • soy
  • dairy
  • nuts
  • peanut
  • egg
  • shellfish
  • pork
  • ground meats
  • yeast

But…what will I EAT?! If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me, “But, what do you EAT?” I would be so rich right now…Vegetables! Fruits! Fish! Turkey! Chicken! Lamb! See, there are choices. Your best bet is to stick with whole, fresh foods. This link will help you find a local Farmers’ Market or CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) to help you stock up affordably. And because everyone is curious about whether or not it’s possible to avoid a lengthy list of foods, here is the list of foods that I must currently avoid:

  • beef
  • corn
  • dairy
  • egg
  • eggplant
  • gluten
  • grains (all)
  • ground meats (any)
  • nuts
  • peach
  • pear
  • peppers
  • pork
  • rice
  • soy
  • sugar (all forms of sweetener including: honey, agave, cane, and molasses)
  • sweet potato
  • tomato

2)      Rotate the foods that are left in the diet

Boy do I wish someone had shared this gem of wisdom with me when I went gluten free! The Rotary Diversified Diet, or Rotation Diet, was first described by a physician in 1946. The concept has been around for quite some time, but surprisingly, it’s not well known. When people eliminate one thing (*cough* gluten *cough*) from their diet, they tend to replace that gluten with corn, rice, and various other starches.

This is an example of the Rotation Diet I designed for myself in the earlier stages of my plan. As you can see, everything from oils, to seeds, to sweeteners is rotated. Within each day, the foods that are highlighted in the same color belong to the same family, meaning they are botanically related. Often, an intolerance to one food in the family will lead to an intolerance to others in the family due to the similarity of the proteins. Feel free to contact me if you would like help making your own Rotation Diet.

Remember, the reason for the intolerance had to do with over-exposure, so now we’ve just switched foods, but not limited exposure. See where I’m headed with this? On a Rotation Diet, you group the remaining foods into their botanical families. For example, lettuce, artichoke, and endive are all closely related, and then you eat from certain food families every day on a 4-day rotation. This prevents antibody complexes from re-accumulating in the body and wards off new intolerances. It will also help you to definitively pinpoint additional intolerances.

3)      Heal the gastrointestinal tract

Remember the little Pop Tart looking guy from last time? He needs some TLC! Healing the GI tract is a multi-faceted approach. You need to address all possible culprits: candida, parasites, bad bacteria, sensitivities, allergies, medications, and stress (to name a few). You need to start setting aside time for relaxation (yoga is my activity of choice, and there are some great FREE videos on YouTube), and do everything in your power to avoid exposing your GI tract to the things that tend to cause the most irritation: aspirin, NSAIDs, steroids, prescription medications, and antibiotics. The GI tract has an impressive cellular repair rate, but if you continue to expose it to stress and the things that wear it down, all of the energy is going to be spent trying to maintain instead of repair.

What are some things that help the GI tract heal?

  • Digestive enzymes. If the GI tract is already compromised, why give it more to do? Take the load off with a high quality broad spectrum enzyme. I prefer Similase GFCF, but this website is chock full of invaluable information about how enzymes work and how to choose one.
  • L-Glutamine. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that helps the cells in the GI tract to function properly and to repair themselves. It is a ‘must-have’ on your list of supplements for GI health.
  • Zinc. Many people with multiple dietary sensitivities and GI distress are actually deficient in zinc. In fact, new research has suggested that those with a history of disordered eating (anorexia, bulimia, etc) have low amounts of zinc in their red blood cells. A zinc supplement is recommended.
  • Magnesium. Magnesium is prescribed for all sorts of things these days, and its ability to help turn over and repair the GI tract is just the tip of the iceberg. Some doctors have pointed out that patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia have low levels of magnesium in their red blood cells and would benefit from magnesium supplementation. High doses can cause some GI upset, so be sure to start small.

4)      Repopulate beneficial bacteria

A high quality probiotic (preferably one that requires refrigeration) is essential. There are LOTS of things living in your gastrointestinal tract: bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. Most of the time everything is kept in check and homeostasis is never far off, but we live in a world surrounding by artificial additives, toxins, prescription medications, and antibiotics. ONE round of antibiotics is enough to send your system into disharmony, and if your nutritional intake is poor (read: Standard American Diet), your body won’t fully bounce back. There are several different probiotics on the market that you can try. Be sure you call the companies and do your research to avoid inadvertently ingesting something that you should be avoiding. If you have never taken a probiotic before, you’ll want to start small and work your way up. A powder is helpful to allow for dose titration. Sometimes people experience side effects from the probiotic in the form of rashes or GI upset (occasionally other side effects too). Usually these are temporary and not a cause for alarm, but you should make sure that you double check the additives on the label. Once in a while, the flora balance in the GI tract is so off that adding in the good guys causes a “die-off” reaction of the bad guys. I recently started a 60 billion organism probiotic only to develop a rash about a week later. Too many little critters at once! Dropping the dose way down and working up slowly will help ward off discomfort.

Overwhelmed yet? I was too at first, so don’t worry. I’ll spend some time covering more of the things I am doing as I go along and share some of the brands of supplements and appliances I’ve found to make everything a bit easier.

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