Thursday, November 3, 2016

I Hate My Guts

I really do.

I'm infuriated with my intestines.

I despise my digestion.

My stomach makes me sad.

A page out of Bagels, Buddy, and Me. Sick villi lie flat and can't digest food properly.
When I started blogging almost ten years ago, I did it because Robert said "All authors have blogs.  You should start a blog about your book." I wasn't really considering myself an author, but blogging seemed like a fun idea. Bagels, Buddy, and Me is all about Cooper's (and Kayla's and my) Celiac Disease diagnosis. It was all about what happens in your body and to your intestines when you eat gluten. There weren't really resources for kids at the time. Since then I've added lots of recipes here that are gluten free, but more than that I've enjoyed documenting our life and sharing it with those of you who read.
This scene has been on repeat at my house lately.
I don't really like writing about health and nutrition and my own intestinal issues, but it's something that consumes a lot of my thinking and daily efforts in shopping, meal planning, and cooking. My stomach and digestive tract have been a glaring issuse in my life for almost as long as I can remember, and recently I discovered something that I'm hoping will be the final piece in my healing process. I learned (through stool testing) that I have a Candida yeast overgrowth in my intestines.

See? This is why I don't like writing about this. "Stool" and "Candida" are such yucky words, let alone substances. The reality is, though, that lots of people - male and female - develop this issue, and I'm thankful or those who have written about it.  (Though I have almost NONE of the typical symptoms.) So, what follows is a bit of my history and current battle.

When I was 8 years old I was hospitalized for stomach ulcers. Evidently, they were sprinkled all over my stomach. I've had several "upper GI" x-rays that included delicious barium drinks since that time. (Thankfully no "lower GI" x-rays and barium "drinks" for that - yet.) My mom's answer to me having chronic stomach pain was to make me drink lots of milk.  "It coats your stomach lining," was the medical wisdom of the day. She even required the nurse at my small town elementary school to come and pull me out of class mid-morning EVERY DAY of first and second grade and sit in her office and drink a small carton of milk. I was also put on the "Ulcer Diet." One thing I remember from that list was "grapes, but not the skins." As if eating grapes was worth the trouble of peeling them. Spicy food was also off limits, and when you grow up in Texas, that's kind of a big deal.

(My parents also divorced when I was 8, but I wasn't able to make the probable connections that had to my stomach issues until much later in life.)

Later, dinners out with friends often ended with me lying down in a car somewhere. Regular birthday celebrations and meals at "Miss Riggs'" apartment (our favorite teacher!) all throughout high school often sent me to the couch for a while afterward. Once, on a journalism trip to the University of Texas with my yearbook and newspaper crew I asked my journalism teacher to drive me through the Wendy's drive through for a baked potato, not being able to eat what everyone else was eating due to having a terrible stomach ache.
In high school I also began taking antibiotics every day for acne. I continued this routine throughout college and only stopped taking them in order to start taking the birth control pill a couple of months before getting married. (And feared I would have acne in all my wedding photos!) For those of you who know anything about Candida, you know this combo of antibiotics and oral contraceptives is pretty much the kiss of death. Oh, if I had known then...

I got off the pill two years later in order to get pregnant with Kory, and never took it again. I hated taking it, and dislike taking pretty much any prescription meds at all, but at times it seemed like the only option. And this was long before the internet and abundance of information on natural health and natural family planning.

My stomach and intestinal issues (pain after meals, bloating, diarrhea) worsened with each pregnancy. By the time I was pregnant with Kayla we did have internet, and the very first things I searched were "irritable bowel syndrome", "pain after eating", etc. Part of me thought these things were just a normal part of life and eating, that everyone's stomach hurts and blows up like a balloon after meals, but Robert would assure me that this was not the case. I can still cause him alarm by protruding my "9 months pregnant belly" after a meal. And just when he thought we were about to be empty nesters...
Turmeric: a natural anti-fungal
The Celiac diagnosis came in 2003, and I have never knowingly eaten gluten since then - except for a very occasional communion cracker. (Strong willed, rule follower here.) Eliminating gluten helped quite a bit, but there were still lingering issues especially after eating starchy things like gluten free breads, pastas, and rice dishes. Fast forward to 2014 when I picked up a Paleo magazine before a trip because it had an article entitle "When Eating Gluten Free In Not Enough" or something like that. It described my symptoms as being associated with eating lots of grains and carbs and advocated the Paleo diet which is mostly proteins, vegetables, and low sugar fruits. To my surprise, Robert decided to join me in this new diet, and it has also helped quite a bit with alleviating previous digestion distress. As for Robert, who did not have any digestive issues, there doesn't seem to be any going back.  He feels better, has more energy, and won't go near gluten containing foods anymore.

Last winter/spring though, I had an episode that sent me back to the doctor searching for other potential issues. I ate a gluten free, all-tapioca flour roll (I do cheat on the Paleo diet occasionally!) from Whole Foods with some soup. Cue severe intestinal distress for two days. (The Candida monster loves to be fed high carb, high sugar, so I think the tapioca starch made him really happy!) I ended up doubled over after a women's retreat planning meeting at my friend Ashleigh's house. She was sweet enough to bring me some essential oil in water to settle the pain and let me snuggle on her amazing, oversized bean bag until I could get in my car to go home. There was also the tiniest amount of blood in my stool, and that's always a sign to see the doctor.
Goat milk kefir, store bought bone broth just in case, probiotics, ginger, good pastured butter, ginger root
and cider doughnuts...sadly, for the family we were delivering a meal to that night, and not for us!
The GI doctor ordered a colonoscopy and the FODMAP diet. The FODMAP diet helped (Avoiding short-chained sugars), but colonoscopies have always seemed to carry as much risk as benefit to me with their highly invasive nature, so I canceled it.  Instead, I made an appointment at the Northampton Wellness Center with a more holistic MD. Nine vials of blood and three days of stool collection later, I began waiting on my results. His prediction, though, was dysbiosis which translates into a very unbalanced gut flora, which boils down to way more bad bacteria and yeast than good. And he was correct.  My results came in about a month ago - "marked dysbiosis" and overgrowth of two bad yeasts, Candida Albicans and Rhodotorula. The prescription was to kill off much of the yeasts with antifungals - both over-the-counter supplements and prescription Nystatin, and then repopulate the intestines with a HIGH dose of probiotics. 225 billion units a day to be specific. The anti-candida diet was also prescribed.
As I read about the Candida diet (no sugar/very low carb, which is pretty much how I was already eating) and thought about my history, I realized that deeper healing was probably required, and so decided to put myself on the GAPS diet. I've known about this diet for years, heard tons of success stories, and even sent the book to folks I knew would benefit from it. I never really considered needing it myself, but it was becoming clear that my villi and enterocytes still needed the restoration that the GAPS diet promises.

The diet begins with a lot of bone broth. Then it progresses to bone broth with cooked veggies and then added meat. I've been drinking lots of it or eating it like a soup or blending it with veggies to change it's presentation.  Sometimes I add a little coconut milk for excitement. The only other thing really allowed is no-sugar yogurt (or kefir) and lemon-ginger "tea." I wasn't supposed to drink any black tea or coffee because of a mold sensitivity and also because caffeine suppresses the immune system and wears on the adrenals. Broth, goat milk kefir, and lemon-ginger water. That's what my diet consisted of last week - and for most of the two weeks prior with some additions because of travel and other responsibilities.
The makings of GAPS "tea."
My digestion definitely improved, but mostly because there wasn't much to digest!  My pictures are black and white, because "gray" is sort of how I was feeling health-wise and attitude-wise. When the antifungals kill the excess yeast, the Herxheimer Reaction begins, and it makes you feel pretty terrible. Then, when all you have to look forward to "eating" is broth and veggies, life becomes a little bleak. And the anti-fungals are supposed to be taken in increasing amounts every three days.  The goal was 6 per day.  I worked my way up to 5, but had to call the nurse yesterday due to extreme intestinal distress (the "D" word), and because I had been feeling awful for days. When I told her about doing GAPS rather than the more lenient Anti-Candida diet, she was okay with it, but said "You can't starve Candida without starving yourself!  You have to add in some carbs and sugar."

Those were helpful words.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, quinoa, winter squash, and steel cut oats are the carbs she helped me settle on. Fearing I wouldn't make it through my appointments yesterday - PSAT and babysitting jobs for Kayla, appointments with two young women from church, seminary assignments, errands etc., I began eating my way through the day. Fried eggs and hash browns for breakfast, an almond milk latte at the UMASS campus center, a smoothie from The Works where I had picked up Kayla's post-PSAT lunch, some chili from my favorite South Hadley restaurant, and a grain-free peanut butter cookie from The Woodstar Cafe as well as some (real, black) hot tea with honey. I could literally feel the infusion of energy making its way through my body.  Yes, I (and all of us) need SOME carbs and sugar. Anti-fungals + super powered probiotics + a strict GAPS diet was taking a toll on me.

Here's a few pics from this past weekend.  Robert and I did a little breakout session on dating and marriage at a collegiate conference where I could not eat anything at all in the boxed lunch that was provided.  I made a fast dash to Whole Foods between sessions for chicken soup and then grabbed this appetizing meal for later when we stopped at Five Guys for Robert to get some nourishment before making the trek back home from Cape Cod.
Actually, the color photo is even more depressing in this case.
See? He won't do the bun anymore - unless they have a gluten free version.
Fish, cauliflower, and green beans. Yum.

Have I mentioned my love for cheeseburgers and fries? (Insert sad, crying emoji here.)

In hindsight, I probably should have thrown the fish out and gone for a Five Guys meat patty and veggies (and stolen a couple of Robert's fries), but I felt bad about throwing away food I had paid for. At least it would have been warm. My fish dish was about 2 hours cold.  Double yum.

I was feeling pretty desperate on Tuesday before my Western Mass eating spree on Wednesday, so I scoured the internet for a GAPS-Candida-Legal muffin. I just really needed something that was not broth.

These probably don't look very appetizing to the untrained eye (or stomach), but to bone-broth-veggie-kefir-girl they were a glorious sight. Pumpkin, coconut flour, flax meal, coconut milk, and a bit of honey. I could barely wait for them to come out of the oven. When Robert stopped by for lunch that day he asked if he could have one, and I have to admit not wanting to share this warm and newly created treat. I warned him that he would not like them, but he was undeterred.

I wish I could say that I am better today. The symptoms I called the nurse about yesterday are worse, and so I've really cut back on the antifungals and probiotics for the time being.  I've incorporated some carbs and healthy sugars, but am still waiting on the turn around. It's discouraging, because I actually felt much better when I was living with the symptoms that led me to this current journey. So while I do believe things had to get a bit worse before getting better, I'm really anxious for moving past the "getting worse" part.

Oh, and running!  Two weeks ago I was able to run my usual 20 miles per week - or a little over 6 miles three mornings a week. It's a Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning routine that Robert and I hardly ever break. Last week I was down to a very slow 5 miles on those days, and yesterday I only made it two miles and had to turn around and walk home. I was too weak and depleted, which is also a sign that things aren't quite right, but movement is always beneficial in the healing process, so I wanted to keep getting out there.

Some morals to this story:

  • Don't take antibiotics unless it's absolutely necessary.
  • Or oral contraceptives. (But really all contraceptives mess with hormones and gut health.)
  • If you do have to take these things, be sure and take a probiotic to replenish good bacteria.
  • Really, you should just go ahead and take a probiotic anyway, or make sure you eat a lot of local, grass fed yogurt and fermented veggies. (Or make your own, which I'm about to embark upon. Yogurt, that is.)
  • We definitely eat too many processed carbs and sugars in this country, but eliminating all carbs and natural sugar is not the way to go.
So, I truly hate my guts, but I hope it's not for much longer.

(Sadly, I have also come to hate preparing and drinking all types of bone broth at this point. Oh, I'll probably choke some down in the next few weeks, because it is so good for you, but still.)

A stomach of strength and stamina.

Invincible intestines.

And dreamlike digestion.

The final puzzle piece in my gastrointestinal saga?

This is my hope and prayer.

(Did you read to the end? Thank you so much for your interest and kindness. I would really LOVE to hear from you, but could possibly get embarrassed by public Facebook comments. So, if we could keep the sympathy and bodily function mentions to a minimum? Private messages? That would be so nice. Thanks, friends.)

(Oh, and I know so many of you Plexus reps and about how wonderful the product is. I'll most likely move to that regimen when this course is finished.  For now though, I think it's best if I stick to doctor's orders and tweak his suggested routine as needed. Don't worry, Plexus peeps, I'll be calling you!)

1 comment:

Betsy said...

I wish I knew your fb account, because I would send you a private message. I have been struggling with many of these same issues. I recently started eating low grain, mostly paleo. As I approach 50, no matter how much I exercise, the weight does not move. I was a vegan for many years and decided to change my diet radically. I feel better, but weight still not moving. Adding in probiotics to see if it helps. I hope things improve for you. The struggle is real.