Just Feeling Bad
I have been conducting a self-experiment here on myself for the last year. What brought me to this self-experimentation was my lifelong, stubborn GI tract. But aside from my chronic constipation, for the last 3-5 years I remember feeling very tired, achy, and tight in my shoulders and jaw. Typical “mommy” stuff. Tension headaches. Stuffy nose all the time. Exhausted by 7:30 in the evening. Irritable. Moody. Swooshy in the head. Nothing serious, you know. Just feeling bad. When my headaches were at their worst, I told my husband, “I see why people do acupuncture. If these headaches don’t get better, I’ll be trying acupressure, acupuncture, yoga–whatever it takes! I refuse to have to live this way!”
Feeling bad came on so insidiously over the years, I didn’t even notice how much was going on. And for Pete’s sake, when it was at its worst, I wasn’t even working! I wasn’t even stressed! When I went into early retirement from doctor to homeschool mom, I made time to read about my main issue, and food kept coming up over and over again.
Food is Like a Drug
I have learned that food can be like any drug I prescribe. Along with food’s nutrients and beneficial effects can come side effects. As a pharmacist and doctor, I learned that medicines really do cause many, many different bizarre effects in different people. I learned to listen and not judge patients’ reports based on what I was taught “should” and “should not” happen with a medicine. But it’s still so hard for me to accept that food, in myself, can cause tension headaches, brain fog, and a dysthymic type of mood. I can just see my mom and my medical school preceptors shaking their heads. For shame. For shame.
Why food, an ingested substance, should be considered free of effects is beyond me. In pharmacy school, medical school, and residency, the diverse, complicated, often detrimental effects of food was [ALMOST] NEVER touched on. It took my own experience and my continued own experiments on myself to even consider this possibility. I am following the diet called “GAPS” (similar to the SCD), although I’ve had to make modifications along the way. The whole goal of GAPS and SCD is to make the gastrointestinal (GI) lining function properly again so that you can eventually branch out a bit and eat some grain, run-of-the-mill dairy, and foods that you may have been sensitive to before (like eggs, nuts, or fruits). Unlike Paleo, GAPS and SCD are not meant to exclude certain foods “for good.”
So I’m now in the despised ranks of, “I can’t eat that.” Even though my meal preparation is as simple as meat and a veggie, I’m still that challenging dinner guest. Hmmmm. I wonder if that’s probably why we haven’t had a dinner invitation since I started this “voodoo” diet a year ago! I still think I’m wacky for it! I don’t want to be a wacky. You can’t reach people and convince people if you’re a wacky. Or if you’ve got something to sell. But I am here writing this blog to share my belief that food plays a huge role in how we feel and function. I wouldn’t have believed it a year ago. I would have smiled at you very nicely and lumped you in the neurotic category. I’m sorry. Life’s about learning.
I am going to list all the food related conditions I have learned about as I have sorted through nutrition to try to take care of my feeling “BAD” (tiredness, headaches, brain fog, dry mouth/dry eyes, bloating, severe constipation, constant stuffy nose, and a few other symptoms). Before I go further, I want you to know that I really want all people to seek medical attention for their symptoms to make sure there’s no serious illness. Bad things happen in the body, and they could be happening in yours. If you seek medical attention, and your symptoms change or a new symptom creeps up, you need to go back. Sometimes conditions are developing “in there”, but the one sign or symptom we need for diagnosis hasn’t manifested yet. Once I’d seen my doctors, got my tests, and knew my medical comrades were going to be of no help, I journeyed on, going back occasionally for a new, concerning symptom. Here with this blog, I’m not trying to diagnose anybody or offer advice, but I do feel obligated to share my story. The neglected story of food from the point of an MD.
Identifying Food Intolerances is No Easy Task
Determining if diet is the source of your “BADNESS” is no easy task. My food reactions are not IgE mediated, and my allergy tests showed nothing. My allergist still supported the fact I was intolerant to food in non-IgE mediated ways, but he didn’t help me navigate those waters. A great, knowledgable, forward thinking nutritionist would have been a great right hand man to have. Finding sensitivities takes a lot of documenting, progressing, backtracking, eliminating, pushing forward, failing, backsliding, and regrouping to finally see trends and patterns. It also takes a lot of reading and sorting fact from fiction. Did I mention backsliding and failing, too? I would venture to say 95% or more people will fail and give up, saying, “Oh. I tried changing my diet, and it didn’t work.”
Effective change takes seeing food in A WHOLE NEW LIGHT. It takes eating food FOR HEALTH, NOT FOR PLEASURE. It takes dumping THE FOOD PYRAMID IN THE GARBAGE. It takes feeling BAD one too many times and knowing it came from food, and finally deciding–I DON’T WANT TO GO THERE. The following list I’m about to present is long and overwhelming, but with time and close observation, it IS possible to figure out how much of a role, if any at all, each entity is playing in your body.
I am not going to tell many facts about each process, but if you’re not feeling well despite being Paleo, GAPS, SCD, Primal, Whole 30, or gluten-free/dairy-free, looking up and reading about each of these issues may provide some insight. I’ll share my story if I have any personal experience with the process.
Diet doesn’t do everything. I mean, I haven’t grown wings and my knees still ache when I play volleyball…
It’s Not All About Food and Everybody Will Have Their Own “Best” Diet Which May Even Change Over Time
Any good nutritional intervention program not only takes out certain foods, but it also asks for certain nutrients to be put in (either by food source or supplementation). Put in certain things. Take out certain things. Minimize stress. Maximize sleep. Ask yourself how you’re feeling. Regroup. The coconut oil that went well for three months may be giving you that headache now. The eggs that you tanked up on in the beginning may be a culprit. Maybe you tanked up on chicken, and your body is saying, “Enough of that.”
Once I’ve sorted through the food side of it, which in and of itself looks like it’s going to take me about 1 and 1/2 to 2 years to sort through, I’ll see where I stand and if I need to delve further into the “voodoo.” Hopefully food will take care of it for me. I can’t take any more crazy ideas. (That’s an invitation for God right there!) Seriously, probiotics and food are deep enough for this MD! I don’t really want to have to look at heavy metals and all that jazz!
Food Issues to Learn About if “All is Well”, But You’re Not Feeling Well
These are not to be confused with true food allergy. They are intolerances…sensitivities. As you scan the list, please remember my goal for each entity was not to provide complete information, but to provide a list of conditions to check out and explore.
Gluten sensitivity: When I dropped gluten and dairy, I immediately shed brain fog, headaches, dry eyes and mouth, fatigue, and my chronic, stuffy, Flonase-dependent nose. Alessio Fasano, MD is the director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, and here is an interview transcript with him about gluten sensitivity: Interview with Dr. Alessio Fasano.
Dairy sensitivity: When I dropped dairy, I also dropped gluten, and I got a resolution of the symptoms mentioned above. The GAPS/SCD diet that I’m on allows fermented dairy and high fat dairy. I tried to figure out if it was the lactose, the casein, the whey, the milkfat, or processed milk we buy in stores. However, whenever I introduce dairy, any dairy, I still have problems, even with ghee, goat’s milk, and whey.
- Lactose intolerance: Generally associated with GI symptoms, diarrhea, cramps, and bloating.
- Casein intolerance: A protein in milk products, but it is used in many, many processed foods. I found it in pre-minced garlic once. Had to trash the whole darn tube. It can cause GI symptoms but I’ve read reports of aches, pains, headaches, constipation, brain fog, irritability, and so on. You may read of people not tolerating the A 1 beta-casein prominent in our typical cow’s milk supply–but tolerating A 2 beta-casein predominant milk (more prominent in goat, sheep, and ancient breeds of cattle).
- Whey protein intolerance: I highly suspect whey causes a reaction in me. Shortly before starting this nutrition road, I kindly (as in, sucker) bought some protein shakes from a friend who was selling them. I remember getting diarrhea, and I was so excited, thinking, “Wow! Maybe my constipation problems are solved!” Two or three protein shakes a day in a cold glass of milk and a couple of weeks later, my constipation was at its absolute worst. Alarming. The shakes were designed for weight maintenance and weight loss, but I was gaining weight. My friend and her advisor couldn’t understand how I could be gaining weight. Well, not pooping for two weeks has to be good for 5 pounds, I guess. Anyhow, it could have been the soy component, too, but since the GAPS dairy introduction protocol caused the same effect…
Soy intolerance: About 10% of people with dairy intolerance will also have soy intolerance. That protein shake I mentioned was composed of whey and soy proteins, so I don’t really know which protein was causing my symptoms. Plus, I was mixing the shake in milk.
Phytic acid (phytate) sensitivity: High in nuts, grains, and legumes (soy included). From Chris Kresser, Another reason you shouldn’t go nuts on nuts. I don’t really see much in the way of sensitivity reports, just malabsorption issues. So, I don’t know. Maybe
Lectin sensitivity: High in nuts, grains, and legumes, but also present in eggs, dairy, and nightshades. I don’t do well with any of these products, but I’m not sure if it’s lectins or what. The Lectin Story by Krispin Sullivan and Mark’s Daily Apple, The Lowdown on Lectins
Salicylate Sensitivity: This is the first food sensitivity issue I stumbled across when I started reading a year ago. Salicylates are found in plant products (highest in certain fruits, nightshades, almonds, and olive oil are examples of higher salicylate foods) and function to protect the plant (think aspirin, which is a salicylate we’ve manipulated to benefit us–but which also has significant side effects). The Failsafe Diet works to eliminate salicylates. I didn’t find salicylates to be too problematic for me or my children. However, it looks as if some people claim to get great effect from following the low salicylate diet. From Paleo Mom, What is Salicylate Sensitivity/Intolerance?
Histamine/amine sensitivity: Common in meats and fish that aren’t fresh, as well as red wine, aged cheeses, sauerkraut, spinach, and citrus. An abstract for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Histamine and histamine intolerance.
Oxalates and oxalate spilling: Oxalates are in some fruits, veggies, and nuts in varying levels. Spinach and almonds are high. Here is an article written by an English physician about her own experience with oxalates: The GP who gave up fruit and veg to cure her aches and pains.
FODMAP (Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) intolerance: Prevalent in irritable bowel patients (IBS). Although FODMAP intolerance usually causes diarrhea, it can cause constipation. Basically, certain sugars in the carbohydrates a person eats aren’t absorbed well, and the bacteria metabolize the sugars, causing symptoms. Examples of sugars include fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans, and polyols. These sugars are in many fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. A low FODMAP diet may benefit 70% of IBS patients. I personally see a huge difference in my bloating when I avoid most FODMAP foods. As you play with these foods enough, you learn which ones you tolerate and how much. FODMAPS diet on WebMD gives an overview and containing more medical information and terminology, A FODMAP Diet Update: Craze or Credible?
SIBO (small intestinal bowel overgrowth): In a nutshell, this is where bacteria from the colon sneak up into the small intestine in overabundant numbers. Since they’re up further than they should be, they get to work on food while in the wrong place, causing many problems such as bloating, cramping, flatulence, and IBS type symptoms (including constipation). Personally, I think FODMAP and SIBO go hand in hand. Treating SIBO through diet and/or drugs may help IBS. I took rifaximin, neomycin, and erythromycin about a year ago when I started GAPS. The bloating did lesson for about a month, but it has slowly come back. I will not repeat the antibiotics, but I will keep driving my carbohydrate intake down. SIBO-Small intestinal bowel overgrowth site by Dr. Allison Siebecker.
Food sensitivity aside from reasons listed above: Nearly any food can cause a sensitivity in a person. A common sensitivity is coconut I used to love smoothies with coconut oil, but I started getting these headaches after doing so well. I started withdrawing foods, and eventually discovered it was the coconut. I love coconut, but it messes with my head. It also now causes diarrhea. Yeah! My husband always gets an upset stomach after eating salmon but no other fish or meat! These are just two examples. There are countless others out there. Avocado is also a biggie for some people.
Sensitivity to food preservatives: Sodium benzoate and BHT are just a couple off the top of my head. One of my daughters does great with fresh apple cider, but add those preservatives in there and here comes a tummy ache.
Sensitivity to food colors: Why do they do this? Why do marshmallows have blue dye? Why do maraschino cherries have to have red dye? Why dye?
Glutamate sensitivity: Obviously MSG is a glutamate that we know causes symptoms in some people, but I learned about glutamates with regard to long-boiled bone broths. I was feeling bad for a period, and the only thing I could link it back to was the chicken broth itself, or glutamates from long boiling. Still haven’t sorted this one out, but I’m doing well the way I’m eating now so I’ll take my time sorting it out.
Nightshade sensitivity: The nightshade family includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. How Deadly are Nightshades? by Georgia Ede, MD.
Nitrite/nitrate sensitivity: Usually in cured meats, but also in something as simple as celery and beets. From a LiveStrong post: Nitrite and Nitrate Allergies.
Sulfite sensitivity: Found in preservatives, beer, wine, and dried fruits. Asthma symptoms seem to be a biggie here and GI symptoms. Sulfites: Separating Fact from Fiction from University of Florida IFAS extension.
Tannin sensitivity: Tannins are common in tea, coffee, and red wine. A person with tannin sensitivity might have migraines, joint pain, poor mood, and GI issues.
What did I leave out?