The Perfect Storm

On November 13th, my parents and I met with Dr. Cave of Cypress Integrative Medicine in Baton Rouge, and received my highly-anticipated test-results. It was more information than my foggy brain could compute, but under my mom's supervision, I feel confident that I can adequately explain the information I was given.

First of all, I think it is worth stating that my allergies are neither the root of my illness nor my greatest problem. That is saying a lot considering that only a few weeks ago, I was popping Benadryl on a daily basis, pulling out my Epi Pens several times a week and wearing protective, non-latex gloves--even around the house--without reprieve. I have come to believe that like my fibromyalgia, dyspraxia, brain fog, chronic fatigue, eczema, IBS, and migraines, my allergies are symptoms of my illness and not the illness itself. While that statement may be confusing, it is also empowering. With the understanding that my allergies are symptoms comes the logic that if I can heal my illness at its root, my allergies, along with my other unpleasant symptoms, could disappear. This is BIG and wonderful news!

So, what is my illness? Well, it's complicated.

I was not offered a simple, gift-wrapped diagnosis, encompassing my list of symptoms in its entirety. And I think that is a good thing. I do not want to identify myself with a diagnosis because I have no plans to remain ill forever. Besides, I have more than one thing going on--severe allergies, IBS, fibromyalgia. Thus, I have come to think of my illness as "the perfect storm." The wrong set of conditions mixed with ignorance and poor choices plunked my little boat in the middle of a category-strength hurricane.

Extensive tests were run back in October in order to get a clearer picture of my problems. The results revealed several things including a genetic mutation, a bacterial infection, contaminants in my blood, nutrient absorption issues, several vitamin and mineral deficiencies, high levels of toxicity, and poor detoxification function.

My genetic mutation is the MTHFR mutation A1298C, and it is a homozygous mutation, which means that it comes from both parents. My mutation prevents folic acid from methylating properly. In order for folic acid (which is essential in cellular metabolism) to be utilized, it must have methionine attached to it. This little mutation is not as well-researched as its more problematic sibling, C677T which is known to cause cancer and heart attacks, but it likely contributes to my fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, IBS and brain fog. The mutation was a pretty big find, and getting the right kind of supplementation should help me.

The bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacteria. What is uncommon about it is that it was found in my intestinal wall. Weird. This stuff has to go away because it is keeping me from growing good bacteria in my intestines, which is admittedly kind of gross, but also vital if my health is to improve. I am a bit perturbed to discover that I've been pumping my digestive system full of expensive probiotics to no avail. The recommended treatment is to annihilate the infection with (gasp!) an antibiotic. There is a time and a place for western medicine, even for the emerging hippy.

While genetic mutations and bacterial infections are absolutely no fun, I believe my biggest problem is intestinal permeability, which is also known as "Leaky Gut Syndrome." Leaky gut is not a disease. It is more of a digestive dysfunction that can cause a lot of trouble. It can cause fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and food allergies gone wild. Sound familiar? Basically, so much damage has been done to my digestive tract (by a combination of bad choices and events completely outside of my control) that the cells of my intestinal wall have pulled apart, creating large gaps which allow undigested food molecules, toxins and bacteria to leak into my blood. I now believe that I have had leaky gut for years, and probably experienced my first set of symptoms almost a decade ago when my allergies first set in. Since then, my condition has only worsened.

You may be asking, "How did this happen?" (If you aren't asking, skip the next few paragraphs.) Well, I have no way of knowing for sure, but based upon what I've read in the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, it was the result of a (you guessed it) perfect storm. I was born to parents who both have food allergies and intestinal issues which are less severe than mine. Children inherit the intestinal health of their mothers at birth, creating a vicious cycle in which every generation becomes increasingly unhealthy. As an infant, I struggled with allergies and ear infections, and was flamblasted with antibiotics, which is still the accepted protocol for ear infections. As a child, my allergy problems continued, which brought on sinus infections. Boom! More antibiotics! I also kept a terrible diet. My mom tried to keep me on the "straight and narrow" to better health, but when not at home, I was known to eat an entire pizza just because I could. All-you-can-eat bars were this inner fat girl's favorite places to eat. I would sometimes help myself to thirds on desserts. I was feeding the bad and opportunistic microorganisms in my gut with sugars while killing the good stuff with antibiotics, creating something called gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance in the gut). My poor dietary habits lasted well into adulthood. Candida albicans, an opportunistic yeast normally found in the gut, can overgrow and create many problems. It thrives on sugar, and causes the body to crave it more and more. Months before my health collapse, I was eating something sweet for breakfast, having something sweet at midday, and eating a dessert every night. I should have known something wasn't right because I was quickly losing weight in spite of my sugar addiction. No one should be able to do that.

My diet has not been the only poor health choice I have made. As a teen, I had horrible menstrual pain which sometimes kept me from attending school. Per the recommendation of my OBGYN, I began birth control at age 16 for those problems. Birth control is bad news on about one-hundred counts. One of its many pitfalls is that it damages the intestines. As my intestinal health worsened, so did my immunity. (Eighty percent of the human immune system lies in the digestive tract.) I became ill more often for longer periods of time. Antibiotics proved less and less effective, but I kept taking them anyway. At age 17, I began having serious problems with acid reflux. I was put on an acid inhibitor (Protonix, Nexium, Aciphex, etc.), which is extremely damaging to the digestive system. Acid inhibitors pull the cells of the intestines apart, and keep the stomach from producing hydrochloric acid, preventing the proper digestion of food. It was three years after beginning Protonix that I had my first experience with food allergies.

In my early twenties, my environmental allergies (grass, pollen, pet dander, etc.) also went berserk. I decided to give allergy shots a try. This decision turned out to be a monumental mistake. Each week, I had a reaction to the shots, each reaction progressively getting worse. My life began to revolve around those appointments. I would receive two allergy shots on one day, have a strong reaction within 24 hours, receive a steroid shot to treat the reaction, feel jittery and revved for a day or two, and then feel like crap for the rest of the week....just in time to do it all over again. I twice received epinephrine in the office. The second time around, I asked the nurse, "Is this normal?" She told me that some patients had to receive Epi every week with their shots. Upon hearing that, I did not return to the doctor's office.

During the two years I received shots, my health suffered tremendously. I became allergic to more foods, and I began having anaphylactic reactions to food and environmental triggers for the first time. I could no longer be outdoors while someone was mowing for fear of an attack. Restaurants became extremely dangerous. And the steroids I had received to treat my reactions to the shots didn't do me any favors as they also have ill effects on the digestive tract.

I worsened after having Micah, but the nail in the coffin was my encounter with teff flour in January 2011. That stuff rocked. my. world. My body reacted to it as if I had swallowed poison. I still shudder when I see it on the shelves of my local health food store. I was still very sick when Sara was conceived. Although I eventually made my way out of the slump, the small improvement was short lived. A traumatic birth and recovery coupled with the stress of a sick and colicky newborn gave momentum to my rapid, downward descent until my bucket finally tipped over at the first of May.

My children's colic now makes perfect sense to me. As a breastfeeding mom, I had believed it impossible for food molecules to pass into the bloodstream, meaning that I did not believe that my diet had an impact on their health. If I had been healthy, I would have been correct. I now understand that Sara's colic was so much worse than Micah's case because I was so much worse. I understand now why her colic mysteriously vanished when we switched her to a goat milk formula. I wish I could go back and make things better by beginning with goat milk. I wish I could go back and decide against allergy shots, Protonix and birth control. I wish I had known all along about the pitfalls of all of those antibiotics.

The truth is that I can shoulda, coulda, woulda all day long, but it does little good. It is impossible to answer the question of why this happened to me. It could have happened to anyone. Lots of people have taken less care with their health than I have. Lots of people eat what they want and do what they want with seemingly few repercussions. There were contributing factors outside of my control like genetics and environmental contaminants (my BioSet practitioner discovered that contact with particular metals, plastics, vaccines, various toxins, negative emotions, and even leather of all things contributed to my health problems), but no one is immune to bad genes or poor environment these days. Even having a clearer understanding of how this happened doesn't really help me understand how or why this happened to me. Fortunately, God does not require me to understand....only trust Him.

The above tangent set me a little off point. I apologize. Back to "leaky gut!" The recommended treatment is probiotics (to improve the population of good gut flora) and digestive enzymes (to assist in the digestion of food). I am taking my treatment one step further by following the GAPS diet. Healing leaky gut takes time.....a lot of time. After two months of doing the diet, I continue to react to everything I eat. The reactions are small. Only a very sensitive person, such as myself, would notice. I'll have a sudden drop of energy, a hot flash or a migraine after I eat. Because I am an adult (children heal much faster) and am very sick, I may not see significant improvement until the Spring of next year. I am looking at a minimum of a two year recovery according to the author of the diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, and I will never again be able to eat like the average American.....unless I want to relapse. The good news is that I am already two months into the diet!

Another aspect of healing my intestines is that I must....ahem....purge. We are crossing way into TMI territory here, but I think all of you faithful readers should know that I am quite literally full of crap. I cannot remember a time in my life in which I had regular bowel movements. Every other day is about the best I've ever done. As I was getting sicker, it was not uncommon to go 4 or 5 days between bowel movements. After my health collapse, I began going only once a week. I've had people say in response to that information, "It must be because you are eating so little." First of all, during the times I've been able to eat, I have eaten plenty. Second, even if I wasn't eating plenty, I still should have been going to the bathroom every day. Weekly bowel movements are just not normal. I likely have years and years of compacted sludge stuck to the walls of my colon that really needs to be cleaned out. (I know you wanted to know that about me.) While it's gross and kind of funny to hear about someone literally being full of it, it is a serious problem. It is said that during John Wayne's autopsy, forty pounds of fecal matter was removed from his colon. I just can't leave behind that kind of legacy, especially considering that I lack the cool factor that John Wayne possessed. To treat, I am taking a cleansing supplement, a magnesium supplement and having regular colonic treatments. In the most basic sense, a colonic is pretty much a ten gallon enema. For more information and a chuckle, check out the short video commercial below which was sent to me by a friend who shares my sense of humor:

My large intestines aren't the only malfunctioning portion of my digestive tract. My small intestines are also damaged. I do not absorb nutrients properly. My now-visible rib cage isn't the only red flag. Dr. Cave has a neat, little machine that gives a score based on how well a person absorbs nutrients. Mostly-healthy individuals score over 50,000. My score was 18,000. Yeah....not good. Anyway, poor absorption leads to lots and lots of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I am deficient in some really important ones, too, like Vitamin D, B vitamins and Magnesium. The current treatment is supplementation. Hopefully, my digestive health will eventually improve enough that I can receive most of my vitamins and minerals from food.

Finally, leaking yuck into your blood leads to toxicity. So does living in the modern world. Water contaminants, food contaminants, air pollution, vaccines, drugs and the harmful waves emitted from modern technology are collectively wreaking a lot of havoc on modern people. We see the fallout all around us in the forms of cancer, auto-immune disease, allergies, autism, etc. I am exceptionally toxic, and my liver and adrenals are underactive, which prevents me from being able to detoxify as I should. To treat this issue, I am taking supplements to stimulate my organ systems in charge of detoxification. I also take detox baths daily, and am now the proud owner and wearer of a Q-Link to keep all of the bad ju-ju (harmful energy waves) away. And yes, the ju-ju necklace works. I believe it is partly responsible for the fact that I'm no longer reacting to latex every day, and I feel a difference in my level of energy when I wear it correctly.

As you may have surmised, I am taking a lot of supplements. Keeping them straight and on time is a full-time job within itself. Brain fog is not my friend when trying to remember everything I should take when I should take it. The photo below shows almost everything I am currently taking.

At the end of my consult that day, Dr. Cave said, "We have a long way to go, but at least we are getting there." She's right. I am no longer on a downward spiral. Things became very scary at the end of September when my new latex allergy reared its ugly head. For awhile there, I didn't know how far I would sink. I even planned my funeral on one dark day. I have been making teeny tiny baby steps in the right direction for a few weeks now. I am no longer having strong reactions every day. I have the energy to spend 4-5 hours a day in the kitchen. (GAPS is a commitment, y'all.) I even make it out of the house every once in awhile now. I am getting better. I just have a long, long way to go.

The Lord impressed upon my spirit a couple of months ago that He was going to heal me, but that it was going to take a long time and a lot of hard work. Healing is definitely requiring hard work, and I have been given two years as my projected timeline for healing twice from two different sources now. I continue to need your prayers. The daily tasks are still so difficult. Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and let the cards fall where they may. But I am not allowed to do that. I have been called to heal myself. And when I am finished healing myself, the Lord has impressed upon me that I will immediately be put to work serving and healing others. There is no respite in my future! So please, continue in your prayers for me that I will be delivered from this trial. Pray so that "you also helping together in prayer for [me], that thanks may be given by many persons on [my] behalf for the gift granted to [me] through many [you]" (2 Corinthians 1:11).

Grace and peace to you all. And Happy Thanksgiving.