Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

The Trinity of Wellness: Body, Mind and Spirit

body-mind-spirit

At the end of each year, like everyone else, I find myself reflecting on the past year and thinking about where I was then compared to today.

Last December, I was in the middle of a long taper Prednisone treatment, following another terrible spike in my flare-up. Hydroxyzine proved to be the magic medicine. I tapered off the Prednisone and each day the hives and swelling were smaller and smaller until they disappeared altogether (mid-February). I have been in remission since. It was the longest stretch of CIU (Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria) that I have ever had, spanning a year and a half this flare.

I am not a sickly person. In fact, I have been very physically fit for the last 15-20 years. While I no longer run (too hard on the knees!), I regularly strength train and do cardio, I practice yoga daily, and I eat extraordinarily healthfully and mindfully.

However, in the years preceding this flare, three of our children left home for college (leaving us with an empty nest), we lost two beloved family pets, my husband and I both changed jobs (with my husband becoming an independent contractor) – all of which caused incredible stress and put a strain on my closest relationships. I denied it existed – particularly to myself. Instead, I buried it all deep inside (“I’m strong – I can handle anything!”). The cortisol in my body continued to build. Cortisol (aka the “stress hormone”) usually fluctuates throughout the day and night, rising in response to a stressful event, then returns to a normal level following the stressful event. However, my cortisol level went up and never went down, causing my immune system to go BANANAS. My body began attacking itself and nearly everything I touched or ingested. Writing about it now actually makes my chest tight. It was a terrible couple of years and I am so grateful to now feel SO good.

The life lesson I finally learned while trying to recover from this flare is that true health is more than just the fitness of my physical body. It includes the health of my mind and my soul, as well. Until this year, I was truly unhealthy in that sense, and it is what ultimately led to this flare.

During the flare, I underwent counseling with a gifted psychologist. I insisted that treatment not include pills. Instead, we talked about how I got here, and he taught me how to listen to my body in response to my emotions – breathing, meditation, and being present – and how to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions, but last January, I made a decision that 2016 was going to be the healthiest year of my life.   I think I succeeded.

I know I am not as healthy as I could be, and some days are harder than others, but 2016 HAS been the healthiest year of my life thus far. I will certainly try to top it in 2017.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2017 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

But you look so good!

 

Invisible

I have not posted in a while – life is full and I was feeling somewhat lazy.  However, it is a rainy, stormy day and a long weekend, so I feel a desire to think and write.

The fantastic news is that I am officially in remission. The final diagnosis is generally Autoimmune Disease, but more specifically, Hashimoto’s Disease and Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (“CIU”). I take a synthetic thyroid daily and the hypothyroid symptoms improved dramatically within a few months (less hair loss, less joint pain, better sleep, more focused). As I mentioned in my last post, I was prescribed Hydroxyzine in January for the CIU. Within the first week, the giant welting hives started transitioning to small chicken pox-like hives, then NOTHING. I have not had a CIU flare-up in any form since early February and I no longer need to take the Hydroxyzine.

My flare-ups have occurred about every six years since my early twenties. I am hopeful that with what I have learned about taking care of myself in the last crazy year, the cycle may finally be broken, my body will completely heal, and just maybe I can prevent a recurrence. I know now that taking exceptional care of my body is simply not enough – true wellness requires taking care of my mind and soul, as well.

It was initially very difficult for me to tell anyone that something was wrong – I am a very private person. When I reached out to friends and family about my “mystery” illness, I was touched by the responses I received. However, I was also very confused and hurt that so many people that I thought were close friends not only did not respond, but said nothing to me at all when I did see them. It wasn’t cancer, but it wasn’t nothing either.  Didn’t they care?  Maybe they didn’t believe that I was really sick?

The term “invisible illness” is relatively new.   Some examples include other autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, depression and mental illness, digestive disorders like Celiac’s Disease, etc.

People often judge others by what they see – this is natural human behavior. For a long time, my illness was a mystery to me, as well, so when people asked me to explain, I could not and I would often hear, “but you look so healthy” or “you really don’t look sick.” It was also frustrating when people offered unsolicited advice – if my doctors and I could not figure it out, what made them think they had an answer? I had another friend tell me, while I was in the middle of a terrible flare-up, that I should look at it as a blessing. Good advice, but REALLY bad timing to tell me this when I was in the depths of it – excuse me if I don’t feel very blessed right now!  Of course, now that I am moving beyond it, I DO feel that it was a blessing – but that’s a post for another day.

Very few friends or family actually saw the illness because I was often in hiding. I stayed home a LOT and did not accept invitations or reach out to friends. When they did see me, I looked healthy. My husband is the only one in my life that I think truly understands what this last year did to me because he lived it every day – it also deeply affected his life, as well as our relationship. I know that he felt frustrated and helpless, yet was loving, supportive and encouraging to me.

Those friends that appeared to be “fair-weather” are still in my life. They simply did not see sickness. If they did, they certainly did not see it on a daily basis – the symptoms, the frustration, the depression and the isolation.   In hindsight, I think my expectations of their response were idealistic and unrealistic, so I choose to release any judgment of it now and hopefully educate people along the way.

We all are sick on occasion – we pick up viruses here and there.   But what if your virus never went away? In fact, what if it just progressively got worse and days turned into months, with no hope of resolution?  What if your doctors (even specialists) could not pinpoint the cause, provide a diagnosis or find a treatment, and you were told that it could potentially be part of your life forever?  Then try to imagine explaining this reality to your friends and family – when you look perfectly fine on the outside.

Our culture is taught to believe that illness and disease are visible and apparent, and that when we are sick, we go to the doctor, the doctor diagnoses the issue and prescribes treatment. That did not happen to me, nor does it happen to a lot of people, even in our very medically advanced world.

There is still more that we don’t than what we DO know. We need to continue to educate ourselves, let go of the past, manifest kindness and release judgment.

Of course, sometimes, this is easier said than done (especially in an election year).   😉

May 28, 2016 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

No news is good news

stability

It has been a while since my last post, as I was enjoying the holidays, during which my symptoms remained quite stable. I had a few flare-ups after going off the Prednisone, but no angioedema or severe urticaria. I credit the stability to the changes I made to my diet, the immune boosting vitamins and minerals I take, time off of work (with no plans to do anything but rest and relax!) and increased yoga and meditation.

During this time, I did some additional research on Xolair. I found some discussion boards online that had mostly good feedback, but some bad feedback, as well. There were a lot of people that found immediate relief (from the chronic urticaria), but after several months of shots, the urticaria eventually returned. I am becoming skeptical that this is the cure for me.

Then a week ago, my insurance provider made a decision on the Xolair. They will not cover it. This is a big deal because it is a VERY expensive shot. Their reasoning is because I have not yet tried Hydroxyzine. When I asked my immunologist why they have not yet prescribed this drug, they responded that “it’s just another H1 antihistamine” so they did not understand how this was a reason for insurance to deny coverage.

SO…

I suggested the obvious – that he prescribe Hydroxyzine anyway. If there is no change, then we can tell my insurer that we have tried it and it was not enough. OR…maybe it will work?

I started Hydroxyzine five days ago in place of the Cetrizine. I take it at bedtime and it knocks me out cold (it is very sedating for me). I still have hives, but they are small and in clusters now – they almost look like chicken pox.  The Hydroxyzine is doing something.

I am hopeful that the stability over the holidays is a sign that I am healing and going back into remission.

The doctors have so far only treated the symptoms – they have done what they could to make me feel better right now, without knowing the source of the problem or how to fix it.

In my next post, I will talk about the lifestyle and dietary changes that I made over the last few months, which I believe have helped.

I intend to start healing my body from the inside out.

Angela

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One step forward and a half step back…

Red wine

As I have posted in the last few weeks, I have been so excited with the possibility that I may be going back into remission – or at least that the handfuls of meds I take every day are working. I felt incredible.

Unfortunately, I am now experiencing another flare up. When I saw the first hives pop up on Friday morning, I thought it might have been the VERY small glass of red wine I consumed on Thanksgiving Day (sulfates – an immune system under duress does not like them). But the symptoms have increased every day and I am now wheezing with giant hives (fortunately, no angioedema). I really do not know what has triggered it this time.

So I am back on a Prednisone taper and will be trying another treatment called “Xolair.” Xolair was developed to treat asthma, but has also proven to be a good treatment for chronic idiopathic urticaria that is not responding to H1 antihistamine treatments.

I will go to the immunology clinic once a month to get an injection of Xolair. My only fear (and there is a real possibility that it could happen) is that I will have a reaction to the Xolair. So after the injection, they will monitor me for an hour or so to make sure I do not have a severe reaction (anaphylaxis).

If someone out there that has had Xolair injections stumbles on this blog, I would love to hear from you.

Angela

December 2, 2015 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Patient Heal Thyself

Yoga Meditation

As mentioned in prior posts, after another angioedema episode that brought me back to urgent care for another epi shot, I started on a strong dose, slow taper of prednisone. It did the trick – no hives, urticaria or angioedema for the course of the Prednisone.

I finished the Prednisone two weeks ago. A week ago, I woke up with a couple of hives and over the last week, I have had a few hives here and there – no giant hives, no urticaria, no angioedema – nothing like a real flare up.

So I AM rebounding after discontinuing the Prednisone, but it is a small rebound. I am going to hold onto that as a good sign.

I visited the immunologist last week and received a diagnosis: Chronic Idiopathic Autoimmune Urticaria, which is caused by anti-FcεRI and less frequently, by anti-IgE autoantibodies that lead to mast cell and basophil activation, thereby giving rise to the release of histamine and other proinflammatory mediators (Ref 1).  It is not known if this could be related to the hypothyroid issues I am experiencing.  From the treatment summary:

“Angela’s history and laboratory evaluation are not clearly suggestive of a specific etiology or process to explain her relapsing-remitting urticaria and angioedema. We discussed the limitations of commercially availably laboratory tests to assess immune function, which is broad, complex and influenced by genetics and environment.”

So the immunologist’s treatment plan is to continue to suppress the immune response with high doses of the histamine inhibitors and asthma medication, with a plan to start tapering in a few months, and to continue with the immune system boosting vitamins and supplements that I currently take.

MY plan is to make 2016 the healthiest year of my life. To help make that happen, I have adjusted my mindset, diet, exercise and lifestyle.  See my next blog post for the deets on my course of action.

Angela

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810697/

November 21, 2015 Posted by | Health | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pills, pills, pills…

Woman many pills

I will start out by saying that my experience with health care providers thus far has been mixed. The emergency physicians and staff who have seen me in the midst of the worst blow-ups have been incredibly kind and compassionate. I received immediate, excellent care and relief.

However, the follow-ups with my regular physician did not go as well. I think he is a good man and a good doctor. But his questions, reactions and disbelief as I described my symptoms and the triggers that created the blow-ups made me feel like a hypochondriac that was whining about a rash.

Last week, I met with a LPN who is an immunology specialist and went through a lifetime of health history. Of course, my fear was that she would examine me while I was on my prednisone high and not believe that my symptoms were as severe as I described. I almost dragged my husband along with me to provide witness testimony!

I showed her photos that I took of the giant hives and angioedema. She was stunned at the severity and very compassionate (and honestly, the photos didn’t do justice to how bad it really was).

No diagnosis yet. They drew more blood for more testing. I am tapering off the prednisone and starting on a trial of high doses of the following:

  • Montelukast
  • Cetrizine (Zirtec)
  • Ranitidine (Zantac)

I talked about Cetrizine and Ranitidine in my last post. Montelukast is a leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA) used for the maintenance treatment of asthma and to relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies.

I will not provide my dosage information, as a doctor should prescribe anything beyond the over-the-counter recommended dose for you. However, this may be something you can ask your doctor about and find a plan that is right for you and your specific issues.

The results? So far, so good. I would certainly prefer not to take so many pills, but I feel fantastic and my hope is that I will be able to taper down and go back into remission.  My last taper dose of Prednisone is tomorrow and I have so far had no rebound of the hives, urticaria or angioedema.

Fingers crossed.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montelukast

November 6, 2015 Posted by | Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dealing with the Devil – Medications that Help

images pills

I feel fantastic – a stark contrast from my last post on this.   I will not continue to go on and on about how terrible this disease is – blah, blah, blah. There will be no more whining. It is now time to turn this into something positive.

The reason I AM feeling so fantastic is that I am on a high dose of Prednisone, with a slow taper schedule. (More on Prednisone below.)

When the hives are what I call “standard hives” – itchy, spotty welts and wheals, I found a combination of Zirtec (cetirizine) and Zantac (Ranitidine) helped keep them under control.

Zirtec is s a second-generation antihistamine used in the treatment of hay fever, allergies, angioedema and urticaria. It is a major metabolite of hydroxyzine, and a racemic selective H1 receptor antagonist.

Zantac is a histamine H2-receptor antagonist that inhibits stomach acid production. However, it is also used alongside antihistamines for the treatment of skin conditions such as hives.

However, when I have giant hives that literally cover my body with ¼ inch thick welts, urticaria in my face and mouth, and restricted breathing, the Zirtec/Zantac combo does nothing. The only thing thus far that has helped control the severe immune response is Prednisone.

Prednisone is corticosteroid. It prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. It also suppresses the immune system, which is why it has been prescribed to me.

However…Prednisone has significant adverse effects, especially with prolonged treatment, including cataracts, bone loss, weakening of the immune system, and many others. One of the most serious complications from prednisone is the risk of osteoporosis, which occurs from the bone loss.

The bottom line is that Prednisone will cover up the disease, but the underlying dysfunction (the cause of the disease) must be repaired.

I am off to the immunologist tomorrow, hopeful that they will have another solution for me.

Angela

References:

  1. http://www.drugs.com/prednisone.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranitidine
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetirizine
  4. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2003/11/05/prednisone-dangers.aspx

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

When Your Own Body is the Enemy

Autoimmune post 3

I am a self-proclaimed health and wellness nut. I take exceptionally good care of myself, so I should be feeling FANTASTIC, right? Unfortunately, not even close. I am so very grateful, however, that I do take great care of myself – I cannot imagine how much worse this might be if I did not.

What I have discovered through the journey I will describe below is that the most helpful thing to me has been reading message boards, blogs and articles written by others that are going through similar challenges. So I think it is time to share this. Perhaps my journey can provide guidance and insight to others – and maybe even some comfort that they are not crazy or alone. Future posts will be more focused and a much quicker read.

As I sit to write this post, my body is covered in giant hives from the top of my head to my toes – itching, painful, ugly welts and wheals. They explode out of my skin so violently that they actually cause bruising. When they finally flatten out, my skin aches for at least another day. I remind myself how much worse it could be – that my face, lips and eyes could be swelling and I could have difficulty breathing, which was my situation LAST week at this time, necessitating a shot of epinephrine and another round of prednisone.

This miserable condition has flared up about every 5-6 years since my twenties, with each flare-up lasting 4-6 months. The physical manifestation of the current flare-up (the hives and urticaria) started in early May and has been the worst flare up yet. The other symptoms – fatigue, constant hunger, weight gain, muscle and joint pain and stiffness, difficulty sleeping, hair loss, increased anxiety, and other symptoms – started about a year and a half before that, with symptoms continuing to worsen until the hives appeared. In the years between the flare-ups, I have lived a pretty normal life – I have gone for years at a time with none of these symptoms.

An endocrinologist recently diagnosed me with Autoimmune Disease.   An autoimmune disease develops when your immune system decides your healthy cells are foreign and it attacks them. It is genetic (my mother had Hashimoto’s Disease and vitiligo and a sister also has vitiligo) and my autoimmune response appears to be triggered by chronic stress – my body stays in the “fight or flight” mode constantly and for months, and cortisol levels never come down. This has both weakened and interfered with the function of my immune system. In between flare-ups, I have been in remission.

I am grateful that there is a name for it and I wish I could say that the diagnosis means that there is a treatment. That is not the case. The immune system is extraordinarily complex and complicated – even for the specialists. The doctors certainly know what triggers the response in me and how it manifests, but aside from the emergency treatments, they do not know how to treat it.

In addition to the urticaria and hives, I have classic Hashimoto’s symptoms, so was tested for that (Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease related to hypothyroid and it is genetic). While all of my test results were in the “standard” range, they were at the lowest end of the range. The endo told me that 10% of those with Hashimoto’s symptoms are in the standard range on tests, but that they show benefit from taking thyroid medication, so he prescribed a synthetic thyroid two weeks ago. I am told that it takes 3-4 weeks to notice changes (obviously, my symptoms won’t resolve with the thyroid meds unless I do have hypothyroid). However, I do notice changes already – I sleep better, I have more energy (the daily fatigue is all but gone), my muscles and joints do not ache.

Yet the hives and urticarial remain. I am hopeful that they will magically disappear after 3-4 weeks on they thyroid meds, but the endo warned me that it might not do anything to improve the hives. I am going to visit an immunologist next week. Lots of healthcare fun.

We know that the food we eat can cause inflammation and inflammation is disease. Additionally, my immune system is broken right now – I don’t know what is triggering the hives on any given day. So a few weeks ago, I started a very restricted “autoimmune” re-set diet. For 30 days

  • No dairy
  • No eggs
  • No gluten
  • No soy
  • No nuts
  • No seeds
  • No legumes
  • No sugar
  • No nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers)
  • No processed foods

It is Paleo Plus – and I DO feel like a cave woman – hungry and constantly trying to find something that I can eat! However, the cravings for what I cannot have are subsiding and I am finding recipes for some decent things to eat – believe it or not.  If I go out, I look for somewhere I can get a big piece of meat and a pile of approved veggies.

I hope you reach out to me with comments and questions.

Angela

October 24, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

More than a Best Friend

Jordyn

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.  If I live long enough, all the components of my heart with be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”  ~Anonymous

We recently lost one of our beloved dogs, Jordyn (to heart failure).  We miss her terribly.  She brought so much joy, comfort and happiness to our lives – simply with her presence and unconditional love.  This post is dedicated to her memory.

Of course, we all know that dogs are used for service – helping those with disabilities and special needs in a functional capacity, and by law enforcement (police dogs, DEA, searching).  Dogs are used for hunting.   Children love playing with and caring for dogs.  However, many do not realize that dogs help us in other ways that are not so obvious and can make a tremendous difference to our wellness and well-being – dogs are actually good for our health!

Spending time with dogs can improve our mood.  Research shows that petting a dog boosts mood-related brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine.  When dogs are near us, we tend to calm down, and speak more slowly and softly.

Dogs encourage us to exercise and socialize.  Dogs need to be walked, which also gets us out exercising and socializing with neighbors and other pet walkers.  Having a dog with us makes us more approachable (ask any man – dogs are chick magnets!).

Stroking a dog (or cat) can lower blood pressure and heart rate.  Heart attack sufferers recover more quickly and survive longer when they have a pet.

Dogs are companions that can help stave off loneliness.  A study conducted at Saint Louis University in 2006 evaluated 37 nursing home residents who all had high scores on a loneliness scale and who were interested in receiving weekly 30-minute visits from dogs.  Half of the residents studied had dog-only visits and the other half shared the dog with other residents.  All of the residents studied felt less lonely after the dog visits – interestingly, the decrease in loneliness was more significant with those that had the dog-only visits.

Dogs have special instincts.  They know when someone is hurting or needs help.   Several years ago, the Lutheran Church Charities developed the “K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs of Addison, Illinois,” which uses dogs in disaster response situations.  They train golden retrievers to provide comfort, help and hope to those recovering from tragedy.  Several dogs were sent to help residents in Newtown, Connecticut following the shootings there.

So the next time you are feeling low or anxious, spend some time with your pooch (or borrow a friend’s) for a fabulous boost to your heart and soul.

Angela, Friend to the Furry 🙂

References:

  1. “How Owning a Dog or Cat can Reduce Stress – The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership,” About.com
  2. “How Pets Comfort Us,” Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alert, May 27, 2009
  3. “Man’s Best Friend:  Study Shows Seniors Prefer Dogs,” Saint Louis University, January 4, 2006
  4. “‘Comfort Dogs’ Relieve Emotional Stress in Grieving Newtown,” People Magazine, December 28, 2012

January 1, 2013 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Health is a Choice

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”  ~Mark Twain

As we were all groaning upon completing our 30th push up in my yoga practice yesterday, the teacher made the comment that it does take work to take care of our bodies – health and fitness do not come in a pill.  It touched a nerve.

As those of you who know me or have followed my blog may know, my drive for health and wellness started in large part from my parents, who did not take good care of their health – particularly, my mother.  My mother passed away far too young (at 69), due to health problems that were very preventable (type 2 diabetes, heart disease).

After having eight children and entering middle age, my mother struggled desperately with her weight.  She loved food and she hated exercise, so spent much of the rest of her life looking for that “magic pill.”  Sometimes it was literally a pill and other times it was the latest fad diet.  There was even a rubber sweatsuit of some kind that was supposed to sweat off the weight – it just made her miserable (and she looked pretty silly, too!).  She had some success here and there.  A particularly successful diet resulted from her drinking a shake for every meal.  The problem is that most people do not want to forgo real food and drink only shakes for the rest of their lives.  As is the case with most diet and exercise programs, at some point, you attain your desired goal weight or level of fitness and go off the program.  Most people go back to the same lifestyle they had before the program and watch the weight and poor health return (as it was with my mother – time and time again).

Herein lays the problem.  To maintain that weight or fitness level, and to improve health, wellness and longevity, you have to make permanent changes.

It is so true that health, wellness and fitness are a lifestyle that I choose every day.  I do not diet and I do not exercise excessively.  My weight fluctuates very little – maybe 3-4 pounds at the most.  This is not because I have good genes (obviously not the case) or because I am tall (believe it or not, I often get the comment that it is so much easier for me to stay thin because I am tall!?!).

I choose to eat nutritious, whole foods – avoiding processed foods and red meat.  I choose to practice yoga and to work out moderately and regularly.  I choose this lifestyle because it truly enhances my life – I feel better, I sleep better, I cope with stress better, I look better.  It allows me to thoroughly enjoy activities that I adore – biking and hiking, in particular – and to keep up with my very athletic husband.  I am rarely sick.

Yes, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow, but in case I don’t, I plan to do all I can to live and enjoy a very long, healthy life.   Want to join me?

Angela, Wellness Warrior 🙂

References:

  1. Life, baby!

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , | 3 Comments

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