Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

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

The gluten-free life

I am now four weeks into my gluten-free life (see my February 5, 2012 post to see how this started).

Physical changes

Sleep!  I fall asleep easily and stay asleep through the night.  I now understand what it is like to sleep like the dead.

Energy!  I have consistent energy throughout the day.  I used to feel my energy dip every afternoon – I have not experienced that in weeks.  I have more energy during yoga (I attend a 75 minute hot yoga in the evening, after work).

Mental clarity!  In his book “Wheat Belly” (mentioned in my last post), Dr. Davis talks about “brain fog,” which he believes may be attributable to wheat consumption.  Prior to leaving gluten in the dust, I frequently experienced this.  I chalked it up to the aging process, but in the last several weeks, I have noticed that I think more clearly, I am more focused and my memory is sharper.

Tools

I found a few apps for my iPhone that have been very helpful:

  • Gluten Free Ingredients:  It includes a list of ingredients – gluten free and not – that you can quickly and easily check while you are at the grocery store.  It also offers search tools that let you do Google and Amazon searches with “gluten free” attached to the search.

  • Gluten Free Registry:  It helps you find gluten-free friendly businesses (restaurants, coffee houses, grocers, etc.) using GPS.  It provides location information, reviews and website links.

Lessons learned

I did not experience any additional weight loss beyond the first few pounds.  One big lesson learned is that gluten-free is not guilt-free/calorie-free!  You still have to check the other ingredients and make a healthy choice.  (I am at a very healthy, stable weight, and do not need to lose any weight.)

I do not miss bread as much as I thought I would.  I hardly think about it, but I do notice when I go out to eat that there are very few dishes that are not made with bread, that are not breaded or that do not come with bread.  I tried a few gluten-free breads and I am not impressed; they do not come close to the flavor and texture of bread made with wheat or rye.  Meh…not the end of the world.

I found some great gluten-free pasta!  I tried De Boles Multi Grain Spaghetti Style Pasta, made with rice, quinoa and amaranth.  It is really good (especially with my homemade sauce)!  Interestingly, pasta without gluten does not expand when you cook it, so the noodles are very thin, but very tasty.

Unfortunately, I think it is close to impossible to find gluten-free pasta in a restaurant, so I will likely be avoiding most Italian restaurants (however, Biaggi’s in the Twin Cities has a gluten-free menu – see image above from my iPhone).  I am finding that many, many restaurants have gluten-free options on their menus.  I visited Pizza Luce over the weekend.  I had a gluten-free margherita pizza that was delightful.  In fact, my very picky eater (my 16 year old stepdaughter) tried it and actually preferred it to her own pizza (which was made with a regular wheat crust)!

The most interesting thing I learned is that gluten is hidden in many foods that I would never suspect contained it.  I went to dinner with a friend who ordered edamame.  I am used to edamame being steamed, salted and served – there is no gluten in edamame, right?  However, they had a “gluten-free” edamame on the menu.  Well, I discovered that the restaurant adds a sauce to their edamame that contains gluten.  Additionally, a lot of candy contains gluten.  Another friend gave me a bag of candy for Valentine’s Day.  Since I am still in the learning process, I decided to check the ingredients of the various treats.  SweeTart Hearts Gummies contain wheat, as do a lot of chocolates – even those that appear to be just a straight piece of chocolate may contain malt (Hershie’s Miniatures, for instance).

Everything I have read thus far about giving up gluten stresses that it may be months before I see the full effects of being gluten-free.  But I must say – so far, it has all been good!

Angela, Gluten-free Goddess 🙂

References:

  1. “Wheat Belly,” William Davis, M.D.

February 21, 2012 Posted by | Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cutting out the wheat

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”   ~James Beard

“Gluten-free” is trending big right now in the U.S.  Those with gluten allergies/sensitivities or celiac disease are very familiar with the term.  However, most of the rest of us do not really have a good understanding of what gluten is or why we would or would not want it in our diet.

According to the dictionary, gluten [French, from Latin gluten, glue] is:

1. The mixture of proteins, including gliadins and glutelins, found in wheat grains, which are not soluble in water and which give wheat dough its elastic texture.

2. Any of the prolamins found in cereal grains, especially the prolamins in wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats, that cause digestive disorders such as celiac disease.

In addition to wheat, gluten is found in rye, spelt, barley, triticale, bulgur and kamut – all less common than wheat.

I have been extremely curious about gluten for a few years now, but fear of living without bread and pizza (which has gluten in the crust), both of which I love, has kept me from venturing into the gluten-free world….until now.   A few weeks ago, I started reading a book, “Wheat Belly,” by William Davis, M.D. (a really interesting, enlightening book that I recommend reading).  Davis is a cardiologist who claims that a wheat-free diet is associated with:

  • Weight loss
  • Alleviation of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
  • Recovery from intestinal issues (ulcerative colitis, celiac disease)
  • Improvement in overall cholesterol and LDL counts
  • Improvement in bone density and reversal of osteopenia
  • Cessation of skin conditions like psoriasis, oral ulcers, hair loss
  • Reduction of inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis pain

As he points out in his book, the wheat we eat now is very different than the wheat we consumed 40 years ago.  In the 60s, scientists started genetically modifying the wheat to make it grow faster and stronger, make it easier to harvest, better for baking, etc.  Davis claims that our bodies process the “new” wheat very differently than the old.

As those who read my blog know, I am a health nut (healthy diet of whole foods, organic, lean proteins and regular exercise), but I am always curious about new ways to improve my health and longevity.  Fortunately, I do not have celiac disease, but I do have some lingering health issues (nothing serious) that I would like to remedy and a family history of health issues that I would like to avoid altogether.

SO…I have taken the gluten-free plunge in a rather unscientific way – I am only tracking the changes I see and feel in my body.  I won’t be doing any blood tests, checking blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

I am now two weeks into the process.  Interestingly, other than doing without whole-grain bread and pizza, my diet has not changed much.  I thought about bread and pizza a LOT during the first week (like any addiction, you find yourself obsessed with what you can no longer have!).  However, by the second week, I did not think about it much.  Other changes:

  • Decreased appetite, decreased cravings for carbs
  • The painful twing that I have been feeling in my hip on and off for the last few months is gone
  • More energy, especially in the afternoon (when I usually have a little energy slump)
  • Better digestion
  • I am sleeping more deeply
  • I am less bloated, puffy
  • The keratosis pilaris (little bumps) on the backs of my arms have diminished
  • I lost 3 pounds (without any other changes to my diet and no change in the amount of exercise)!

My next step is testing new products and trying some new recipes for replacement of things that I miss, like sandwich bread, wraps and, of course, pizza crust!

I will post updates in the coming weeks…

Angela, Wheat-free Woman 🙂

References:

  1. “Wheat Belly,” William Davis, M.D.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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