You know how it goes when you’re working a puzzle, or even a crossword. First, you’ve got nothing but pieces. You know they make a picture, you might even know what that picture looks like, but really, all you’ve got is a jumbled mess. But at least you have a plan of attack – say, to do the borders first. So you set about it. You select and sort out the border pieces so you can focus on them. You turn over all your pieces so you can examine them. Perhaps you’ve got an easy puzzle, only 25 big pieces, or perhaps you’re in way over your head at 1,000 tiny fractions of a drawing by MC Escher. If it’s closer to the later, there will come a point when all your powers of close observation seem to fail you. For the life of you, you simply can’t find a piece. Perhaps you can come back to it later but dang it, maybe it’s important. If you’re at all like me, there will come a point when you begin to suspect that such a piece is lost. There will be quick moments of despair, anger, and even perhaps suspicion of tampering with the board. Did “they” even include all the pieces? Did one fall out when I opened the box? Did the dog eat one!?! And suddenly you’re prying open your poor dog’s jaws and peering down his throat.
But then you find it. It was there all along, silly! Or maybe it was hidden under another piece. Maybe it had fallen off the board. Maybe you had to put more of the puzzle together before you could see what was missing. (Or, maybe there it was, riding back and forth on a gyrating dog tongue, getting soggier by the minute! Quick! Reach in and grab it! Flick it out!)
Oh, bliss. Oh relief. Oh joy!
My dear friends, I believe I have found a very important missing puzzle piece. One vital to me and Adahlia. And while I’ve been on this train long enough to know not to prematurely celebrate, my inner self knows a huge battle has been won: a discovery of vital information:
Adahlia and I have had leaky guts. We are intolerant, even allergic, to some or many foods.
Does this explain everything? No. But it does explain the rampant inflammation in our bodies. More important: it’s got a clear path towards healing it, even if it is a bit of a pain.
Of course, I had tried eliminating foods before. And it wasn’t easy: I’ve been a happy, seemingly healthy omnivore since forever. When I stopped eating meat for about 6 years, it was for ethical, not health reasons. When people at NCNM, mindful at potlucks of food sensitivity, would ask if I had any, Id happily reply: “Nope! I eat everything!”
And maybe that was true then. It’s not true now, though.
Starting just 2.5 days after her birth, when Adahlia was first suddenly so irritable and clearly in pain, before we knew anything about her anemia, I stopped eating dairy. (It wasn’t lost on me that her colic or evident pain coincided with my milk coming in. But I was not in the place to be able to change much more than cutting out dairy, which is what the midwives and most folks thought was the culprit.)
It didn’t help.
Since last December (with an occasional relapse), I’ve cut way down and gone several long stretches without refined sugar. But mostly what I tried was to just eat super healthy. More healthy than ever before. Juicing fresh, organic, beets, carrots, celery, and apples daily. Mostly vegetarian. Lots of veges. Clean animal proteins. All natural and organic. Supplements of fish oil were followed by chlorophyll, cherry concentrate, wheatgrass, coq10, and other powerful vitamins and antioxidants.
It wasn’t enough.
I switched from instant to steel cut oats for breakfast. I switched from basmati to brown rice. Everything was laden with the healthiest fruits, nuts, seeds, and veges, from all the health perspectives I know. Eventually, in desperation and about a week before thanksgiving, I cut out dairy as well as pastas, bread, and other obvious sources of gluten.
The pain was less, but still prominent.
Finally, 3 days ago, I decided to do an extreme, very limited, “elimination” diet. I’d been putting it off because of worries about not getting enough to eat while breastfeeding, as well as the attachments we all have for our foods and ways of cooking.
But then I was given a preliminary diagnosis of undetermined (as yet) autoimmune disease, and a good doctor (ND) who has been assisting me said: I’m not surprised, given your symptoms. I am surprised they didn’t test for it earlier.
What he was referring to were the bouts of abdominal swelling, cramping, bloating and gas I would experience whenever I’d do any sort of detox or herbal approach to healing. (The first big detox was back in last December, while taking my first round of Chinese herbs. The Chinese medicine practitioner was the first to tell me I likely had autoimmune disease, glomeronephritis, nearly a year before western biomedicine would tell me the same thing.)
And then, doing some research, I discovered that anytime there is autoimmune disease, you will find a leaky gut.
A “leaky” gut? My first year of medical training came back to me. Of course.
You see, the skin is the border between self and other in the external environment. Internally, it’s your gut. And it’s a war zone in there. Only certain things, like nutrients, are allowed passage into the body. Toxic waste and bacteria, etc, are not allowed to pass through an elaborate, tight, semi-permeable wall, much like the skin.
Unless, of course, it’s been compromised. Then, everything can come flooding in. The body’s defensive guys go to town with killing and cleaning up and eliminating. They secrete signals and markers to tell the body to inflame the area, to make more warriors, who carry special poisons to destroy the invaders, and they spread the word: Watch out for these guys, they look like this!! They aren’t supposed to be in the blood!! And even important nutrients that have leaked through, which haven’t been properly transported or fully digested, get tagged for destruction because they aren’t in the proper format, they haven’t been properly digested first.
I thought of how Adahlia isn’t absorbing her nutrients, despite my healthy diet…
And these warrior cells are outnumbered by all the stuff leaking through. More and more of it, every day. And they start to panic. And they just start releasing their chemicals everywhere, which of course starts destroying healthy tissue too, and then they mistakenly identify healthy tissue as dangerous, needing to be destroyed, and they can’t tell the difference between self and other anymore, and bammo: you have an auto-immune disease.
And another friend and health practitioner, upon hearing I have autoimmunity, said: Sounds like your whole system has been “down” for some time.
Down? Doesn’t she mean too revved up? My defensive, disease-fighting cells are attacking my own body!
And then I thought about how both Adahlia and I both have low white blood cell counts.
And how western, biomedicine, treats autoimmune disease with steroids.
And I remembered how the immune system warriors just start fighting everything when they get outnumbered and I realized: Holy smokes, my system is down.
And then Thanksgiving happened, and I put a hold on my no-gluten, no-dairy diet and ate a bit of everything.
That night was the most painful I’d had in awhile. So bad, I couldn’t sleep.
I realized I had something here. So the very next day, I went on a very limited diet. More than just dairy and gluten free (which was a very big deal itself for a cheese loving, soft-serve craving, bread and pasta eater!)
No gluten, (no grains of any kind, in fact, including rice or quinoa), no dairy, no eggs, no soy, no corn, no tomato, no sugar, and the list goes on…
Certainly nothing store bought.
Of course, I would have no idea what to cook as far as a meal goes if I hadn’t found an autoimmune elimination/detox menu online. (Search and you’ll find it too.)
The idea is to eat very, very simply of foods that typically don’t aggregate the system. No store bought sauces. Do it for long enough to get things to calm down. Then, the body will begin repairing and replacing cells. You start adding foods back in one at a time. If you have a reaction of bloating, gas, and abdominal pain, you stop. You’re not ready to eat that food yet. You may never be.
Of course, the question is: which foods, exactly, are making my body freak out? Because let’s say I just happen to be sensitive to sunflower seeds. Well, there sunflower seeds in this detox menu. Or maybe I’m not sensitive to carrots. That’s good to know, because carrots aren’t allowed on this detox menu, and I definitely want to be eating them if they are allowed, because they are so healthy and good for us.
Luckily, an easy answer to that question can be found in food sensitivity testing, which is just a simple blood test.
So tomorrow, a dear friend and talented naturopath, Dr Z, at Natura Integrative Medicine, is doing this testing for Adahlia and I both. She is also doing a hair analysis on Adahlua, to check for heavy metal and other toxicity.
(Note: because I know the value of the antioxidants and nutrients in fresh juicing, I am still juicing beets and carrots, even though I’m not “supposed to” according to this particular elimination plan. If I find out I am reactive to them, I will stop. But at this point, with Adahlia’s extreme vitamin A and blood deficiency, I don’t wish to. Fresh juicing is like a big burly bouncer: it escorts free radicals right out of the body. It’s very important if the body is seriously inflamed.)
Though I do have some pain as I type this, I must say that my daily pain in my kidneys has lessened considerably since embracing this elimination diet. I am very excited. My inner guide, the one that was in turmoil despite all the progress with the herbs, acupuncture, surgery, homeopathy, qigong, and reiki, because it kept feeling that we were still “missing something important” has quieted.
We have just identified an area of a huge, potential missing puzzle piece.
Now we just have to find the smaller pieces, the exact ones that comprise it, and a big part of the board will be solved. The rest of the puzzle will fall into place.
The destructive process will stop, and then the other therapies, so good at cleansing debris and restoring healthy tissue, will be able to do their work, now that they are no longer undermined.
My body will heal. So will Adahlia’s.