My mother died of colon cancer, she passed when I was 36; she was just 57, which is too damn young. Too damn young to lose your mother, and too damn young to die.
When my mom died, my family was contacted by Core Studies, to see if we’d be willing to participate in research efforts. There was then an exhaustive phone interview asking about what I ate, the way that I prepared my food, and if I frequently charred or burned my food. It is surreal, and the crazy part is that they are testing theories, and now my family is part of their equation.
Because of my mother’s health story, it was suggested that I get my first colonoscopy by age 40 – joy of all joys, like getting to open your presents early. They found five pre-cancerous polyps, and diverticula (small pockets in the large intestine, which are believed to trap food particles, and be a site for inflammation and infection). Of course, I was questioned about my eating habits and patterns, and my digestive health and the quality of my excretory functions. Oh my. I hadn’t really thought about my digestive health, as an overview of my life.
As I filled out paperwork for doctor’s visits, I became increasingly aware that I had experienced a life time of digestive issues. I remember going to a sleepover when I as about ten, and I was made fun of, because my stomach was so loud the kids couldn’t sleep! I thought that’s what everyone’s stomach sounded like. In my twenties I had diarrhea, regularly… (maybe it was the pizza, cinnamon rolls, or regular alcohol consumption). But the truth is–I didn’t think it was abnormal. Then my mom died, which caused me to look at my habits, and challenged me to live a different story. How do I escape the statistical likelihood of a too-short life, and change my potential future? Personally, I choose to live a rich full life, well into my 100’s. So I decided that I better take a closer look.
As is turns out, both of my mother’s sisters have diverticula, and a few years ago, one of them had a case of diverticulitis that had been ineffectively treated and her colon ruptured. Luckily, she recovered and did not become another case study! It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. As you put pieces together the picture emerges.
All through my youth and into my twenties I had frequent athlete’s foot
In my twenties, I frequently had yeast infections
I had frequent diarrhea
I was gassy
I had bloating and abdominal discomfort
My family has colon related health issues
Many members of my family have persistent throat clearing (due to mucus drainage)
An Aunt has Fibromyalgia
My Grandmother had dementia the last two years of her life
My mother had uterine cancer and died of colon cancer
My Grandfather had Leukemia
In my twenties, a physician suggested a book called “The Yeast Connection” it discusses the way diet affects our digestive health and how sugars feed candida in the gut. It recommends a ten day cleanse, eliminating sugars, alcohol, condiments, and yeast feeding foods like fruit, and things that mold easily. So I did it. I noticed a difference when I cut out the gorgeous crusty bread and cut back on fruits and sweets. The athlete’s foot and yeast infections vanished. So once a year or so, I would do the ten day cleanse. Viola!
Somewhere along the way, I had heard that America has a higher rate of gluten in our bread, compared to European countries. It was substantiated that it’s the way we mill our grain, for the stickiness of the gluten specifically. But the bigger problem may be that we are bread and grain centric in our societal eating patterns. I recalled a research paper I wrote my sophomore year in high school on Schizophrenia. Interestingly, research determined that eating gluten aggravated symptoms (and that was back in 1981). More puzzle pieces reveal themselves…
At the age of 42 I became a Licensed Massage Therapist. As part of my trade I began using my hands and standing all day long. I noticed that my joints hurt, my hands, my knees, and my feet ached. I saw a naturopath who suggested that I might have a reaction to nightshades. As it turns out, 10% of the population does. Nightshades include: Tomatoes, Potatoes, Eggplant, Peppers, and Goji berries these are a part of the Solanaceae family of vegetables. People sensitive to these nightshades may experience gastrointestinal distress, anxiety, depression, restlessness, and symptoms similar to arthritis. So I cut out the nightshades. I noticed that when I had a couple of potato chips, or spicy curry, tomato sauce, or even mild salsa – my fingers would swell up, and within 5 to 15 minutes it feels like I have punched a wall. If I have a large exposure (eat a lot of the wrong stuff) I ache all over, head neck and shoulders, and I can wake in the middle of the night with an all over body throb.
Not long after giving up nightshades, I decided to go gluten-free, strictly and completely. I didn’t think that I had any symptoms or adverse reactions. I did it just in case, and because of my family’s health story. I gave myself permission to try gluten free options at the store, to sample, and play, and find a new way of life without bread. I choose lettuce wraps ordered no bread on burgers and sandwiches. I ask for gluten-free menus, I read labels. I started using alternative pastas. If it has wheat, or gluten I choose something different.
As I began to explore the idea of food sensitives and started reading about leaky gut and inflammation, I decided to get a food sensitivity blood test for the top 95 foods. It was shocking, I had multiple food sensitivities, and the food culprits looked like my shopping list!!
I remember thinking at the time, that I had no allergies, and no adverse reactions. I really had no idea what I felt in my gut, unless it was big. I was disconnected from my body and its subtle messages to me from my abdomen. But when I saw the list of foods that were potentially giving me reactions I decided to diligently begin cutting them out, or eating them less frequently. That naturopath suggested cleaning up my diet and trying to eliminate all the foods that I was showing a moderate to severe reaction to. The first few months were a huge big deal, until I learned to focus on what foods I could eat. This was probably the shift where I began choosing foods that were anti-inflammatory—for me.
Six years into my gluten-free and anti-inflammatory diet/life style, I had my second colonoscopy. I am delighted to report that there were no polyps, and no report of diverticula. Hmm, could I have healed my leaky gut and taken steps to support my colon? I like to think so.
I am passionate for questioning the way we eat, and I am dedicated to living, so I have continued to read everything I can get my hands on about anti-inflammatory eating, or eating to decrease inflammation. In the past few years more literature has come out purporting a paleo or primal way of eating to decrease inflammation. In January of 2015, I decided to go Paleo, or essentially grain and legume free as well. By now many of you are thinking… “What do you eat?!” Well, I eat clean sources of meat, grain-free, grass fed, organic, and wild-caught, and tons of veggies, and my diet is highlighted by fruit. I try to eat lots of greens at every meal. I follow Kathy Abascal’s recommendations to quiet inflammation, 2/3 veggies and fruits to 1/3 meat, on every plate. I have switched to nut meals instead of flour in my baking. And I just say no to grains. I abide by Mark Sisson’s 80:20 percentage; I aim to be strictly paleo 80% of the time. This allows for tacos and a small portion of beans, or rice noodles once a week. Hallelujah.
Truth is, I’m a science geek. I love the food chemistry, and understanding what my reactions are, to the foods I choose to eat. I think it’s empowering to know. I still have days that I consume something that gives me crazy bad gas, the kind of gas that would be considered an evil super power—for days. But now, I can usually link it to the food culprit, instead of thinking gas is normal.
For me, I needed to read the science behind the why. In order for me to successfully choose another way of eating, I needed to understand the science. I don’t think I could give up grains and legumes, just to eat Paleo. I choose not to eat grains because they are nutrient poor, aren’t easily digestible, and they cause a leaky gut, tax the immune system, cause hormonal disruptions, and cause inflammation in the joints, the muscles, and the brain.
This new way of eating, has spurred me on to understand the way our food influences the inflammation cycle in our bodies. We all have it. For some of us it is silent, for others it is screaming at you. I will share my passionate journey to an anti-inflammatory life. I will use this blog to share resources and to help simplify what I learn about the food we eat, so that you might better understand the signals you are getting from your gut. Thanks for reading, and sharing this journey. I welcome your comments.