Last year I started researching my genes in detail. This mostly entailed running my 23&Me data file through various genetic health reporting systems and researching the most interesting genes listed. One gene caught my eye because it was stated that it had an impact on pain sensitivity. I had been dealing with various levels of nerve pain on my left shoulder and arm which impacted sleep and other activities, so I decided to put some of my focus on this COMT gene.
Ever since an illness back in 1993, I’ve had issues digesting milk. Not the normal issues people talk about that require a nearby bathroom, but these horrible headaches that would last two days. Pain relievers didn’t help these headaches, and they were incapacitating.
I eventually realized the headaches were triggered by milk and assumed it was some form of lactose intolerance. I mentioned my symptoms to my doctors, he shrugged it off without any tests or any answers. Instead I was told wasn’t possible to get headaches from drinking milk, so it wasn’t happening. I was getting the old I-don’t-know-what’s-up,-so-you-must-be-crazy trick. Yet every time I drain milk I got these headaches.
Research into gut bacteria is an interest of mine. I started occasionally reviewing the DNA of my own microbial boime over a year ago. I was curious if I’d be able to witness known research, or my own hypotheses, in action after dietary changes.
Last summer, after a simple diet change, I saw a very dramatic drop in bacteria diversity. At first I wondered if the DNA analysis was faulty, as the drop was huge, but later I read a study on emulsifiers and realized it was possible I was viewing the findings of this study.
Here’s a graph of my uBiome data.
Each color represents a different category of bacteria. The dramatic dip in the middle shows the variety of bacteria in my system being dramatically reduced.
To understand why I’m interested in this topic, I should mention that I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease over 20 years ago, but have been able to keep it in remission using diet. Cane sugar seems to trigger an autoimmune reaction, so I avoid it as best as I can. Beet sugar, the other common white sugar, does not trigger this reaction, and luckily I live near the heart of beet sugar production.
One item I could never find with beet sugar was ice cream.
Pain takes over. It rules what you do during the day, keeps you from sleeping at night, and changes your day-to-day behavior. It tosses all your plans, replacing your to-do list with one line: “Stop the Pain!”
As you might guess from this seemingly over-the-top opening, 2013 was not one of my better years.
The first time I experienced pinched nerve pain was back in 2009. My primary doctor at the time insisted that pain pills and alternating hot and cold pads was all I needed. The pain pills did nothing to stop the pain, and there was no continuing relief from applying heat and cold. I was stuck in a chair with my arm raised over my head unable to move. I managed to do some activities on occasion by grimacing and just accepting pain as a fact of life. After suffering for a few months, out of desperation, I started seeking alternative treatment plans. These included seeing a chiropractor and various forms of traction. The pain lasted about six months total the first time. I slowly found relief after traction, and figured I had my future cure should it ever kick in again. This was not to be the case.
Back in 2009 I realized the pinched nerve started up after having joined a gym. I decided weight lifting was probably not the best form of exercise for me. Luckily, the gym moved and required everyone to rejoin. I didn’t. All was fine pinch-nerve-wise for a few years until I did a charity photo shoot for which I lugged a bunch of heavy lighting equipment to and from a hotel. It was a bad move: I’d gone from months of inactivity to heavy lifting in the middle of the winter and the pinched nerve pain was back again.
When the pinched nerve struck this second time (insert dramatic music here) two weeks into 2013, I decided I would make the medical system work for me this time. I had changed doctors since the first time. I liked the new guy. I had high hopes for a quicker recovery. Many months later I decided this obedience had been a bad idea. Under standard medical care I made little progress.
As of today I am totally pain free. I’m convinced I would not have been had I relied on standard medical treatment. Instead, I would have been begging for surgery, and based on talking to others, it was likely that surgery would have been a failure. My positive outcomes all came from listening to what the medical expert said, some chance meetings, and figuring out different therapies than what the hospital was offering. The huge leaps in progress I experienced took place when I left their protocols and followed my own intellect.
I offer this as my observations dealing with my pinched nerve, explaining what did and didn’t work for me, just in case it’s of interest to others.
Last year I reported on how ingesting sugar alcohols, which are artificial sweeteners sold in stores and found in many low-glucose processed foods (the ones that end in -ol, like sorbitol, Erythritol, mannitol, xylitol, etc.), can cause health problems. Many people have intolerance issues with indigestible sugars, including myself.
At the time I noted the ability to digest lactose would fall into the same category since for many people lactose is an indigestible sugar, at least to some degree. Now that I’ve avoided all sugar alcohols this year, I appear to be experiencing this link to lactose intolerance in action. I’m back to being able to eat dairy without worrying about major headaches.
Due to the rise in diabetes in the USA, for decades there has been a big marketing push to get people to use zero-calorie and low-glycemic sweeteners. I previously posted about health issues I connected to a zero-calorie sweetener, and noted that I also did better on a low-carb diet. Now I’m going to explain the simple science behind why certain sweeteners, including no-cal-sweeteners and even natural low-glycemic sweeteners like agave and honey, or even just the natural sugars in wheat, apples, and onions can cause major health issues for some people.
I only learned about all of this in 2011 when a podiatrist mentioned a study that found a connection between gout and fructose. I started researching the topic, and the information I found surprised me.
It turns out that around 30% of the population of Western countries and Africa have a condition known as Fructose Malabsorption. Asia has lower numbers, but it’s still around 10%. That’s a lot of people with a condition most of us have probably never heard of.
Ugh. One month after discovering Truvia had been wrecking my gut, I ate over someone’s house only to be gifted with food poisoning. That night everyone except my daughter Coral became ill. Two days later I was informed that the humus we’d eaten had been tainted. For a change I was glad that Coral hadn’t eaten her vegetables.
After that mild food poisoning, half the time I ate anything I would get bad indigestion, followed by intense stomach pains, followed by everything being flushed out of my system from my stomach on down. This was happening a few times a week, and I had a lot of intense stomach pains and indigestion in-between the really bad bouts.
Everything I read said food poisoning should clear up on its own in one to four weeks. I waited. Six weeks later I was still suffering. So much for my summer plans of fun and productivity.
In 2008 I started having bouts of fatigue and brain fog. The brain fog became so bad that I stopped reading and writing. I simply couldn’t maintain my thoughts from paragraph to paragraph. Sometimes I’d feel better for a while, but it never lasted.
The fatigue increased over the years, along with body aches and back pains. After a few years of this I started getting full-on dizzy spells. A few times on work gigs I felt so groggy and out-of-it I feared my clients would think I was stoned.
From the start I thought it was digestive. At the same time the brain fog started the Lactase enzyme pills I took to avoid headaches when I consumed uncultured dairy stopped working. My digestion had become very sluggish. I would often get a sharp stabbing pain just under my right ribs.
I went to the doctor and explained that it felt like I had the flu without the fever, or like I was intoxicated. At my request, he sent me to a gastroenterologist. The man knocked me out and did the old tube inspections from above and below and declared it was not a digestive issue. Move on boy. Stop bothering me with your imagined digestive problems. I looked at the surface of your emptied guts and it all looks fine to me, so your symptoms must be in your mind. By the way, there’s no such thing as food intolerance. There’s no such thing as gluten intolerance., that’s all just mass hysteria, including all the science behind it. Lactose intolerance can’t cause headaches, so that’s also psychosomatic. Stomach aches, the sluggish digestion, the fatigue and headaches? All psychosomatic.
My primary physician retired soon after all this started. He handed his practice over to another doctor. After a year or so with the new guy, I decided his temperament just wasn’t a good match for me. I found myself another new primary physician. Over those years all three doctors said my blood tests showed I was healthy. All three stated that lactose intolerance didn’t cause headaches, so the headaches must have been tension headaches, even though I got them only when I ate dairy. I was frequently grilled about drug and alcohol use, and then ironically would be prescribed addictive narcotics as pain relievers. All three said I was perfectly healthy and my symptoms were psychosomatic.
With the new doctor I asked to see a different gastroenterologist. The moment I sat down with this new guy, without any real discussion, as he spent the entire time on the phone discussing another case, the doctor said I was fine and my symptoms were psychosomatic and to go home. Apparently there were notes in my medical record from the previous gastroenterologist, so I was on my own.
In the middle of December of 2011 things took a turn for the worse. I started having fairly non-stop intense headaches. The grogginess increased. The brain fog doubled. I felt jittery and anxious. It was my prior symptoms multiplied by ten. Luckily I was about to have a breakthrough.