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.
A few week after the headaches started I developed a numbness in my right foot. I went to a podiatrist first. He said this symptom was typically found in alcoholics. I went to my primary physician. He once again prescribed narcotics to calm my nerves, as the gastroenterologist had informed him the symptoms were psychosomatic. I talk to a neurologist just in case, who said it sounded like alcoholism or toxic neuropathy. The fatigue and joint pains increased.
After six weeks of nearly daily headaches and other body pains I started a Pain Log. Every day I wrote down a short description of all the pain I was in along with trying to define how bad it felt. By the end of a month every day had some notes. Doing this helped me focus on each day: how stressed I felt, what I was eating, what the weather was like, etc. The hope was that something would jump out as a trigger. While snacking on a square of chocolate, I suddenly had a realization. It got so much worse in December. I’d ordered a big batch of these chocolate bars off Amazon at the beginning of December. I’d been having little pieces fairly regularly. I bought them because I was keeping low sugar to keep my triglycerides down. They were milk free, gluten-free, 70% dark, and sweetened with Stevia. They should have been innocuous. I examined the ingredients more closely, only to realize these bars had not been sweetened with Stevia like it claimed on the front, but instead were primarily sweetened with Erythritol and Inulin. Only the very last ingredient was a highly processed ingredient derived from Stevia.
Erythritol is a fermented corn sugar. The body cannot digest it, so it is sold as a low calorie sweetener. I get headaches from Lactose, why not another indigestible sugar? Inulin FOS is a prebiotic. It’s purpose is to feed the bacteria in your gut.
I stopped snacking on those chocolate bars. The headaches stopped and have not returned. I did some research and found that undigested sweeteners pass through the colon, often feeding all the bacteria that naturally exists there. Toss in a prebiotic substance like Inolin and you’re just asking for trouble.
That’s when I had my second realization. Back in 2008 my wife had brought home a new sweetener that was marketed as “Stevia without the bitterness” called Truvia. For four years I’d been using it just in my coffee. I’d commented to my wife many times that I often felt a bit off by my second cup of coffee, both decaf and caffeinated, and wondered if I had a mild coffee tolerance issue. Since my wife “needed” her coffee each morning, and it always smelled so good, I continued to drink just one cup most mornings.
The ingredients in Truvia were not listed on the sugar packets themselves, so I looked them up on the Internet. It turns out Truvia is also mainly Erythritol with a tiny amount of highly processed Stevia, just like those chocolate bars. I stopped using Tuvia. The fatigue and dizzy spells are gone. The lactase enzyme pills work again. I’m reading for enjoyment again. I’m writing again. I’m more alert and focused than I’ve felt in years. It appears that putting that tiny amount of low calorie sweetener in my coffee on occasion had been messing me up.
Looking at the symptoms, my guess is that the undigested sugar was overfeeding either yeast or bacteria in the gut, thus causing a natural fermentation. This would explain the feeling of intoxication, along with having physical ailments typically found in an alcoholic. All I truly know is the symptoms are gone.
As of today I still have some numbness in my right foot. The neurologist said it might take up to a year for the nerves to heal after toxic neuropathy. Luckily, it’s not crippling, just mildly annoying. Otherwise, I’m doing much better.
The other week my wife handed me one of her women’s magazines, pointing out an article called “I fought fatigue – and won!” It was about a woman that had a similar experience with Sucralose, noting that a recent study by Duke University found that Sucralose decreased total intestinal bacteria and slashed the number of beneficial bugs by up to 67 percent, thus worsening gastrointestinal symptoms. This had caused the woman to experience brain fog and fatigue.
This got me to wondering how many other people are having similar symptoms from the many new sweeteners that have been added to our diets over the past thirty years. My wife and I also both react very badly to aspartame. She gets migraines from it.
So, if you decide to try the low carb and no sugar diet I suggested in my post about triglycerides and cholesterol, I’d personally recommend being careful of all those low-cal artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin have been scientifically linked to weight gain anyway.
The knowledge I’ve gained about various forms of sweeteners over the years has proven that it’s also not as simple as only using natural sweeteners instead of synthetic. Each of us has a tolerance level for each of the various forms of sugar, in both high and low glycemic forms. This tolerance also changes with age. Some natural sugars, including agave and honey, which are too often marketed as healthy, can be just as problematic as synthetic sweeteners for a large percentage of the population. I’ll discuss this topic in the near future.