Diets Part IV: Low-Histamine, Mold Diet, Migraine Diet, AIP, Low-Sulfur and SIBO.

Well, the uptick in stability I mentioned in my last diet post has gone away. My daily headache is back, my heart rate is back up (not too high, but not the super-low it was), my muscles are worse, my blood pressure is all over the place, and I’m far more exhausted and dizzy than I was in January and February. So, back to normal!

When we last spoke, I was on a low-histamine, pretty much paleo diet (allowing rice), plus no eggs, citrus, nightshades or soy. I had a mycotoxin panel done and, in rare abnormal test results, found I had some very high levels in my urine. While researching mold toxicity, I found the “mold-free diet“. I was pleasantly surprised to see it was pretty much the same as the low-histamine diet and I was already following it. I was also dejected to learn there was another reason for me to continue avoiding all of these wonderful foods and bending over backwards to not consume leftovers.

Grass-fed, pastured beef sirloin and braised red cabbage from Nom Nom Paleo (click image for recipe).

Grass-fed, pastured beef sirloin and braised red cabbage from Nom Nom Paleo (click image for recipe).

Looking for help for my constant daily headaches, I came upon this article in the NY Times, called, “The Migraine Diet” (list is here). Judith Warner says, “I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol and stopped eating chocolate, cheese, M.S.G., nuts, vinegar, citrus fruits, bananas, raspberries, avocados, onions, fresh bagels and donuts, pizza, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, aspartame and all aged, cured, fermented, marinated, smoked, tenderized or nitrate-preserved meats.”

Hmm… Well, yet another reason not to eat dairy, gluten and aged, cured and fermented foods. But I really didn’t want to entertain the idea of life permanently without onions, raspberries, bananas and citrus fruits. Plus, I was still drinking my cup of black tea every morning and eating nuts and some sugar. My three loves. Maybe I would ignore the migraine diet recommendations and just take some Tylenol. Maybe I will revisit this down the road.

I decided, since I was almost there anyway, I wanted to give the Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP) a chance for a month or two and see if it made any difference to anything. My vitilgo is not a big deal, my autoimmune urticaria and angioedema has not been an issue in a few years (knock on wood), but my thyroid is an ever-present problem and ME could have autoimmune roots, so I wanted to give it a try. AIP basically involves no grains, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, nightshades, eggs, caffeine, sugar or processed foods. It was designed to be a temporary elimination with reintroductions after the initial strict period, although some people seem to stick with it forever. I mope-ily removed nuts and seeds from my diet last month and was gearing up to kick rice, tea and coconut sugar to the curb when my research into the methylation cycle led me down a side road to a low-sulfur diet. Hold everything.

No nuts or oats? My new snacks: plantain, parsnip, sweet potato and beet chips.

No nuts or oats? My new snacks:
plantain, parsnip, sweet potato and beet chips.

My 23andMe results (I’ll go into this in more detail later) showed I have a CBS mutation. Some doctors (most notably Dr. Amy Yasko) maintain that one must deal with this “first priority mutation” before embarking on a protocol to unblock the methylation cycle. The CBS, plus two BHMT mutations, means I may have excess sulfur groups, which deplete molybdenum and BH4 and cause high taurine and high ammonia levels. I know from test results that my ammonia levels are high, so this is something I wanted to address. Working on methylation is a very long process- probably a year or two- so, if dealing with the CBS mutation is the first step, I wanted to get the show on the road. Suggestions are to eat a low-sulfur diet (my research indicated that animal protein was not as much of an issue as high-sulfur/thiol veg), so I omitted garlic, onions, most cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens and I stopped my epsom salt baths. This was hard, but I thought, It’s only for a month or so. While continuing to keep out nightshades and high-histamine foods, my allowed vegetable list was: artichokes, beetroot, carrots, celery, cucumber, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, squashes, and sweet potato.

Juice with allowed low-sulfur veg: beet, carrot, celery, cucumber, apple, ginger.

Juice with allowed low-sulfur veg:
beet, carrot, celery, cucumber, apple, ginger.

I started this at the beginning of March … aaaaannndd then I got my appointment with the medical nutrition therapist who was not only recommended by my doctor, but also by someone on one of my Facebook histamine/mast cell groups. Another side road.

The appointment was an hour and a half and she went over my symptoms and my food diary (note to self: edit your personal, private food diary before giving it to your doctor so it doesn’t say things like “want to vom”, “fight with D” and “bad poop” 😉 ). She said coconut was very high histamine which threw me for a loop since half my calories come from coconut in one form or another. I debated this fact with her for a while and eventually she said, “You’ll just have to trust me on that.” She also thought I might have a problem with salicylates, which I guess I eat in copious amounts. Joy. And she was concerned about SIBO: small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. As you can imagine, at this stage I really want to dump my diet decisions into someone else’s lap, so, while I still have health insurance that covers her service (for another few months), I am going to trust her and give her plan a fighting chance.

I am currently on day two of the SIBO test prep diet. I am only allowed to eat meat and rice for two days (if I’d already eliminated rice, I would only be eating meat, so thank god I procrastinated). Yesterday, I ate turkey, lamb, clear beef broth and rice with butter. Real delicious fatty decadent Kerrygold butter, for the first time in a year and a half. Butter is heaven. But no sweet treat after a meal is hell. I only eat a bit of chocolate or fruit or homemade coconut ice cream, but, judging from my extreme irritability, it is a very real addiction. I’m even salivating at the thought of a lozenge. Having an ever-present sore throat really makes lozenges a necessity!

SIBO prep meal

SIBO prep meal

I was secretly hoping that I would feel great these days on such a limited diet and it would spur me on to continue my food elimination experiments. Unfortunately, I am headachy, weak, sore and have zero appetite. Could it be the butter? Maybe, I guess, but I don’t think so. It might be because I washed my hair yesterday. It might just be ME.

In the next installment, I will tell you about my ketoacidosis scare and the strict low-histamine + low-salicylate diet that begins next week. I know you are all on the edges of your seats!

A tip from my Facebook friend, N., to excite my SIBO prep diet: Crispy waffle iron rice! (click image for recipe)

A tip from my Facebook friend, N., to excite my SIBO prep diet: Crispy waffle iron rice!
(click image for recipe)

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DIETS Part I: gluten-free, allergy, autoimmune/anti-inflammatory, classic elimination, and low-histamine.

My mother told me recently that she only gave me soy milk for a long time as a child after my allergy testing showed I was allergic to half of the things on this planet. This is when I was 3. I’ve always known the story of the skin-prick tests done on my tiny 3-year old back. My mother was torn in pieces listening to her baby wail, so I’ve heard about it often. I knew the testing showed I was allergic to lettuce and rabbits and newspaper and so many other things it seemed like a joke. I thought we had always just ignored it to no consequence and that the first thing I ever stopped consuming was MSG sometime in the 90s. I kept swelling. One day, I awoke with my face blown up like a balloon: my eyes were slits, my lips made it difficult to speak, I could barely bend my fingers. This happened after eating frozen egg rolls in the wee hours, after a night at the pub, so I became really vigilant about avoiding MSG. Then, a few years later, I ate at a Thai restaurant with my sister. I never tempted fate with Asian food, but, god, I missed it! and the restaurant swore there was no MSG in their food. The next day, my face was swelled up, so I never tried that again. I still don’t know if the culprit is definitely MSG, but avoiding it, as well as all Asian food, stopped those acute episodes.

My next elimination was alcohol in 2002. It should have been difficult, but I thought it might be causing me to repeatedly go into anaphylactic shock, so I had no choice. When you’re worried about dying, you’ll give up anything.

I ate and drank anything I wanted for ten more years. And I ate a lot. Since I shed my college weight, I’ve always been around 7 stone (I haven’t switched to thinking of myself in pounds because I like the nice neatness of “7 stone”) and my husband would joke that I ate way more than he did (he’s 14 inches taller than I am). After thyroid ablation in 2009, I couldn’t eat as much as I used to – I didn’t diet, my body simply got full quicker and wasn’t hungry all the time anymore.

In 2012, while trying to cure what ails me, I stopped eating gluten. It never occurred to me that it would be permanent, but it seems it might be. It didn’t change how I felt one bit, but, after talking to numerous doctors and reading this book, it seems like it would behoove me to continue to avoid it – if not for ME, then for my (other) autoimmune conditions.

Soon after that, I had blood tests done that showed allergies to cod, tomato and egg. Giving up cod was no problem, tomatoes and eggs almost killed me. But, I thought, what if? So, I stuck with it and it’s now been a year and a half and, you guessed it, I felt no change.

When I started seeing the Good Doctor last year, she put me on a diet for autoimmune conditions which, she said, resembled most anti-inflammatory regimens. I stopped eating all grains but oats, all legumes, dairy and starchy veg. I cut down on sugar, I stopped eating processed foods, I stopped drinking sodas – even “healthy” stevia ones, even flavored fizzy water. I stopped chewing chewing gum, stopped eating lozenges with colourings. Although I missed all of these things, it was similar to anaphylaxis – I felt like I was (am) dying and would do anything to improve my situation, so the choice was easy. I stuck with this protocol for almost a year and… Felt no different.

This past August, my doctor switched me to a more “traditional” elimination diet. I was allowed to add back grains (except corn) and legumes (except peanuts) but stopped eating red meat, pork, processed meats, shellfish, soy, citrus, and most forms of sweetness: honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and, obviously, sugar. This was only meant to last for three weeks before tackling challenges, but I took a turn for the worse with my symptoms and doing food challenges showed nothing definitive, so I’ve kept everything eliminated. Compounding this restriction was my low energy and my husband’s overwhelmedness with the changing shopping rules, so neither of us got out of the habits formed over the last year. I joyfully started eating rice again, but didn’t really explore other grains or legumes. Once you’ve been doing something for a long time, it seems a monumental effort to change.

When I saw the Good Doctor again at the beginning of this month, she wanted me to continue this elimination for three more weeks, while making a concerted effort to detoxify my liver because she is thinking of testing me for heavy metal toxicity and, if necessary, going through a chelation protocol. Specifically, what she told me to do was:

  • EAT FOODS TO IMPROVE LIVER DETOXIFICATION:
    • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress)
    • Kale
    • Swiss Chard
    • Collard greens
    • Garlic, onions
    • Grapes
    • Berries
    • Green and black teas
    • Herbs and spices such as rosemary, basil, turmeric, cumin, poppy seeds, black pepper, and lots of cilantro!
  • Metagenics Ultraclear formula: drink one shake each day (she already has me taking their probiotics and I get a patient discount).
  • Supplements [I am very happy to be taking vitamins again. I stopped all supplements and vitamins 3 months ago and never intended to stay off of them for so long. I’m eager to add more (CoQ10, Acetyl-l-carnitine etc.), but she is making me take things slow.]:
    • Vitamin D
    • Vitamin B6 & B2
    • Biotin
    • Glutamine
    • Zinc
  • Green detox soup[I said yuck to this soup because I thought it sounded like a warm green smoothie and I thought I didn’t like fennel, but it turns out it is SO DELICIOUS and I like to have some every day.]

This soup is a gift to your liver to help it with its critical role in cleansing and filtering the blood. Sulfur-containing foods, such as onions and garlic, will keep your glutathione levels and antioxidant power high. Cruciferous vegetables are great for all your detox pathways, especially estrogen. Enjoy this soup for breakfast, as a snack or any time of the day. You can make a big batch and freeze it in small containers.

Makes 4-6 servings

1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil or olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 cups chopped broccoli, florets and stems
1/2 head fennel, chopped
1 tsp salt
3 cups water
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a medium pot on medium high heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook until onion is translucent. Add the garlic, celery, broccoli, and fennel and a generous pinch of salt and continue to cook another 2 minutes. Add the water, remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Place the soup in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Adjust salt.

Now the fun part: I haven’t been eating the chard, onions, grapes and berries she instructed me to because I am experimenting with a low-histamine diet. I am always trying to link seemingly unrelated conditions from my past to what is happening to me now. Just like I thought (think) dysautonomia explained not only my symptoms now, but issues I had pre-ME like Raynaud’s and fainting, I started to seriously look into histamine intolerance (HI) and mast cell activation disorders (MCAD). The swelling, the idiopathic anaphylaxis (which happened more often than not during my period), the alcohol intolerance, the dysmenorrhea, the hypotension and syncope (which happened more often than not during my period)… All of this makes sense in the context of a histamine problem. I used to wrack my brain and research incessantly to try to figure out why I was going into anaphylaxis but they could find nothing to which I was allergic. Was it the alcohol? Was it my period? Was it garlic? Was it ibuprofen?

When the allergist explained autoimmune urticaria and angioedema to me, he said the rashes I got during anaphylaxis and the swelling I’ve always experienced were the same mechanism in the body, just in different dermal layers. He said they are caused by tissue permeability and leakage and any vasodilator, such as alcohol, will potentiate the problem.. To demonstrate the autoimmune process, he injected me with my own plasma and I had a reaction on my forearm similar to the histamine control. He said these episodes could be brought on by emotional turmoil or stress and there is nothing to be done but take antihistamines. I counted myself lucky because some people have horrible chronic urticaria (I really recommend the film, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead).

The more I researched histamine issues, however, the more I realized that my allergist, like all doctors, is limited by what he doesn’t know and what science hasn’t discovered. I asked my GP, the Good Doctor and my new environmental doctor about testing for MCAD and every one of them said they don’t know how. It turns out there really aren’t good tests, but they didn’t know this ~ they didn’t know anything about it!

I am going to continue the info about my low-histamine diet experience in Part 2 of this diet post (as well as all the other crazy elimination diets I’ve been researching: ketogenic, alkaline, low-salicylate, migraine) because there is a lot of information. But I’m giving you homework, if you’re interested in this topic at all: Listen to Yasmina Ykelenstam’s (The Low Histamine Chef) interview with Dr. Janice Joneja. There are 2 parts, but the first part is the most important. Get comfy because it is 49 minutes long and have a paper and pen ready. I’m telling you, it’s worth it. Dr. Joneja is so clear and knowledgeable.

Until next time…