Lilac Wine

It’s ten in the morning and I’m sitting cross-legged and barefoot at our garden table in the warm sun, wearing a skimpy summer dress. My husband has created an oasis in the middle of the city. There is a fountain gurgling methodically and bird song all around me. I can hear children playing in the school yard a few blocks away and, every hour, the church bells chime the time. I close my eyes and I could be in Italy or France. I hear no airplanes or traffic. I’m sitting under a tall birch tree in April and, although I’m allergic, I’m having no problems. Lilac bows its scent over my head and, although synthetic perfumes now make me wince, I find the lilac’s aroma intoxicating.

If I were healthy again, I would do it all different. I would take the time to notice every bud and leaf, I would revel in meditation and have friends over all the time. I would visit farmers’ markets and experiment with recipes, host dinner parties and enjoy scrumptious desserts. I would take long walks with my dogs and listen to more music. I would never, ever take one minute of health for granted.

Today, I can’t stop smiling. I am outside, my body doesn’t hurt and I’m feeling pretty good. I’m getting stronger, I’m not lonely and the fears of the future have been sizzled away by the sun. We will undoubtedly have to leave this home eventually and, perhaps that will even be a good thing for my health, but, until that day, I will be grateful for the beauty wrapped around me, my family’s health, and for how fortunate I am.

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Move over, Good Doctor, there’s a new team in town.

After a year and a half of regular visits, I have broken up with the Good Doctor. She was a lifeline when I first started seeing her ~ somebody who was willing to stick with me and give me diet and supplement help when every other doctor had only offered painkillers and antidepressants and sent me on my way. However, I have lost faith in her and, worse, now that I know more, I think she probably contributed to my fast decline. I started an incredible number of supplements at full dose, all at once when I had never even taken regular vitamins before and, within two weeks, I was housebound. I eliminated grains, dairy, legumes etc. at the same time. Never did it occur to me that I should start one thing at a time at a low dose and work up. Never did it occur to me that I could have a genetic mutation that prevented me from breaking down certain drugs and substances. Never did it occur to me that you could have “detox” symptoms when you radically change your diet. I had blind faith.

Most recently, I have had some abnormal test results and the Good Doctor has given me little to no guidance on what they mean and what treatments are available, She hasn’t even answered my emails in the last 5 weeks asking her to clarify what supplements she wants me to try (she was very hazy during the appointment). So, we’re done and I have a new set of practitioners to try out (you didn’t think I was going to relax the search, did you?).

There is a clinic very close to my house where I am now seeing a rheumatologist, a medical nutritionist and a therapist. I like them all so far… kind of. There’s never a perfect fit.

Dr. O, the rheumatologist is the most energetic person I have ever met. I thought I used to bounce off the walls and multitask, but he puts me to shame. It was quite impressive, but extraordinarily exhausting. When I got home, I sobbed from the overwhelmingness of the appointment. I was in the clinic for four hours. He listened to my entire history (and, subsequently, wrote an incredibly thorough and accurate 4-page summary, which he sent to me); he thumbed through my entire binder of test results; he did a brief physical exam (during which I was hit with extreme vertigo after he did a Vulcan-type maneuver on my neck and proclaimed that it was because of sensitivity of the Brachial Plexus Nerve Bundle); he did quick x-rays of my spine (nothing significant, which I find baffling); a Dexa bone scan (osteopenia is worse, but I’m not sure if it is technically osteoporosis yet); ultrasounds of my shoulders (bursitis and fluid in both shoulders which he wanted to inject with cortisone right there and then ~ I declined because, as I told him, it’s like treating a stubbed toe while I’m fighting for my life); and, finally, a blood draw and instructions for a urine collection for mast cell tests (n-methylhistamine, PG D2, PG F2 Alpha).

I’ve put all my test results on this page. All of the MCAD urine tests were normal, which I expected, but was still frustrating. I am happy to have baseline numbers, though, in case I ever experience anaphylaxis again (knock on wood, toba toba) or a severe reaction. I will ask him to put in a standing order for another urine collection so I can retest, if needed. His directions to me were to try Zyrtec/Zantac (the latter gave me terrible nausea and stomach pain, but I’m going to try it again in case it was an anomaly), take fish oil and try Prednisone. He said he “wouldn’t blink an eye” if I were on low-dose Prednisone (Prednisolone) for the next year. I’ve had that Rx in hand now for -shocker- 10 weeks and haven’t taken it yet. But I’m going to. This is the fourth doctor to recommend trying Prednisone and, although I refuse to be on steroids long-term (because they put adrenals to sleep, cause sleeplessness, increase glaucoma risk when I am already a glaucoma suspect, increase osteoporosis risk when I’m already almost there, shut down the immune system/increase infection risk, can cause weight gain/edema and blood sugar issues, AND must be carefully tapered off over months), I think I will trial them as a diagnostic tool and, also, to know what my body’s reaction will be in case I really need them at some stage in the future.

The blood tests (ANA, CRP, ACE, PTH, ANCA, magnesium, calcium, celiac) were all normal except for high Saccharomyces cerevisiae IgG antibodies, which are found in 60-70% of Crohn disease patients. I’m not sure what this means for me. A quick google of symptoms shows that I have all of them except diarrhea, which is the main indicator of inflammatory bowel disease, so I’m hoping it’s nothing serious. I really don’t want to have a colonoscopy.

I went back a few weeks later to see the medical nutrition therapist. Dr. O had quite proudly proclaimed that she was the only Bastyr-trained medical nutritionist in the country (which I find hard to believe, but maybe I just didn’t understand her exact qualifications). Reading her bio was emotional for me ~ she attended the same Master’s program at Bastyr University that I got into but didn’t attend. I worked my ass off to do all the science pre-reqs, paying for night classes with my tips, got in and accepted the place, but deferred a year to save money and, during that year, wound up climbing the restaurant corporation ladder. I never went to Bastyr and I can’t help doing the Choose Your Own Adventure replay in my head ~ what would have happened if I went down that path? Where would my life be if I had gotten my Master’s and wound up doing something like my nutritionist is doing? Helping people, not being chronically stressed-out and sleep deprived, working normal hours, doing something I’m passionate about: food for health…. Would I be sick? I don’t think I would be. I kind of know I wouldn’t be. Anyway, she tested for SIBO and it was negative, which, of course, I was kind of disappointed about, but I’m happy I don’t have to go on the threatened liquid diet.

Lastly, I started seeing a psychotherapist, whom I like so far. He actually calls himself a “rehab counselor”, which is more accurate because he is helping me with doctor, disability lawyer and health insurance broker referrals and trying to make sure I have a supportive team that I like. He has dealt with chronic illness patients a lot, and ME/CFS patients in particular, so he gets it and I feel comfortable being my blunt, cursing, cynical self.

I have a lot of new doctor visits on my calendar, so there will be more posts like this. I know many of you think I should stop wasting my energy, but, until I stop getting leads that I think I need to follow or can’t leave the house at all anymore, I will continue my search for answers.

I was about to write, “…until I lose my healthcare or run out of money…”,  but, it turns out, the Affordable Care Act actually has worked in my case. I can’t be refused because I have these prior issues and Washington’s Apple plan is literally $0 if you have no income (but, I’m going to keep fighting to have an income, obviously). So, that it is some weight off my shoulders. Thank you, Obama. 🙂

DIETS Part III: finding a balance in low-histamine and figuring out how to eat more meat.

Some of you have commented on how exhausting/frustrating/crazy this elimination diet process is and I agree! It is incredibly time-consuming considering the research into studies, the searching for recipes, the phone calls to grocery stores, the time my husband spends shopping, menu discussion, and cooking time…! Since none of my diet changes has made me feel any different, it seems like a futile process, but here is what I always keep in mind:

Some people, such as my brother, eat a paleo diet even though they are completely healthy ~ they just want to continue to feel great. Or feel even greater. Some people are diagnosed with a thyroid condition or an autoimmune illness and immediately change the way they eat, trying to ease symptoms or stop the progression of disease. I never even considered doing these things! I had one odd health issue after another and never changed a smidge about the way I eat. The doctors didn’t mention diet, so I didn’t think about it. I didn’t even research the things I was experiencing. This blows my mind more than anything. My time was fully committed to my job, there was no room for anything else. Plus, they were intermittent episodes (I thought) and I was still feeling fine (I thought), so everything was easy to ignore. I had given up alcohol, which, to me, was the ultimate sacrifice ~ do you think I would give up anything else? No way!

One of the best gifts I was given was my OBGYN off-handedly saying, “You should eat some salt if you feel like you are going to collapse.” Uuuuhhh…? Why didn’t I know that? I’d been limiting my salt for years because I thought it contributed to the swelling. Couldn’t just one of the many nurses that have taken my blood pressure over the years mentioned salt to me? They always comment on how low it is and I always let them know I get dizzy. “Try increasing salt.” Just that simple.

The other thing I always keep in mind is my dog, Bowie. When he was young, he developed bumps on his skin. The vet thought it might be a food allergy, so we changed him to a limited-ingredient diet. Over the next year -maybe two- his skin got worse and worse. We changed his shampoo, we washed him more, we washed him less, we gave him supplements, he was put on Benadryl. His coat is a beautiful, deep, glossy brown; he looks like a stallion. But the bumps got bigger, his skin was like braille, and his skin started to have a distinctive infected smell.

Then, one day in the dog park, there was a hand-written sign tacked to a post: “Natural Balance food is killing dogs!” It had some other info on the sign that I can’t remember, but there was nothing online that we could find. Regardless, we paid attention because that’s the brand our dogs ate. And then a miracle: Literally, a few days after we switched their food, we had two puppies back in our house. We didn’t even realise that their happiness and activity level wasn’t normal for them because that’s all we knew for so long. They were DANCING. They were LAUGHING. They were running around like we had just removed their shackles. And then Bowie’s skin made a total turnaround: The bumps and smell disappeared incredibly quickly. We were very grateful, but my heart was broken over the poison we had been feeding them. If anyone had witnessed the change, they would know the radical difference food can make to health.

Lastly, I never want to look back and regret not trying diet changes. One would think that time ticks by slowly when you are sick and housebound, but, it turns out, the years speed by quicker than ever. I don’t want to be 50 or 60 and wish I had tried this in the beginning of my illness.

So, after 3 weeks of eating sort of low-histamine and a month of eating strictly low-histamine, I was not feeling any better. In fact, November and December were probably the worst months I’ve ever had, but I blamed that mostly on repercussions from the tilt table test and IV fluids reaction. I’m sure the stress around a new way of eating and hypoglycemia didn’t help matters, though, so I allowed in some histamine foods (bananas, berries, lemon, some vinegar, all greens, all meat), but I have continued to avoid the biggies (fish, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, pickled/fermented foods, dried fruit, leftover animal protein). I needed to increase my protein intake to stabilise my blood sugar and started force-feeding myself meat. It was joyless, like taking medication. I am eating this chicken so my blood sugar does not tank in the night… (picture me sitting in bed, eyes closed, slack-jawed chewing a piece of cold, dry meat, grimacing as I swallow).

Around the same time, I eliminated oats ~ the only grain I had never lived without and had, in fact, been eating every day in the form of granola/porridge and oat crackers ~ and that left me desperate for breakfast options that included protein. Beef breakfast patties became a staple. We started investigating all the butchers in our area and my husband talked to all the grocery stores. We figured out when deliveries come in, whether they are fresh or frozen, how long since the date of slaughter, and we buy grass-fed, pastured beef and lamb, organic chicken and turkey, trying to source the healthiest and freshest meat to continue keeping histamine in check. My husband cooks the day we buy meat and then we freeze portions so I have meals at the ready. He still makes beef bone broth and chicken stock, but we cook it in a shorter amount of time and freeze it in silicone ice cube trays and jars. Beef patties for breakfast. Lamb shepard’s pie, portions wrapped in wax paper. Chicken and turkey breasts that can be thrown in soup or chopped on a salad or served with rice pasta and topped with veg and sauce (see FOOD! page for some recipes). Blood sugar crashes became much rarer.

Frozen broth

Frozen broth

My weird breakfast:
Grass-fed beef patty with parsley (antihistamine) and thyme (anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine);
artichokes (contain quercetin, luteolin and rutin);
sweet potato (anti-inflammatory, contains rutin and quercetin) and butternut squash latke (antihistamine, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory and antidepressant action);
pomegranate (mast cell stabiliser, anti-inflammatory).
**Info from thelowhistaminechef.com**

Another weird breakfast:
Grass-fed beef patty with parsley (antihistamine) and thyme (anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine);
sauteed with spiralized zucchini (has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcerogenic and potentially antihistaminic properties);
cauliflower (contains anti-inflammatory vitamin K) and sweet potato cake (anti-inflammatory, contains rutin and quercetin);
apple sauce.
**Info from thelowhistaminechef.com**

I started to feel a bit better overall in late January, right after my bad pre-syncope episode during my period and right after I quit oats. By “better”, I mean back to where I was around September/October of last year. Able to walk 800-1000 steps a day instead of 500, my daily headache got better. But still not going into the garden, not stretching, not able to talk very much. One amazing change is my heart rate has gotten much lower overall ~ almost too low. In the 70s and 80s when I am standing up, not moving. Mid-50s sitting, watching tv. Low-50s and high-40s sometimes, while lying down in bed.

I refuse to believe that eliminating oats made the change.
A) Because I love oats too much and can’t wait to eat them again. I HATE savoury breakfasts. Hate them. Make me sick and nauseous. I was the one going to the Irish pub for a Sunday fry with my family and ordering porridge or fruit, yogurt and toast. Every morning is a struggle. It has gotten easier, but it’s not enjoyable. I don’t want acorn squash and beef and kale for breakfast and I never, ever will. It’s one of the reasons I have continued to search for “baked goods” recipes and kept rice in my diet (so I can have rice cereal or rice toast, if I like).
B) Because nothing can ever be definitive in such a changeable, cyclical disease. I also stopped taking my B-complex around the same time. That could have been causing my headache everyday!

Banana-Zucchini muffins: click image for recipe

Banana-Zucchini muffins: click image for recipe

In the final diet post, I will discuss AIP (autoimmune paleo diet) and all the other complications and sensitivities one comes across when researching online. It’s enough to send anyone straight to the nearest fully gluten-ized and dairy-fied bakery.

DIETS Part II: compounded eliminations and low-histamine hell. I mean help. :)

It’s 8am and I’ve already been awake for 3 hours. I’m sick and unemployed, I should be sleeping ten hours a night. I should be sleeping late and luxuriating in the fact that I no longer have an alarm clock going off, a company to oversee, and bosses to answer to (… and bosses to whom to answer). My brain should be able to shut down and heal. It’s February, for fuck’s sake. Time to hibernate. I’ve been missing exciting life and getting absolutely nothing done for 17+ months now ~ why does my brain feel like it has to be on high alert ALL. THE. TIME?

Throughout the day, I’m a dizzy zombie, unable to accomplish anything, but my mind is weakly turning over like the Little Engine that Could trying to get up that hill: What do I need at the store? What could be causing my forehead rash? What will I eat for dinner? Will I try a sleep drug tonight? And then the night rolls around and that little engine reaches the top of the hill and starts to fly down the other side: HOW DO WE NOT END UP DESTITUTE? HOW CAN I MAKE MONEY? I NEED AN M.E. DOCTOR! WE NEED TO MOVE!

So, it feels like ~ and I think it’s the reality ~ I never deeply sleep and I never truly awaken. I am existing in a netherworld, a slightly off-center plane of existence where everything is blurry and too bright, where everything is too loud, but also muffled under ear-ringing… a place where you try to do something month after month, but, during the day, it’s too much energy and, at night, it’s too… sepulchral.

Case in point: I honestly thought it had been about one month since I wrote my diet post, but I see it has been more than three months. That’s a quarter of a year. Three months from now, I will be 41 and it’ll have been a year since I wrote “birthday present thank you cards” on my to-do list (they’re still on the list). Actually, three months from now it will be exactly 5/19 (in American date writing) and those closest to me know that that number means something (what, exactly, I don’t know. One day I’ll write a post about my weirdness with numbers).

raspberry pop tarts

raspberry pop tarts

Today, I woke up starving. It’s now 11:30am and I have already eaten a raspberry “pop tart” (click above image for recipe), some apple, a beef breakfast burger with acorn squash and coconut cream, and a mug of bone broth with sauteed kale, asparagus and parsley.

To continue the saga of how I got to this strange way of eating: When we last discussed food, I had just started a strict low-histamine diet. Before ME, my crazy heath history included idiopathic anaphylaxis, autoimmune urticaria and angioedema, flushing, vasovagal syncope/shock, and a slew of other things that could be caused by histamine intolerance and/or a mast cell disorder, such as medication reactions, dysmenorrhea, osteopenia, headaches, tinnitus etc. I thought if I were very strict with the diet, I’d be able to quickly tell whether or not it would make me feel better. I poured over online histamine lists for weeks. Information is very conflicting because histamine levels fluctuate based on where the food was grown, when it was harvested or slaughtered and how long it has been in storage. Also, if you listened to the interview with Dr. Joneja, you know that histamine is a very important neurotransmitter in your body, but it can build up over a period of time and, if your bucket is overflowing, you will have a reaction. In other words, the salmon with lemon on Monday may not do any harm and neither might the wine and chocolate on Tuesday, but the eggplant on Wednesday might just put you over the edge and you have flushing, a migraine, hives. Or worse, anaphylactic shock. It is a process of trial and error for everyone attempting this diet. You have to figure out what affects your body.

The two best histamine food lists I found were Dr. Joneja’s and this one out of Switzerland, which shows histamine liberators and DAO inhibitors (more on this later) as well as foods that are naturally high in histamines. If you are as insane as I am, you can look at the strictest list possible, which I compiled from the two linked lists as well as about five others. My list is so short because I wanted to know the foods that everyone agrees are probably safe.

I ate strictly low-histamine foods for about month and, let me tell you, it was far more difficult than all the other diet modifications put together. Even a loose attempt at low-histamine is a slice of hell. The dilemma in which I found myself was that I kept adding elimination on top of elimination. So, over the course of 20 months, I had eliminated gluten, tomatoes, eggs, and strawberries; then dairy, legumes, all grains but oats, nightshades, and most processed food; then soy, citrus, pork, red meat, lunch meat, shellfish, condiments, maple syrup, and honey. I added a few things back (rice, red meat, honey), but everything else stayed out. Once you adapt to certain meal staples, it is difficult to change ~ especially when someone else is shopping and cooking for you. And then, on top of these, I went low-histamine. I stopped eating most herbs and spices, spinach, avocados, sweet potato, chard, all vinegar, all fruit except apples and pears, all fermented foods, leftover foods, all fish, chicken… and red meat was out again. It was these last few that set me up for the fall. Having no leftovers in the fridge left me scrambling to find things to eat. I hadn’t figured out how to buy the freshest meat or the process of cooking and freezing to ensure I had meals on hand. I hadn’t figured out how to get enough protein when I wasn’t eating dairy, legumes and most meats. I decided not to give up nuts and seeds, which are avoided on the strictest histamine lists, because they were providing the vast majority of my protein. Still, they weren’t enough and my blood sugar started crashing daily, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes in the 40s and 50s.

If anyone has experienced severe hypoglycemia, you know how scary it can be. Suddenly I didn’t care about any other symptoms, I just needed my sugar to stablise. Mainly veg does not work for my body. And so my husband became the Fresh Meat Scavenger and I became the Great Meat Eater.

To be continued (sooner than three months from now) with honourable mention to ketogenic, alkaline, low-salicylate, migraine, mold, AIP, and low-sulfur/thiol diets…

AIP + Low-Histamine Recipes

Tangerine, tangerine,
living reflection from a dream…

That’s what I was singing this morning. Not just because Led Zeppelin is the best band to ever exist, but because I was unpeeling what was going to be the first citrus fruit to cross my lips in 5 months. Today was citrus challenge day!

I never cared about fruit before ~ in fact, I downright hated it (see this, this and this post) ~ until I went on a low-histamine and low-sugar diet and, suddenly, a grapefruit sounded like the forbidden sweet treat of my dreams. Then, a few days ago, I eliminated oats for breakfast and, faced with the option of nothing but meat and veg in the morning, I started craving fruit like never before. So, this morning I had a sweet, succulent tangerine and tonight I had orange, beet and red onion salsa. Yum! 

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This is a multi-faceted challenge. The Good Doc wanted me to add back in certain things that typically can contribute to fatigue and pain, citrus being one. However, citrus is not low-histamine, so, even if I don’t have a worsening of my usual symptoms, it could be filling up my histamine “bucket”, which could contribute to a flushing episode or angioedema now or in the days to come.

The rest of my dinner was lamb sliders on sweet potato “buns”. We used this Nom Nom Paleo recipe for the lamb (minus the pomegranate molasses). Damn, they were good!

Even though I haven’t written the second part of my Diet post and you’re not intimately acquainted with the hell that is my current food life, I want to post some recipes. So, as I mentioned in my last post, I am gearing up to try a month (or a lifetime) of an AIP (autoimmune paleo)+Low-Histamine diet. The only things I have left to eliminate for the AIP protocol are seeds, almonds and rice.

Here are some other AIP+Low-Histamine recipes that I have loved:

Radish, Mint and Cucumber Salad: This recipe is totally AIP, but, for low-histamine, remove the lemon juice, zest and ACV. I used olive oil, lemon juice and tahini for the dressing because I haven’t eliminated all seeds yet.

This Artichoke-Zucchini pasta recipe is my all-time favourite comfort sauce. I had it just like this over rice pasta (not AIP), then froze the rest and later had it over spiralized zucchini (spiralised courgette ;)) and grilled chicken breast. If you are strictly low-histamine, be careful of the thyme and the arugula.

This Chicken Bacon Alfredo was so good, I ate it until I couldn’t breathe. Strike 1. Then, the next night, I ate the leftovers and had that bad flushing episode I talked about in my last post. Strike 2. So, no more bacon for me. I’m back on the strict-ish low-histamine train. But, without the bacon, it is AIP+low-histamine and I bet it will still be delicious (watch the thyme, if you can’t tolerate it).

I wish I’d taken more photos!

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.