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…

IV saline experiment… causes angioedema and histamine release.

I had a total meltdown yesterday. As my throat grew more swollen and I grew more alarmed, I finally put it together that I was experiencing an acute angioedema episode. I didn’t recognise what was going on because I usually get a swollen tongue and lips. On Friday, I chalked the edema up to fluid retention from the saline. The spot deep in my throat under my jaw that I mentioned in my last post always itches when I am having an allergic reaction – it’s the canary in the coalmine of my body – but I don’t pay attention to it as closely as I should. This was a slow cooking reaction: laboured breathing and swollen eyes, fingers and sinuses (stuffy nose) on Friday evening, itchy throat spot and heart skipping/arrhythmia started Saturday (both continue today, Tuesday), flushing/extreme overheating on Sunday, and throat closing on Monday, coupled with what felt like body edema – swollen bowel, abdomen, muscles…

Now I know throat closing/laryngeal swelling calls for me to use my Epipen, but, like I said, I didn’t cop on to what was happening until late in the game. Also, I would really have to be on death’s door to voluntarily inject myself with epinephrine. But I was very, very scared. Hence, the meltdown. I actually said to my husband, “Why can’t I just have a peanut allergy – something I can try to avoid?” I actually said, “Why can’t I JUST have M.E.?!” I don’t say those words lightly and, of course, if I could barter away my illnesses, ME would be the first one to go, but it is terrifying to feel like you have no control over anything and living with the threat of a fatal allergic reaction that can’t be identified is the ultimate loss of control.

I’m too tired to explain thoroughly and scientifically, but, basically, angioedema is the same mechanism in the body as urticaria, only in deeper tissues. If it happens in the tongue and throat and lungs, it can kill you. Often, as in my case, there are no identifiable triggers, so you just deal with it when it happens and hope it isn’t serious. It can present with urticaria or without and it can be as severe as anaphylaxis or very mild. If you want to learn more, Medscape has a very comprehensive set of articles (many tabs at the top with many pages per tab- just click on the next page at the bottom and you will go through them all). All of the better information on these types of conditions is relatively new. When I was diagnosed with idiopathic anaphylaxis 12 years ago, blood tests turned up no allergies, so the doctors washed their hands of me. That was it. When I suggested alcohol as a possible culprit, the doctor was disdainful and dismissive. When I mentioned that most times this happened was during my menstrual cycle, I was ignored. Here’s an Epipen, go away. Nobody knew about mast cell activation or histamine intolerance. And, of course, I was right! With my limited knowledge at the time of all things medical, I came up with the common denominators that made sense: booze, period, ibuprofen.

For an excellent article read this:
“The ingestion of histamine-rich food or of alcohol or drugs that release histamine or block DAO may provoke diarrhea, headache, rhinoconjunctival symptoms, asthma, hypotension, arrhythmia, urticaria, pruritus, flushing, and other conditions in patients with histamine intolerance.”

A few years ago, when I was diagnosed with autoimmune urticaria and angioedema and the doctor warned me (2 years too late) that people with this condition are more likely to have autoimmune thyroid disease, I asked him why the doctors years ago hadn’t looked into this autoimmune component. He said it was unknown then. He said it was something that only recently came to light. The only other thing he suggested was prophylactic treatment with Zyrtec, which I half-heartedly tried for a few months. No mention of H2 antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers. No mention of H3 or H4 or diamine oxidase. No discussion of mast cell activation, mastocytosis, histamine intolerance, low-histamine diet or any tests – whether reliable or not. No interest in looking into acquired angioedema, bradykinin-mediated angioedema or estrogen-dependent angioedema, all of which don’t respond to antihistamines. So, all of us – the patients – are scrambling along the edges of science. I feel like a surfer on an excruciatingly slow-moving wave. I come up with theories and do my own research and I see it mirrored in others’ blogs, but no doctors are accessible to help and no tests are robust enough to firmly diagnose.

For an excellent summary from another ME-afflicted blogger with mast cell problems (as well as EDS), read Jak’s blog: Mast Cells & Collagen Behaving Badly.

Which brings me back to my meltdown. For the most part it was a silent, immobile and tearless meltdown. I was simply frozen with fear. Saline probably caused a massive histamine release – right in the middle of my low-histamine diet experiment. I brought this situation on myself by requesting the saline. I had a reaction to an innocuous substance that is used to treat allergic reactions! Just like I had reactions to the antihistamines that are used to treat allergic reactions.

I can’t live with ME and angioedema and histamine/mast cell issues and sleep apnea and thyroid disease and crippling periods and a headache that never goes away and reactions to so many drugs!!

Fear of my throat closing more while I slept, fear of sleeping without my CPAP, fear of being woken up constantly by my CPAP, fear of taking an antihistamine, fear of not taking an antihistamine, fear of eating things that cause inflammation or histamine release, fear of losing more weight, fear of being on the pill, fear of having to weather my periods off the pill, fear of living the rest of my life in pain, fear of being in so much pain I have no choice but to take painkillers. What if I break a bone? What if I’m in a car accident? And then, swiftly on the heals of that thought, the fear that sent me into a tailspin: What if I have to go to the hospital? IV saline… IV painkillers… IV Benadryl… Contrast dye… Anesthesia… Surgery… What do I do when I’m older and I can’t avoid some procedure? When I break an already-osteoarthritic hip? What do I do if my body reacts to everything? I’m dead.

Fear of dying. Fear of living in this fear.

My answer to all of it was to throw caution to the wind and eat a bunch of forbidden histamine foods.

This is a perfect segue into part II of my diet post. I realise you are all on tenterhooks waiting to read it, but not yet, not yet.

_____________________________
The most recent article describing IA (idiopathic anaphylaxis), written by Karen Hsu Blatman and Leslie C. Grammer, explains the distinction this way:

Patients with IA-A experience urticaria or angioedema with upper airway compromise such as laryngeal edema, severe pharyngeal edema or massive tongue swelling without other signs of systemic anaphylaxis. Patients with IA-G suffer from urticaria or angioedema with bronchospasm, hypotension, syncope, or gastrointestinal symptoms with or without upper airway compromise. Reference.

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…

Codeine Allergy?

I am going to tell the story of what happened to me yesterday so that maybe someone out there won’t feel like they are alone or crazy or dying. I searched the internet on my phone for hours and couldn’t find anything similar to my experience. Doctors don’t believe this sort of sensitivity exists ~ even my doctor who knows me well has looked at me incredulously when I describe how a painkiller affects me. But I would have NEVER guessed that my body has become as sensitive as it has. I knew I could feel the effects of very low doses of drugs, but this takes it to a new scary level.

A few days ago, my headache came back and I took 500mg of acetaminophen. It didn’t really touch it. Yesterday, my headache was bad, but also my neck was in pain. It wasn’t terrible ~ I could have powered through it by just going to bed early ~ but I thought, I haven’t taken painkillers in ages ~ since Christmas, really ~ so a Solpadeine will be quite effective and probably won’t give me a bounceback headache. Solpadeine is 500mg acetaminophen and 8mg codeine. They are like Tylenol 3s, except Tylenol 3s have 30mg of codeine. They are over the counter in Ireland and I’ve taken them on and off my whole life. The dosage on the box is two tabs dissolved in water. I took one. A little while later, I was hit by a freight train. I am not exaggerating. I’ve never taken oxycodone, but it felt like I imagine that must feel. I was high, which was odd because it has never happened with Solpadeine before, but that’s fine. The bad part was my lungs immediately closed up. I was fine one second and I was having a VERY hard time breathing the next. It’s not like you are out of breath or in pain or wheezy or anything, you simply have to work very hard at inflating your lungs and it is terrifying ~ I’m surprised I didn’t go to the ER, but the ER can do two things: give you different drugs to counteract / help the reaction and give you oxygen. I wasn’t going to take any other drug. This happened from ONE SINGLE OTC SOLPADEINE! So, who knows what else my body will react to. I wouldn’t have minded the oxygen, but not enough to spend that kind of money while sitting in a building of flu. I knew, if it got worse, I’d have to go no matter what, but I decided to monitor it.

During my research, I discovered a few things: for pain, people are regularly prescribed up to 120mg codeine. Addicts that use codeine can take three times that amount. I realise I am a small person with a sensitive system and I’m not an addict, but 8mg? Really? If I’d had ANY idea this reaction was possible, I would have dealt with the pain. This wasn’t a little respiratory depression, this was serious. I also learned that the vast majority of patient-described “allergies” to opioids are reactions to the histamine released by the drug and not an actual life-threatening allergy. Why didn’t I know that codeine releases more histamine than other opioids? I don’t know. I should have. It probably would have stopped me from ever taking it again since I try to avoid histamine release in my body if at all possible.

The scary part in the literature is that they describe the non-allergic histamine-produced reaction as itching, flushing, hives etc. and they describe the true-allergy IgE-mediated reaction asĀ “bronchospasm or respiratory distress, laryngeal edema, hypotension, and even acute vascular collapse.” ~ which can be life-threatening. So, that made me nervous since I was only experiencing respiratory distress (a more serious side effect) and a stuffy nose. But, honestly, I could see the ER doctors’ faces when I say, “I can’t breathe from 8mg of codeine and I’m afraid of dying.” Well, you can’t say the latter because you sound like a melodramatic, histrionic lady (who also happens to have that crazy made-up illness Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), but you can’t even tell them you are reacting to such a low dose of something because they’ll scoff and think you’re exaggerating.

So, I stayed put. I didn’t take an antihistamine because I didn’t want to depress my CNS any more and I didn’t take my inhaler because I have no idea if it would help and I didn’t want to get all shaky from the albuterol. I didn’t even take my supplements. I just drank water and waited. About 5 or 6 hours later, it started to ease up and, once my lungs opened again, it underscored just how tight they had been. It was like someone took the pillow off my face and loosened the very tight straps around my rib cage.

Now I wonder: was it a true allergy or a histamine reaction? It matters for the future. It matters if I’m ever in the hospital in dire need of painkillers. No NSAIDS and no morphine derivatives. And please no histamine-releasing anesthesia. What a nightmare.

To top it off, I had drenching, awful night sweats in my sleep afterwards. It was the first time since December 10th, which had been the first time in months before that. This morning, my chest is still tight ~ not quite back to normal yet. My eyes and fingers are swollen. I’m shaking like a leaf. It’s not normal and it’s so frustrating. It makes me nervous to try any drug ever again. Can’t take anything, can’t eat anything, can’t be in the sun, can’t be in the cold, can’t be around smoke, can’t be around noise… What’s next? Get rid of dogs, smells, colours, electricity? This is no way to live. Give me the puking reactions or the drowsiness or the rash or anything besides not being able to breathe. It’s the scariest feeling in the world and to all of you out there suffering lung disorders of one kind or another, I send my sympathy and compassion your way. Remember: As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.