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…

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…

Cold War

I’m tempting fate talking about this, but it has been exactly two years since I have had bronchitis and/or a cold (they usually went together for me). I would say, in my old life, on average, I used to get a cold about once a year. I never paid much attention, though. As I’ve said before, it was never a big deal to get a cold and most restaurant employees would have to be on death’s door to miss a shift. I would joke that I might faint or go into anaphylactic shock or grow thyroid goiters, but I wouldn’t catch a cold.

Once I got sick with ME/CFS, I went through my medical records with a fine-toothed comb, hoping to find some clue to solve the mystery of my illness ~ that’s why I know the exact dates of my last cold. I had returned from Ireland a few weeks before (I think now, will that be the last time I am there?) and made an appointment with an allergist to ask about my eye and tongue swelling which had been going on during my visit home, plus a bad episode of pre-syncope. He had diagnosed me with autoimmune angioedema and urticaria by injecting my own plasma under my skin and watching a HUGE welt emerge. Great, I love being allergic to my own blood.

I then worked 11 days in a row and, as the weekend arrived, the bronchitis hit. It lasted two weeks and, although I finally went to the doctor, I didn’t take the antibiotics or steroids she gave me and I didn’t take any days off work. My father visited over the weekend that the infection was tapering off ~ we had a lovely time ~ and then I worked a few more weeks before flying to Virginia and getting sick with viral gastroenteritis that landed me in the ER, getting fluids. A few months later, the flu shot triggered this new life. No wonder that vaccination was the straw to break my immune system’s back! This is the message I want to get out: PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY! HEED THE WARNINGS!

Anyway, there are very thin, very pale silver linings to my situation and I search for them daily, in an endless quest for gratitude and acceptance. This week I think, Two whole years without a cough or congestion or phlegm or wheezing! I try not to think, Yeah, but who cares when I’ve had endless flu for 21 of those months? I would prefer to be sick with bronchitis every day of the year than live with a disease that does not allow you TO EXPEND ENERGY. But I don’t go there. I know one day I will have to contend with a cold on top of ME and, until that day comes, I am going to be very, very grateful that my lungs and nasal cavities are clear.