Eat this, Not anything else!

I’ve been cycling through diets: from a month-long very restrictive elimination diet for detoxification, to a reintroduction phase where I gradually eat more variety, to a rest period where I eat my usual paleo/primal diet with occasional cheats because I am only human and I need pizza occasionally too.

It’s been a good system for me. I seem to feel a little bit better every time I complete the cycle, but the month-long period of severe restriction is brutal, not because I like to eat 1 but because I feel completely horrible the entire time.

I understand why detoxification as a concept is looked upon with so much skepticism. It’s so often used as a pseudoscience handwave to sell something or explain anecdotal reports of improved health. And it’s not like there are regulations concerning who can market a product as “Detoxifying!”, so it’s good to be skeptical lest you someday regret buying those Japanese foot pads. Still, completely disregarding the concept of detoxification doesn’t make sense to me. The vagaries of pernicious, unspecified “toxins” aside, put it this way: When your body encounters substances that aren’t healthy for it, and it cannot quickly excrete, it very often stores them in your fat. And just because that’s the safest place for them to be in your body, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you want them in your body permanently.

Those are the “toxins” you hear so much about. Not that esoteric, really.

So, although I am not a scientist and I could be missing something, it seems obvious to me that an elimination diet is very likely to stir some of this rubbish up. And since these are unhealthy chemicals, this can be less-than-fun. Especially if you’ve been fighting neurotoxic pathogens and taking all manner of medications, often prescribed shot-gun style, for the better part of a decade 2

So I’ve been feeling more or less poisoned for about a month now. It’s been hard to get out of bed, hard to think, hard to write, hard to hobble to the bathroom.

The good news? It’s almost over, and on Thursday my boyfriend is taking me for a (bunless) cheeseburger here.

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  1. Although I do!
  2. Six and a half years is technically the better part of a decade, but I admittedly may have put it that way because it sounds more dramatic.
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Why are we still sick?

New and exciting research has emerged in the “Chronic Lyme Disease is an autoimmune syndrome” field.

The short version, as I understand it, is that people who have trouble recovering from Lyme Disease seem to have a different antibody profile against a Borrelia burgdorferi-specific epitope protein as compared with people who got over the disease more quickly. This could indicate that our immune systems overreact to Bb, and continue to freak out even after the bacteria is gone.

There are unanswered questions, but I’d love to see more useful treatment options come out of this preliminary information. It might be a piece of the puzzle in finally curing chronic Lyme. But I doubt it’s the whole picture.

The fact remains that Bb is a nightmare bacteria: protean and elusive. When mature, it can shift between three forms, two of which are highly protective against antibiotics and the body’s defenses. It burrows into tissues; it’s capable of infiltrating the bone marrow and the brain. It is, in fact, so destructive and insidious that several scientists who study it have suggested it may have been engineered as a biochemical weapon.1

So when anyone starts trying to figure why chronic Lyme patients still have symptoms when we’ve received treatment2 and the bacteria should be eradicated, I’m wondering exactly how these people are defining “should”. Still, I will take all the research I can get about this little-understood, life-destroying illness.

I don’t care if they find out the freaking Butler did it; I just want to be healthy.

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  1. The Plum Island research facility is about 10 miles from Old Lyme, Connecticut. That proves nothing whatsoever, of course, but I find it interesting.
  2. Usually defined as 2-4 weeks of oral antibiotics
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Hope has side-effects

My health has been very up and down recently, with I think a general trend up. I’ve gotten out of my old moldy room, and I’m taking the correct meds, and sticking to all the other healthy behaviors I’m supposed to. And I think there’s been some improvement. Not as much as I seem to keep assuming, though.

I just keep trying to live, oh, let’s say one-third of a real person’s life. Ish. Maybe more like a quarter. And then my body none-too-gently notifies me that that constitutes “overdoing it”, and then I feel sick and run down and have to rest and recover, and then I promptly forget whatever lessons I should’ve learned from that and start trying to live that fraction of a real life again. I just don’t learn when to stay down, is the problem.

So I’m basically bedridden a couple days a week in addition to my otherwise generally low productivity and usefulness. And yes, I’m still calling this progress. It is progress; it’s just subtle. Demoralizingly subtle.

I wouldn’t be overdoing it like this if I weren’t feeling a little better, though: a little more energetic, hurting a bit less. Maybe I just have to learn the limits of my new level. Or maybe it’ll catch up to my modest (for now) dreams of sub-functionality. A girl can dream.

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They came first for the CornNuts…

For a while there it seemed like the Communists were going to destroy everything. Then it was all going to come down to rap music and the way it unraveled the fabric of society. But the less that happened the more The Terror Threat was certain to murder us all in our beds. And it still might do, but you know the truth: The scariest thing of all is fat.

Oh, and don’t forget about SARS. But yeah, fat. Way scarier.

Americans weigh too much. This article about a recent report on nationwide obesity statistics says so, and so does basically everything else I’ve ever read. The numbers are alarming, with more people becoming obese every year. Something must be done immediately, and heavens! Won’t somebody please think of the children!?

Snarking aside, it is actually reasonable to be concerned about obesity. Research does indeed show that there are clear correlations between poor health and carrying around higher-than-average body fat1, which in turn corresponds with higher weight across general populations2. And when it comes to medical science, we normally can’t ask for more than correlation. Clear causation is very tough to prove in a complex system like the human body.

So I’ll go ahead and agree it’s probably a serious problem. Now, what’s the solution? Because we’ve been panicking about this fat thing for some time now, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Seems to me that a person might be able to lose weight, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that people may be another matter altogether.

The article talks about some recommended solutions:

Getting out of it will not be simple, Levi said. The report emphasized the need for a range of measures, including boosting physical activity in schools, encouraging adults to get out and exercise, broadening access to affordable healthy foods and using “pricing strategies” to encourage Americans to make better food choices.

“Until the government takes on the food industry, we’ll continue to see the appalling numbers in this report,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who was not involved in the report. “These numbers signal an emergency, and we simply have to have the courage and resolve to do more than what we’re doing.

“Government could start by changing agricultural subsidies, by not making it financially attractive for companies to market unhealthy foods, by placing serious restrictions on marketing to children, and with financial policies that make healthy foods cost less and unhealthy foods cost more.”

See, this kind of doesn’t work for me. I do agree with the point about ending subsidies that no longer make sense3. It’s also no secret that huge food corporations basically run the FDA and wield enormous lobbying power, and I’d be tickled to see that end. They’re just about the last people I want dictating to me what constitutes a healthy diet.

Okay, honestly, it might be a tie. I don’t want the government deciding that for me either. That’s why I’m not encouraged by the idea of “pricing strategies” and government “financial policies that make healthy food cost less and unhealthy foods cost more”. Beyond the simple fact that I think you have every right to eat Twinkies all day without paying fatty fines, more importantly, I do not trust the government to correctly identify healthy foods.

See, the FDA food pyramid’s idea of healthy food is nothing like mine. Neither is the American Heart Association’s. My idea of a healthy diet (for me, not necessarily you, because I have no business telling you what works for you and your body, and there’s every reason to think optimal diet varies from person to person) falls more on the Paleo diet, Weston Price side of things. That means all those processed grains at, you know, the base of the FDA’s pyramid? To me, they’re unhealthy. But the red meat and butter the AHA wants me to avoid are fair game. Delicious, delicious fair game.

And how’s my style of healthy eating working for me? I’m in the “normal” weight range (whatever that means), my HDL is freakishly high: around 125 mg/dL, while my LDL is under 70. My triglycerides are very low. Really, if I weren’t so sick, I’d be remarkably healthy. It would be hard to argue that I have an unhealthy diet, at any rate.

If the government were to step in and start limiting my access to red meat by making sure it was more expensive, and made “heart healthy” Cheerios even cheaper, either my health or my already precarious financial state would suffer greatly. And this same thing holds true for almost any “pricing strategies” the government might try to implement. Don’t dream they’ll stop at candy and soda and CornNuts, because they won’t. Eventually they will block someone from being able to afford something that’s legitimately healthy for them to eat, all while telling us it’s for our own good.

And I still can’t buy raw milk. So there’s that too.

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  1. Of course, I have questions about that correlation that remain unanswered: For instance, could these health risks and obesity both be caused by the same lifestyle factors but not causally linked to each other, meaning that one could reverse the risks without actually losing a pound? Also, how much, if any, of that negative health impact may result from the stress of being continuously told one is disgusting, unhealthy, and/or less valuable than people of a lower weight? Just curious here.
  2. Though we can probably all point out individuals who are outliers, having an overweight or obese BMI and a healthy–even extremely low– body fat percentage. BMI, the calculation based only on height and weight that we use for these obesity statistics, is a blunt tool at best.
  3. Although the things I don’t know about farming and the economy of agriculture include, well, everything about farming and the economy of agriculture, as a layman the current subsidies seem really idiotic.
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Summer in Michigan

You can have sunburn or you can have mosquitoes. You can even have both, if you know where to look. But think you can ever under any outdoor circumstances have neither? Well, that’s just not to be, you sad, silly dreamer.

Especially if you’re just one melanin notch up from albino.

On the plus side, I’m getting a few of those shoulder freckles I admire so much! (On my driver’s side arm, at least.)

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Mold Warrior

So here’s what I’m going to do about my mold situation:

Environment: My parents have graciously offered to let me move from my basement room into the first floor spare room, which they’ve fitted up nicely as a guest (okay, and storage) room. It will inconvenience everyone and we will all have to throw out/reorganize a lot of stuff (which someone who shall remain nameless1 should really do anyway), so just to be safe I decided to test the air in that room to make sure it’s worth the hassle. We’re talking a 1919 historic home, so it’s possible that there’s no way to get away from breathing mold no matter what, if I’m living with them. Which is my only current living option. So! I’m hoping for a results that show absent-to-low levels of mold.

The sample is incubating in the dark as I type. Either way, though, it’s a smaller room (meaning an air filter will be more effective) and drier, so I’m more or less sure I’m going to relocate.

And I’ll probably be adding borax to all my loads of laundry for the next few months.

Treatment: Remember what I said about the live mold getting filtered out by the liver but then recirculating through the body with the bile? There’s a way to game that system: trap the bile. I’m starting a prescription cholesterol medication that does just that, and it should provide an exit route. I’m also taking activated charcoal and bentonite clay for more general detox.

The only downside here is that you cannot get the medication, an oral suspension, without either sugar or aspartame as an ingredient. I try to avoid sugar but I refuse to have aspartame (makes my chronic headaches worse). Sugar is the lesser of two evils here, but I don’t like it.

Oh, and I almost forgot the porcine thymus concentrate, which is supposed to help my immune system. Sweetbreads in capsule form. Mmmmmm.

Conclusion: I’ll know in 3 days to 3 weeks (depending on whether the sample shows visible mold after incubation and I have to send it off to the lab or not) what the air quality in my new room is like. And I have to start moving things and getting rid of other things. Does anyone want my collection of prescription pamphlets from 2006?

If the treatment protocol doesn’t actually improve my health within a reasonable span of time, I just don’t know. I’m considering cryogenics and a mad gamble on future generations. And I’ve met kids these days, so I know those odds are not looking good.

If you have your health, cherish it. Seriously. Or I will hunt you down and cough mold right on your face.

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  1. Me.
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Lyme and mold: The PB&J of misery.

Just when I thought my health situation couldn’t get any more complicated…

Oh! Hello, mycotoxicosis. How long have you been sitting there?

One of the many things Lyme Disease does is suppress, distract, and otherwise incapacitate a normal, functioning immune system. Lyme patients have to be especially careful about mold.

A healthy body can easily deal with common household molds (e.g. most varieties of Stachybotrys, Aspergillus, and Penicillium). But individuals with compromised immune systems apparently cannot. Our bodies don’t recognize and kill the mold. The liver can and will process it, but it’ll ultimately just keep recirculating through the intestine with our bile and back into our bloodstream.

So you get a situation where you just kind of have this normally harmless mold hanging out inside you, going about its business. I mean, the human body is a damp, warm, dark area, right? Mold is a fat kid munching cake in there as long as nothing comes along, recognizes a problem, and tries to kill it.

But the arrangement doesn’t work quite as well for the immune-compromised host. See, most mold is toxic to some degree or another, and when your body has become a climate-controlled mold assisted living community, every single microgram of metabolic byproduct from that mold ends up in your already overwrought body. And it isn’t strictly good for you. In fact, it will make you sick on top of your original sick. And that exacerbates your original illness. And you are screwed. Forever.

This is why Lyme doctors tend to be very concerned about their patients’ degree of mold exposure. And this is what my doctor brought up last week when we discussed the fact that I’ve hit a plateau in my treatment results and I don’t seem to be getting better as easily as we expected. We did some tests to confirm, and this does indeed seem to be an issue.

At present I live in my parents’ basement (yep, like those guys you make fun of on the internet). After I had to stop working full time and could no longer afford to live on my own, my parents offered me either a room in their basement or one on the first floor. I figured I’d be less of a bother downstairs, and there was also more room for crap I refused to throw out, so that’s what I chose. Turns out, that was probably the exact wrong decision. You know what happens in basements, right? Mold. Whole communities of mold. Mold debutante balls, mold city councils, mold jamborees, and, if the basement floods, mold pool parties. Also, field trips to Carrie’s lungs, apparently.

When I first read about Lyme and mold I was a little concerned. I knew it was a possible complication, so I tested the air in my basement room. Basically, you lay out a petri dish pre-treated with some kind of potato starch mold food. Leave it undisturbed in the room for an hour, then store it for 5-7 days somewhere dark at room temperature. If there’s mold after the incubation period you can send it in to a lab to analyze and report what you have and how much of it.

My room came back showing lowish-to-borderline levels of common household molds. I figured I could relax. The levels weren’t high. There was no black mold.

I did not realize the extent to which many Lyme patients are unable to handle even modest amounts of common household mold. Especially in living spaces, where they (being, you know, sick) might lie in bed for the majority of the day.

I’m feeling overwhelmed by this development. And stressed out. I wonder how much time I’ve lost being almost willfully oblivious to this problem. I wonder why there always seems to be One. More. Thing. to tackle, those ever-moving goalposts taunting me while I desperately try to just be a healthy, functioning person. I’m glad I know what I have to do, but it’s hard to be grateful, exactly.

Stay tuned for the game plan. Because there is one, and that’s the bright side here.

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Portrait of a good dog

Invalids eat in bed. It’s our thing. Traditionally, the maid should bring in a tray, but often I make do with preparing my own meager rations and slipping back into the supine-but-for-pillows dining posture that the chronically ill perfected back when consumption was all the rage.

Often, my dog is on my bed while I dine.

Digit isn’t allowed to sleep with me, mind. For one he snores, and for another I’m a restless sleeper and his 11 lbs, though stout, wouldn’t necessarily fare well if I were to roll on top of him in the night. For yet another I am capable of sleeping much longer than he is capable of not peeing and demanding breakfast. But also, I’ve read that when you let your dog sleep in your bed he might forget that he’s inferior to you, and it seems that constant awareness of his own inferiority is important in the mental profile of A Good Dog.

Trust me. I used to watch The Dog Whisperer sometimes.

But once Digit hears me wake up and head to the bathroom he dashes into the hallway to greet me and follows me back to my room with his joyous Pomeranian grin. That’s when I put him on my bed as I lay back, laptop firmly on lap, ready to conquer the world as long as it doesn’t involve too much getting up.

Breakfast lately tends to be a hamburger patty of ground beef mixed with ground buffalo, dipped in sugar free horseradish mustard.1 As I eat it in bed my dog looks at it, dreaming grand dreams, but he does not beg.

At one point during breakfast this morning I realized my water bottle was empty, so I placed my plate on a pillow I wasn’t using and went off to the kitchen to fill it. When I came back the plate was there untouched, and Digit had not moved except to look up at me adoringly.

Do not think for a moment that my dog didn’t want the plate of red meat. I expect he would prefer it to almost anything else on the planet. But he knew it was mine. That bunless burger might as well have bore the inscription: Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am. You know, in Pomeranian.

I cannot believe how many instincts have been destroyed in that adorable animal, which I suppose is the definition of a good pet.

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  1. I can go really wild and have a low-sugar piece of fruit for dessert, though.
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The state of my throat

The speckled lava throat was strep. A mutant strep or something, because it didn’t resolve with just one ten-day course of Augmentin (the generic of which goes for over $100 per thirty pills at Walgreens; my stupidly high prescription insurance premium actually more than paid for itself one month). But after twenty days of the good stuff, my throat’s looking better.

It feels almost like there’s this delicate balance in the body between bacteria and candida (and possibly viruses, for that matter). These things basically coexist in healthy bodies, but maybe when you start killing too much of one type it disrupts the homeostasis, the scales are tipped, and another type takes over. The link between killing good bacteria and having candida take over is well established. But oddly, my strep emerged as soon as I started getting more aggressive with herbal candida killers. I usually don’t tend to get acute infections like that. Is there a connection? It’s only the roughest sort of hypothesis.

Taking 20 days of antibiotics has set my battle with candida back, no question. As much as I feel better from the strep now, I don’t actually get to feel healthy because I haven’t felt healthy in years. It’s a frustrating situation.

Okay, yeah, I’m bitter.

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Fridge Horror

While going through my old livejournal, I found this entry:

About this time yesterday morning I noticed that I had completely no strength. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I couldn’t stand up in the shower– I was dizzy, dropping to the floor when I tried to cross a room. I also noticed that I have a little bit of a rash over some of my skin. I think I have the plague. I skipped my workout in the interest of not being upright, and I went to bed at 6pm.

I have never wanted to go home from work more in my entire life. It’s hard to type, but I need to bitch about this and nobody cares. I just want to be still and on my bed. I just want to rest and make the room not spin for five minutes. Does anyone know what this might be, besides the plague? I think it’s the plague. UNCLEAN!

I posted this over six months before June of 2005, when I usually think of the Lyme Disease shenanigans as starting. Chilling. I feel like screaming at my old self “IT’S COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!”

That poor girl. She never had a chance; not wearing those shoes.

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