I have a long list of illnesses (see it here). In 1995 when I was fifteen, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (a disease of the large intestine), and I lived with it for seventeen years. In 2010, it spread and advanced to a severe diagnosis. I spent a year on a roller-coaster of intensive immunosuppressive drug therapies, only to end up requiring surgery to remove my large intestine and replace it with a j-pouch. After surviving three surgeries, I developed fibromyalgia, the most debilitating illness of all. (Read "The Spoon Theory" to understand more.) Below are the detailed accounts of my ups and downs on this journey.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Year, New Life

Us at the Boom Boom Room in San Francisco
(I'm on the left, obviously caught mid-laugh.)
First off, let me just say that I had a great New Years Eve partying it up in San Francisco with my cousin and her friends.  We talked, drank, danced, laughed, counted down the new year, cruised the city, slept it off, and then woke up to have an amazing breakfast (okay, lunch) at a food truck festival downtown in the beautiful sunshine.  We all agreed that 2014 was going to be a great year, maybe the best year yet for yours truly.

Now down to business.  Overall my j-pouch finished healing and adjusting many months ago.  However, I still have a couple related issues that have been causing me trouble.  Once I get these two things under control, I believe I will be feeling 100% and able to really throw myself into being an athlete again.  Here they are...

Treating Microbial Overgrowth

In July I posted about having an overabundance of gas in my G.I. tract and how I was able to treat it with a simple fix.  Well, it wasn't long before it came back, and it has been plaguing me ever since. The doctors have tried what they can do, but nothing has helped much.  I also developed other symptoms, so I was dealing with painful bloating, excessive belching, excessive flatulence, intense perianal itching, and even cracks at the corners of my mouth at one point.  This lets me know that it is affecting me top to bottom.  I have been doing lots of research over the past several months and have learned that my issue is due to a severe overgrowth of either bad bacteria, bad yeast (fungus), or both, and it spans my entire G.I. tract indicating a pretty severe case.

Since my last blog post, I have realized that some of my undesirable j-pouch behavior may be due to mild pouchitis symptoms triggered by the bacteria and yeast overgrowth in my G.I. tract.  My symptoms have mostly been overabundance of gas build-up in my stomach and intestine (no matter how much I pass up or down) and intense parianal itching.  However, the more I learn about this problem and how it interacts with the gut and the gut's relationship to immune and brain function, the more I realize that my overall health and other issues may also be affected by this issue as well, such as lowered immune function (getting sick with cold and flu recently), fatigue, brain-fog, irritability, etc.

I have been living with this problem since late spring, and the doctors are at a loss after antibiotics and simple diet change didn't do a whole lot.  So I have taken matters into my own hands.  After doing many hours of online research, I have learned that this issue is very difficult to treat and can take up to six months to resolve more severe cases like mine, but there are things I can do to help.  Treatment is a three-pronged approach: diet change; antibiotics and/or antimicrobial supplements (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral); and strong probiotics.  The diet change requires eating little or no foods that the bacteria and yeast can feed on, which is mostly any type of carbohydrate, so this means a low-carb diet.  The antimicrobial supplements will help to kill off the bad bacteria and yeast, and the probiotics will replenish the gut with good bacteria and yeast that will take up "real estate" in my gut and help to block the growth of the bad bacteria and yeast.  For severe cases, one branch of treatment alone will not do much, and all three need to be maintained for several months in order to fully treat the condition.  To start this treatment, I decided to do a little kick-off at the new year.

My plan was to starve the little buggars.  If there is no food in my gut, they will have nothing to eat and will die.  I have been fasting since Thursday, taking in only clear healing and antimicrobial liquids: slow-cooked homemade chicken bone broth, ginger tea, green tea, and other herbal teas.  I have also been adding in a few other natural supplements that research shows to be more effective (and less toxic) than antibiotics or other prescription meds.  They are all totally packed with powerhouse nutrients as well as strong antimicrobial and antioxidant properties: grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano, and coconut oil.  (Benefits of each food/supplement listed at the bottom of this blog post.)

Since I started this cleanse, I have been experiencing "die-off" effects, which is from the toxins that are released when large amounts of bacteria/yeast die, but fortunately they have not all been at the same time. Day 1 was severe weakness, fatigue, and sore throat.  Day 2 was headache, short mild fever, milder fatigue.  Day 3 (today) has been increased gas and chest congestion.  The fatigue is mostly gone, but I am still taking it easy and mostly vegging out since I know my body is being taxed with processing the toxins and little-to-no food.

I found in my research that both chicken and hard aged cheese have practically nothing that the bacteria or yeast could feed on, so yesterday I had just a couple ounces of chicken topped with parmesan to give me some energy.  I will probably have some more this evening and then start to carefully introduce specific foods tomorrow.  If I could keep the fast going longer, I would aim for a full week, but unfortunately I return to work on Monday, and I'd like to be eating by then in order to have enough energy to deal with my classroom full of rowdy teenagers.  However, as I start eating again, I will be careful to start with foods that have no or very little fermentable properties that bacteria/yeast could feed on (except yogurt=probiotics), and I will continue with the powerful antimicrobial supplements.  This would be stage two of my plan, which will last about a week.  Stage three is to introduce other foods for a fuller diet while still keeping everything as low-carb as possible (since bacteria and yeast both feed on carbs) and continuing with the supplements.  This stage may last several months until I feel the issue has been fully treated.

Treating Iron Deficiency

The other issue I have been dealing with lately is iron-deficiency anemia.  I have always had fairly low iron levels, but recently they have plummeted.  I believe this is due to my history with UC, my surgeries, my omeprezole (GERD medication that blocks iron absorption), and my bacteria/yeast overgrowth that also interferes with absorption.  I started feeling very weak, fatigued, short of breath from simple tasks, elevated heart rate, frequent scary/intense heart palpatations, and irritability.  (Which means no working out for the past couple months.)  I know that j-pouchers have a higher risk of both iron and B-12 deficiency, so about a year out from my surgeries I made an appointment to get my blood levels checked for any nutritional deficiencies that may be affecting me.  Turns out everything was in normal range except for my iron.  The most common test for iron is to check your ferritin level.  Ferritin stores and releases iron in your blood and can give a very accurate measure of how much iron is in your system.  Normal ferritin levels (depending on gender and age) range from around 15 up to 300.  Mine was at a 1.  My B-12 was also a little low.  All my other abnormal blood results (hemoglobin, hematorcrit, red blood cell size, etc.) were all due to this iron deficiency, which constitutes a diagnosis of anemia.

My primary care physician decided to send me to a hemotologist (blood specialist) in order to help resolve the issue.  I immediately started taking iron supplements, but since my level was so low, and since I have a few factors interfering with absorption, the hemotologist set me up with iron infusions.  The plan is to do two infusions, one week apart, and then wait a month to give my body a chance to respond by making more hemoglobin, hematocrit, etc., and then retest my levels to see if I need more iron.
My doctor thinks I may need at least four infusions to get me to a good level.  After that, we will continue regular monitoring of blood levels and administer iron infusions as needed, possibly for the rest of my life if necessary.  So back to the cancer center it was, since that's the only location around that does infusions of any kind.  I just finished my second infusion yesterday.  The lady at the counter asked if iron infusions make me feel like Popeye afterwards, but unfortunately that's not how it works.  It takes weeks for the body to get blood levels back to normal once it's receiving enough iron, so I should be slowly feeling better over the next few weeks.  The heart palpitations and shortness of breath are already gone.  (Yay!)


So these are the two remaining issues affecting my health, and both are being treated effectively.  Hopefully I should be feeling tip-top by spring.  I truly believe that 2014 will be the year I stop feeling like a patient and start feeling like a normal person, which is very exciting to me.  I am eager to feel truly healthy again and to get back into working out now that my anemia is normalizing.  Still fighting on, as always!


Healing Foods and Supplements

The following information is a compilation from many online resources.  Feel free to Google "ginger benefits" (or whichever item you're looking up), and you will find all the same sources I viewed to collect this info.

CHICKEN BONE BROTH
Chicken bone broth, if made correctly, is packed with nutrients, minerals, and healing properties.  It can be a powerful remedy not only on overall health  and immunity but on the gut in particular.  The gelatin in bone broth protects and heals the mucosal lining of the digestive tract and helps aid in the digestion of nutrients.  It can fight infection, reduce inflammation, strengthen your immune system, reduce joint pain, and help with bone repair.  The collagen and gelatin also support strong and healthy skin, hair, and nails.  It should be a go-to remedy any time you have digestive issues or any type of infection (cold/flu).
Easy Prep: I have found the easiest way to make homemade bone broth is to pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, strip all the meat to either eat or freeze, and then throw the carcass, bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin (all contain vital nutrients) into a crock-pot.  Add a bunch of celery, carrot, onion, parsley, and garlic.  You don't even have to chop it very small since it's all getting strained out in the end.  Fill the rest of the crock-pot with water, cook it overnight (about ten hours), and it should be ready by morning.  Just run it through a colander, and voila!  I put mine in a pitcher in the fridge and heat it up by the mugful.

GINGER
Ginger is widely used throughout the world for a all sorts of digestive issues, including nausea, gas, bloating, loss of appetite, colic, diarrhea, upset stomach, and acid reflux.   It improves digestion and absorption.  It has also been known to treat/improve upper respiratory tract infection, bronchitis, cough, congestion, asthma, migraines, menstrual cramps, libido, immune system function, cancer, Alzheimer's, fat loss, arthritis, muscle pain, blood sugar stability, circulation, and to help protect and repair the liver.  One of the main benefits for people like you and me is that it effectively reduces inflammation in the intestines.
Easy Prep: I finely mince the ginger, simmer it in a saucepan for fifteen minutes, strain it into a pitcher, and heat it up by the mugful.  You can also add a teabag to the cup for added flavor or other healing herbs.

GREEN TEA
Green tea is well-known to be a powerful antioxidant to reduce damage and aging to the body.  It can improve blood flow, treat cancer, prevent clots, and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  It improves brain function and helps treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.  It it also well known to stabilize blood sugar, protect against a high-fat diet, and increase metabolism to aid in weight loss.  The amino acid theanine it contains can have a calming affect, helping you to relax and de-stress to aid in depression or anxiety.
Easy Prep:  Add a tea bag to a mug of very hot water (not boiling).  Lemon helps boost it's effects, but milk does the opposite.  Four cups a day is recommended for maximum effect.  (Just watch out for the caffeine - you can get it decaf.)  I plan to start drinking a cup every morning with lemon and honey when I first wake up, since the health and weight-loss benefits of both lemon and honey in the morning alre also well-documented.  (Coffee can wait until I get to work.)

COCONUT OIL
Yes, it is a high-calorie food, but they're all GOOD calories and can actually effectively aid in fat loss.  In addition to being antimicrobial (kills bacteria, viruses, and yeast/fungi), it can help regulate blood sugar and thyroid function, increase metabolism, give you energy, lower cholesterol, and aid in digestion and absorption.  It is a powerful antioxidant, which means it reduces damage and aging to your body.  It can also be used on skin and hair as a strong moisturizer/conditioner.
Easy Prep: I either eat it by the spoonful (it has a mild coconut flavor) or put a dollop to melt in my tea.  It can be used in place of oil or butter for cooking and can be added to just about any food recipe.  It can also be found in capsule form if you want to add it to your daily pill regimen.

OIL OF OREGANO
A number of studies show that oil of oregano is a strong antimicrobial as well, killing bacteria, fungus, viruses, and parasites.  It is an anti-inflammatory and antihistamine and promotes liver regeneration.  It can also aid in digestion and intestinal healing; new research shows that it is just as powerful at treating colitis as prescription meds.   A study reported in the journal Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology found that oil of oregano caused a significant difference in terms of ulceration, mucus cell depletion, inflammatory cell infiltration, vascular dilatation, crypt abscesses, and edema.  It can also help prevent/treat cancer, cold, muscle pain, acne, dandruff, bronchitis, toothache, headaches, heart conditions, allergies, intestinal parasites, earache, fatigue, insect repellent, menstrual cramps, and urinary tract disorders.
Easy Prep: I take 1-2 capsules at bedtime (since it can cause strong-flavored belches during the day.)

GRAPEFRUIT SEED EXTRACT
 GSE is an incredibly powerful antimicrobial and disinfectant.  It kills hundreds of strains of bacteria, fungi/yeast, and viruses.  It has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics, alcohol, and surgical soap at treating and disinfecting.  It is a very effective treatment and prevention for food poisoning, traveler's bug, colds, flu, herpes, toenail fungus, and any type of infection. It can also be applied to wounds.  In liquid form, it can be mixed with a little olive oil to be put on cold sores overnight to effectively kill the herpes virus and treat the cold sore. It can be used to clean/disinfect anything around the house, can be sprayed on plants and bugs, and can replace chlorine in swimming pools.  What's more is that it is completely safe for humans, pets, and the environment.  AND it apparently has some magical ability to differentiate between the bad bacteria and the good flora in your gut.  Supposedly it kills of the bad while leaving the good.    Many people who have been using it for decades swear by it and say it's a must-have in every household.
Easy Prep: For acute treatment I take two 125mg tablets twice a day.  For long-term effects, I will reduce to one tablet twice a day.

Other teas/herbs that are great for both digestion and overall health: chamomile, peppermint, clove, cinnamon.


DISCLAIMER:  Although the side-effects and contraindications are few and far between for these sorts of natural supplements, I have not listed them here.  Please do your own research and/or talk to your doctor before starting treatment with any new supplement or dietary change.




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9 comments:

  1. My name is Babra....Please, please, please go to Amazon.com books. All of you....listen up, this is the best book you will ever buy. The latest "Gut Solutions" book by Brenda Watson, N.D. It is ALL ABOUT your various gut problems including "Candida. You need to take yeast overgrowth seriously. Please, go to Amazon or Brenda Watson.com. This is the most importandt book you will ever read! Good Luck to you all.



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    1. Yes, yeast and bacterial overgrowth is a serious issue, yet the doctors tend to shrug it off because they don't know how to deal with it. Thanks for the book recommendation; hopefully some of my readers can benefit from it.

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  2. Glad things are going well for you. How is your pouch functioning now as far as frequency is concerned? Has that normalized?

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  3. Glad to read that you are doing well. How is your pouch functioning as far as frequency is concerned. Has that normalized?

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    1. I eventually found out that my pouch was behaving so poorly due to undiagnosed cuffitis. Once I got that at least partially treated, things began to normalize, and frequency has decreased to about 6-9 times a day instead of 10+ times a day. I expect it to continue going down a little as I continue to treat both the cuffitis and the SIBO.

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  4. Such a great post! I've known about most of this, but there is some new ideas I haven't come across yet myself. I'll be using it as a resource for myself and my family since all can really benefit from what you've posted here.

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    1. Thanks, Dove! You're an inspiration, yourself. :-) Looking back at this post is reminding me to get back on some of this stuff, the broth and the teas, especially.

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  5. Thank you SO much for this!!! I had my colon removed in late sept and since have had ileus after ileus! I was just discharged last week from extreme abdominal distention. I told my docs it was like my body was producing more gas than it could handle at one time! I read this and thinking about using this diet!! And maybe SIBO is my problem!

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  6. Ronnie, Thank you so much for this blog! It's great to read such a detailed account. How are you doing now? Please write another update. I'm considering J Pouch surgery and my biggest concerns are pain from surgery, the permanent nature of the procedure (no going back and being normal!) and becoming infertile. Your blog helped with the first two concerns but have you discussed decreased fertility at all with your doctors? -LC

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