Pills, Pills, Pills: A Post About Supplements

I really have taken my supplements for granted over the years, and who could blame me?  There have been times when I was taking 40 – 60 pills per day! That is enough to turn anyone off pills, even supplements.  I choked them down with water (and soda) for years until I discovered that drinking fruit smoothies helps them to go down easiest.  So now, I drink smoothies like 3 times a day.  They taste pretty good, even better when I don’t have to make them 😉 (thanks family). 

The great thing about smoothies are that they are super healthy if you use fruit and a little protein (I think hemp and pea are best, and I avoid whey at all costs…..but that’s another blog post altogether.)  It’s easy to start adding sugar and fat to smoothies (think yogurt, milk, protein powders, honey, etc.) which quickly erodes their nutritional value.  In fact, most conventional recipes include ingredients that simply negate the benefits of drinking smoothies. For a healthy person, they may be ok, but not for us.  Our nutritional needs are a bit different.  I personally only include fruits, veggies, a small amount of flax-seed and hemp protein in most of my smoothies. The fruit makes it sweet enough, and the flax and protein helps it stick to my bones.  I don’t need to eat as much throughout the day because my smoothies are enough to keep me going.  Mind you, I am no athlete, nor am I a tall person, so I really don’t need a lot to eat and feel healthy.  Anyway, this post isn’t about smoothies so let me get to it already…..

Supplements!!!

I don’t care what the big-pharma funded sources say, supplements are good and they do work.  You just need to be selective in the supplements you use because they aren’t all made the same.  Loose regulation of vitamins makes consumer knowledge imperative when purchasing.  Companies can and do make false or misleading claims about what their products can and will do.  They can add all sorts of fillers and ingredients that they don’t necessarily need to disclose and they aren’t always very honest about the effectiveness, purity, or origination of their active ingredients.  Conditions are improving, but the market is so huge that navigating it can be overwhelming.  How do you know what is good and what is crap?  Well, first and foremost, it is up to us to arm ourselves with as much information as possible so that we can make the absolute best decisions with regard to our health.  And, don’t allow the “loose regulation” talk stop you from trying supplements. Remember, the FDA regulates and approves all sorts of things that aren’t fit for human consumption. Any way you slice it, we as consumers and patients are pretty much on our own in the healthcare and wellness minefield.  However, there is hope! Education is the best defense from those snake-oil and kidney-killing-pharmaceutical mines. =)

Perhaps in my next life I will be a doctor, but unfortunately I think that boat has sailed for me this time around.  That said, please know that my information is just that: information.  I cannot and do not claim that anything I say will effectively treat or cure anyone and I do suggest that you talk with your healthcare professional about any supplements you take, especially if you are already taking prescriptions.  Supplements don’t always mix well with prescription drugs for some reason (lol)….once in a while their combination can cause death, so be sure to find out all you can before adding supplements to your daily cocktail of pills.  Even though they come in the shapes of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, vitamins aren’t candy, and should not be taken lightly. 

Whole foods are best, sure, but with autoimmune disease, your gut usually isn’t working to its potential, so your body needs the extra help supplements should give. 

My Favorite Vitamin Brands

If you have been following my blog, you know that I am partial to Metagenics brand supplements.  It may have a bit to do with the fact that it is the brand that I am prescribed in the study that I am in, but in all fairness, I have taken a lot of different supplements by a lot of different brands.  It’s true.  I was once a regular at our local Vitamin Shoppe; the employees all knew me by first name. I have also tried Kirkland, Centrum, GNC, Trader Joe’s and most of the brands carried by Super Supplements and of course, The Vitamin Shoppe, and I can safely say that none of those brands came close to the difference I have felt while taking Metagenics brand.  I do not make any money by saying this, nor do I receive any kind of incentive to promote Metagenics, it is just my honest experience.  That is not to say that the others aren’t any good.  Anything that is free of fillers and that makes a physical difference in the way you feel is good.  I should mention as well that Metagenics aren’t your typical supplements you buy at the store, you should, in most cases have them prescribed by a doctor or dietician.  Metagenics are nutraceuticals; they tend to be made with higher grade ingredients than average.

Another favorite is Douglas Labs.  Their products are very similar to Metagenics and I have noticed that when Metagenics is unavailable for whatever reason, it is the brand my doctor will turn to next. Maybe it’s a commission thing that my doctor has with Douglas, but I am not terribly worried about that because I feel the difference when I take the products he prescribes.  If you do not believe me, then I highly recommend trying a round of your store brand vitamin for three months and then switching to Metagenics or Douglas for three months and feel the difference for yourself =).

Poppin’ Pills: My Daily Pill Fix

Currently I take….

My favorites, my anti-inflammatory/anti-pain pills:

  • 2  Metagenics Inflavanoid Intensive Care 3 x day
  • 1 Metagenics Kaprex 3 x day
  • 1 “magic pill” 2 x day (sorry, it’s currently in development, but it is the best defense in pill-form I have against pain)
  • 2 scoops Metagenics Ultra-InflammX Powder 2 x day

My others that help a lot too…

  • 1 Metagenics EPA-DHA (AKA fish oil) 2 x day
  • 1 Metagenics D3 5000 (vitamin D) 1 x day
  • 1 – 2 Metagenics Metagest (digestive enzymes) 3 x day
  • 1 Metagenics Metazyme (digestive enzyme) 3 x day
  • 1 Fortify (probiotic) 2 x day (I buy it fresh and keep it in the door of my freezer where it won’t freeze, but stay fresh.  Nothing more wasteful than buying “dead” prorbiotic).
  • 1 Metagenics EstroFactors (hormonal balance) 3 x day
  • 1 Metagenics Thyrosal (thyroid support) 2 x day

Yes, that is a lot of pills, but to me it’s worth it. If I start to have problems with my stomach, kidneys or liver, I will reconsider the number of pills I am taking, but I have been taking a large quantity of (high quality) supplements for years (under the supervision of a doctor) and have had no problems.  If anything, my health has improved. 

Remember when you are shopping or even when you are prescribed supplements, make sure to read all the ingredients.  Many brands, even the good ones, will include ingredients or derivatives of common allergens such as gluten, dairy, and soy depending on the supplements purpose.  Vitamin B-12 often contains gluten, so be careful all my gluten-free friends.  Avoid supps that contain many inactive ingredients, they are usually just fillers.  You get what you pay for in many cases, but not all.  Remember, knowledge is power! =)

Resources: 

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It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Good Business Part II: Treating the Causes of Autoimmune Disease

I love Hondas.  They are all I have ever owned, and I would be quite happy if that is all I ever drove.  I purchased my first Honda when I was 20.  I was a single-mom, a full-time student at the University and a full-time employee at AT&T Wireless.  Needless to say, I thought I was pretty cool.  I didn’t have a lot of money, but my car looked good.  It was a blue Honda Civic and I loved it.  I drove that car all over and never had a problem but for one minor hiccup, it seemed to  leak oil for some reason.  I didn’t know why or how, all I knew is that the oil light came on a lot and an oil stain had appeared in my parking spot.  I took it to Grease Monkey for an oil change, and the tech said that he didn’t see a leak.  Great, I thought, there is no leak, so there is no problem.  I was relieved, except for the fact that the car still couldn’t hold onto oil for some reason.  So I am sure you are wondering why I didn’t take the car to a mechanic to find out what was causing the leak, huh?  Well, such is the way of the young and boneheaded;  why spend money I didn’t have on a problem that could be easily managed if I just kept an eye on the oil light and  simply added new oil when it came on? 

 That’s what I did for several months until the fateful day when my son and I were going to visit grandma two hours away in the middle of nowhere – Oak Harbor, Washington, and my timing chain broke.  Now, if I couldn’t afford to have an oil leak looked at, I sure as hell couldn’t afford to replace a timing chain.  The car was towed to the nearest garage and there the car sat for two months while I worked to come up with money to pay to have it repaired.  The garage saw me coming a mile away:  a young single-mom who knew nothing about cars but was dependent on one.  They could charge me anything they wanted to, and they did. 

This is a true story and I hope you can appreciate the foolishness of it all.  Rather than finding out the cause of the leak,  and fixing it once and for all, I instead just kept adding oil that just hid the fact that there was a growing problem with the car.   Ultimately, I was not able to ignore the problem forever and the result was a much bigger and more costly repair.  All I had to do was find the cause, and fix it – it was a no-brainer, right?…..

The health care system  is designed to prescribe drugs to stop or mask symptoms, and yet more drugs to mask or stop the conditions that crop up as a result of the original prescriptions.  Hardly ever is anything prescribed that actually goes after the causes of the disease in the first place.  They say that the cause is “unknown” but that isn’t entirely true.  One universal cause cannot be nailed down, but there are numerous known causes of autoimmune disease.  The kind of personalized care necessary to identify those individual causes is not currently available to most patients.  In fact, such care would require that the current “patient-on-a-conveyor-belt” system be overhauled.  Such changes are politically and economically unrealistic.  The system is overrun and the pharmaceutical industry is no less noble than the banking industry.  Therefore, it is up to us as patients to take responsibility for our own health.  We must learn all that we can so that we may make the best decisions with regard to our health.  We must make the system work for us.

We laugh at the stupid girl who didn’t get her oil leak fixed, but a car can be replaced.  Our bodies and the time we have on this earth  cannot….

It is important to understand that it is not just our joints being affected by our disease.  Many, if not all of the systems in the body are involved and therefore, should be  considered in treatment.  How many of you have just one condition?  JUST rheumatoid arthritis?  JUST fibro?  JUST whatever?  It’s always something AND something else.  Just like in a car, our systems work together to function properly.  When one area malfunctions (i.e. the immune system) the entire body is going to be affected.  Treatment resembles a “whack-a-mole” game; when symptoms present themselves, a drug is prescribed in the hopes that it will “whack” specific symptoms into submission.  Never mind why the symptoms presented in the first place and let’s not consider the toll the drugs take on the rest of the body because there is another drug to “whack” those symptoms into submission later.  When do we stop pouring oil into the engine and fix the leak?

Genes definitely play a causal role in the development of RA, but not entirely.  My paternal grandmother has rheumatoid arthritis, so you can say it runs in my family.  However, I also have 17 siblings, none of whom have rheumatoid arthritis.  I am the only one.  Yes, I received my grandmother’s legacy.  I AM special.  My point is that if autoimmune disease were genetically inevitable, all 18 of us would be suffering now, but we are not.  We may have the same genes that predispose us to rheumatoid arthritis but which genes are “turned on” and “off” vary from individual to individual.  More specifically, the variety, duration, and severity of stress on the body through diet (which accounts for up to 60% of the negative stress ),  chemical/hormonal differences, and environmental toxins greatly influence if and when genetically present diseases will arise.  This is why a traumatic event can often trigger the onset of a disease and perhaps why more women are afflicted than men…..

That should be enough to get your juices going…. There will be more tomorrow…..=)

Resources:

Knowledge is Power: Resources for an Elimination Diet

In my last post I mentioned the elimination diet which is a method of testing for food allergies and sensitivities.  In this post, I present several sources for more information on conducting an elimination diet. 

It is a way of eating for three weeks that can help you isolate and identify foods that are potentially causing you a variety of health issues, including gastrointestinal problems, eczema, and our favorite, joint pain.  Ideally, you want to do this with the care and supervision of a registered dietician or doctor… It can be tricky and overwhelming if you do not know what you are doing.  Personally, I would especially not go it alone if you have colitis, crohn’s disease (IBD) or similar. 

I can help, but I am no doctor, so any of my information is just that: information.  It is not meant to cure or diagnose you; just arm you with knowlege.  Knowledge is power and the best treatment for autoimmune disease is a combination of knowledge, open-mindedness, tenacity, and an equally knowleageable, open-minded, supportive, and dedicated team of medical professionals.  Good luck and feel free to ask questions, I will do my best to answer or at least,  point you in the right direction.

Resources:

You can also contact the dietician I have been working with and who oversaw my own elimination diet, Michelle Babb.  She is very nice and extremely knowlegeable.  http://eatplaybe.com/about.htm

Falling Off the Milk Wagon: How I Went Dairy Free

Inflammed at Philadelphia Zoo

Recently I was asked to complete a “breaking the ice” survey where one of the questions was, “if you could have an endless supply of any food, what would it be?”  Despite all the changes I have made to my diet and all the progress I have made toward better health, the answer was still a no brainer……pizza and Pepsi, of course.  I figure, it would likely be near the end of all things anyway if I was limited to eating just one thing, so why not go hog-wild on cheesy, gluten-ous, fatty, goodness?  No, I don’t have the most sophisticated of palettes, but that is ok – I like what I like.

Pizza is versatile and good at any time of the day or night.  My favorite breakfast used to be cold pizza ….and Pepsi.  In fact, when it was just my son and I, we would go to  LittleCaesar’s Pizza (because it was cheap, not necessarily because it was my favorite) and pick up their two square pizzas special, and we would eat that for the week.  Later, when we lived in Philadelphia, I was in pizza and cheesteak heaven. It was great….(if not completely irresponsible), that was way back when we were both just kids …..oh, how the times have changed (lol)!

By far the best part of pizza is the cheese, and you can almost never have too much.  Cheese makes everything taste better.  I think it could even make a boot palatable!  I used to grate an entire block of Tillamook cheddar into my homemade macaroni and cheese sauce, and that did not include the mozzarella and asiago cheeses I added also.  I loved me some cheese!

Here in Seattle, the Nation of Islam used to sell their bean pies on certain corners of the city.  I haven’t seen them around for a long time (I wonder why, lol).  Their pies were so good that I decided I would recreate them.  Besides, NoI never wanted to sell to me.  I usually had to rely on friends who “looked more the part” to make the acquisition.  Anyway, after consuming enough pies to identify the flavors and looking through numerous recipes, I did it.  I not only duplicated that sucker, I made it better.  Let me just say, the secret to excellent bean pie is half and half.  Like cheese, half and half makes everything better. 

Now before you say, I don’t like anything “Islam” or “beans, ” let me just say, this post is not political, it is simply a poor glutton’s tribute to dairy.  And as for the beans, if you have never tried a bean pie, then you really have no idea what you are missing.  If you have had one and didn’t like it, then please don’t allow one crappy recipe to ruin it for you.  Seriously.  I will try and see if I still have my recipe and I will post it for you all to try.  I may have thrown it out, so as not to tempt myself into modifying it into a gluten free, dairy free version …. although, now that I think about it, I doubt it could be done well.

No one officially told me that I couldn’t eat dairy, it was something I had to figure out on my own and it took me a lot longer to cut it completely from my diet.  My RA was manageable, but unpredictable.  I never knew  what to expect  from one day to the next.  To complicate things, at the time, I was teaching in a classroom, and the stress alone took its toll on my joints.  Living with RA pain is already like living in a cage,  add the limitations of running a classroom to the mix and life was more flare than flair.  It was so hard to see past the pain to the children that needed me to be present on the other side.  If trying to mask and work through the pain wasn’t difficult enough, I had a constant ear infection that drove me nuts,  an acne rash all over my chin, and the dark circles under my eyes kept popping back up.  I had come really far with my RA even up to that point, and I felt so much better, at least in comparison to what I had felt before going gluten-free. It  wasn’t good enough though; my quality of life wasn’t acceptable.   It was at this point when I seriously considered going back to my rheumatologist and asking for prescriptions, although I hesitated only because I didn’t have any insurance.  I had left the RA study months prior for work and felt like I had hit a wall, like I had hit the limits of what Functional Medicine could do for me.

Out of desperation, I sought advice from an RA support group (I won’t name names, lol) where I was chastised for not being on pharmaceuticals already.  They told me that I would be crippled and wheel-chair bound within the year if I did not get onto some medication post haste (that was three years ago).  Sure, I will admit, their fear-mongering worried me, but I had come so far without the meds that I just wasn’t entirely convinced.  I called my doc from the RA study and was welcomed back with open arms…..

(My Dietician, Michelle Babb*)

My dietician (through the study) placed me on an elimination diet (www.everydiet.org/diet/elimination-diet)**  where I challenged several foods, including night shades, soy, eggs, dairy, and red meat.  All caused a reaction from headaches to stomach aches and everything else in between, but because of how the elimination diet is designed, I wasn’t certain that the foods really affected my RA, so it took a little longer for me to make the connection between the two.  When I eliminated dairy, my ear infections, chin, and eye circles cleared within days.  That alone was worth not eating it anymore, so I quit.  As an added bonus, I found that my rheumatoid arthritis did in fact improve as well.  Flares became increasingly predictable, and less severe.  I had not addressed the thought/emotion aspect of my disease, so I still flared as a result of self-inflicted stress. 

I am dairy-free 99% of the time, but fall off every now and then because I am human.  It’s not quite like gluten, I don’t have a violent, crippling reaction when I eat dairy.  In fact, the longer I go without it, the more tolerant I seem to become. For a long time after going dairy-free it would cause painful swelling if I slipped and ate it, but now, I can have a little bit and not suffer.  I miss my cheese and pie days, but I don’t miss the pain, or those awful infections.  Like gluten, dairy was an addiction and a comforting tool.  Once I overcame the addiction, I didn’t need or even necessarily want it any longer;  dairy isn’t healthy anyway.  Going dairy-free was not as traumatic for me as going gluten-free simply because I can once again enjoy a bite every once and awhile. The same cannot be said about gluten and me.

In my next post, I will be going further into how and why dairy made a difference in the severity of my rheumatoid arthritis and how it could possible do the same for you…..stay tuned! =)

*http://eatplaybe.com/default.asp

** I would have liked to use a more “credible” article, but I did NOT like WebMD’s “patients-are-idiots” approach and the Every Day Diets article seemed suitable enough for my needs. I will be writing more on elimination diets as well.

From Glutton to Gluten-Free

 

Dick’s Drive-In is a local drive-in burger joint in Seattle, Washington.  It has been around since 1954 and has become a sort of tradition.  The restaurant’s large bright-orange logo that is emblazoned on every sign, bag, and employee can be counted among the city’s numerous icons.  At any time of day or night, you can find the place hopping with lines of eager patrons waiting to fill their bellies with the deliciously simple burgers, fries, and shakes that the drive-in is famous for.  While growing up, I would sometimes go there four or five times a week to get my fix; and when I became a mother, I was thrilled to make the trip with my children, past at least a half a dozen McDonalds’ for burgers and fries at Dick’s Drive-In.  Little did I know that August 11, 2006 would be the very last time that I would eat at my beloved fast-food joint….

On that day, my life changed forever.  That was the day that my doctor told me that I was gluten sensitive…..  

What is Gluten?

Very simply, gluten is a large, sticky protein found in many grains including wheat, barley, rye, and oats*.  When consumed, some people will experience adverse reactions that can include but aren’t limited to,  gastrointestinal problems, asthma, eczema, depression, anxiety, and joint pain.  Some medical organizations specializing in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity estimate that up to 60% of Americans may actually be sensitive to gluten, but most are unaware.  It is often only when symptoms manifest themselves  in the form of a disease like celiac,  rheumatoid arthritis, or gastritis that people become aware of gluten.  That is what happened in my case;  I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis so my doctor ordered that I be tested for gluten sensitivity.  Until then, I really didn’t understand what gluten was.

*Oats do not contain gluten naturally, however most crops grown in the US is contaminated with gluten because it is usually grown and processed among wheat and other glutenous grains.  Always eat oats that are certified gluten free. 

Testing

There are blood tests that your doctor can administer to determine the presence of celiac disease.  While these are fairly accurate at finding celiac, they don’t tend to pick up on gluten sensitivity.  You can defininately be gluten sensitive and NOT celiac.  That does not mean that symptoms of aren’t as severe if you have a sensitivity rather than celiac; with either condition, your body treats gluten like a foreign invader marked for death.  There is one and only cure for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity:  a gluten-free diet. 

Obtaining a diagnosis of either celiac or sensitivity can be tricky.  Testing is designed to detect severe cases of celiac disease… I could go on all day about the pleasantries of the intestinal biopsy test for diagnosis, but I think I will skip that in favor for a less intrusive and much more accurate way to determine gluten sensitivity….

I personally had a blood test to determine gluten sensitivity and it came back negative.  So when my doctor ordered a second test, I protested.  I didn’t understand why I should need to undergo another blood draw for a test that had already determined gluten was not a problem.  My doc explained that his test did not collect blood, it collected feces….<blush>….yes, as in poop.

I am not going to go into the details of the test, but Enterolab is pioneering a method that uses poop to test for gluten sensitivity.  My doctor and his team were trying the lab out for themselves, except they were going to use me (and my pooh) as one of their guinea pigs.  Enterolab contends that testing through the digestive system, where gluten is actively processed, is a much more effective and logical means of determining whether the body is reacting to gluten.  Yes, that makes perfect sense to me and anybody else who reads their website. However, Enterolab’s credibility is hotly debated on the web.  And why not?  Anything new or unconventional is always scary.  Doctors can pooh-pooh  (no pun intended) the lab in favor of gold standard blood and biopsy methods all they want, but the fact is, they are largely ineffective at identifying gluten sensitivity. It cannot be argued that Enterolab shows great promise with their research and testing methods.

As a patient and the mother of an Enterolab patient, I can honestly say that Entorlab delivers on its claims.  My results from Enterolab came back positive for gluten sensitivity (as they usually do from Enterolab.  You don’t tend to require such a test if you aren’t showing signs of needing it).  When my doctor was finished explaining the results to me, I decided then and there to commit myself and my family to a gluten-free lifestyle and we have not looked back. 

Going Gluten-Free

Before going gluten-free I was addicted to food, particularly foods with gluten in them.  I was overweight and my body was swollen with inflammation.  My skin was always broken out in ugly red sores, which consequently, were a direct reaction of the gluten.  I was depressed, quick to anger, and forever in a brain fog.  I could never organize anything and worst of all my body was succumbing to the RA rapidly.  My hands and feet were developing nodules and I was living in a constant flare.  So, in summary, I was an ugly, evil, cripple who could eat like a farm animal…..  That life just wasn’t worth it. 

Transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle was challenging.  There weren’t nearly as many options as there are now.  The few breads and cookies that were available were inedible.  Thankfully, gluten awareness has gone mainstream since my conversion and the product market has exploded with palatable foods (I will be writing about some of the better items, as well as recipes).   You can now find gluten-free selections at large grocery chains and restaurants in metropolitan areas.  Those who are just making the switch to gluten-free have it a lot easier when it comes to food options.  However, breaking the psychological and physiological addiction to gluten is a very personal journey. 

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Gluten Isn’t Addictive

I was a mess for the first few months of gluten-free life.  I would find myself bawling for hours, for no reason.  It was difficult to think about anything else but food, and I was constantly trying to justify in my head ways of “accidentally” getting a fix.  I know it sounds crazy.  I sound as if I was trying to kick a drug habit or at least, something more serious than food, but what I describe is absolutely true and my account is only a taste of what I experienced.  I was profoundly addicted and when I came through that battle, I learned that I had no coping skills at all.  I used food to comfort and subdue my emotions, but that is another blog post entirely….  Anyway, I know I should write that anyone can overcome gluten and that it is easy, but that just was not true for me and to lie and say it was would undermine my struggle.  It was hard, but again, I would do it over again a million times to get to the level of health I am today. 

Gluten Freedom

Today, my rheumatoid arthritis is under control.  I have no nodules on my joints, in fact, you would not be able to see that I have rheumatoid arthritis by looking at my hands.  I have lost weight, my skin is clear for the first time ever, and I can finally think clearly.  I am not depressed, in fact, I have learned to be a much happier and patient person.  All this has happened as a result of simply removing a single protein from my diet.  The best part is that my RA symptoms improved within a week of going gluten-free.  If there was just one thing I could recommend to help someone with rheumatoid arthritis, (or any autoimmune disease for that matter) it would be to go gluten-free.  It makes a world of difference.  

Related Articles and Resources:

 “How Accurate Art Blood-Antibody Tests?”

http://www.celiac.com/articles/32/1/How-accurate-are-blood-antibody-tests/Page1.html

 “Challenges of Gluten-Free Living: The Addictive Nature of Wheat”

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1038974/challenges_of_glutenfree_living_the.html?cat=5

Entrolab Website (lots of info!)

https://www.enterolab.com/

One Last Thing….. 

The gluten-free diet has become popular in the last few years.  As a result, there is a ton of conflicting and mis-information on the web.  For more, reliable information on gluten, and for a list of gluten and gluten-free foods, I highly recommend: 

Celiac.com

http://www.celiac.com/

Gluten Intolerance Group of North America

http://www.gluten.net/index.php

Monthly Visitors: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hormones, and a Cow

Do you tend to get flares around the time of your period?  I do, and I find it particularly frustrating because for the most part,  my RA is pretty well under control.  However, every month around the same time, a flare will come like clockwork and undo my life, as only flares can, and always do.  You would think by now I would be used to a flare at the same time each month, but to be quite honest, I only recently picked up on the correlation between the two.  In fact, my doctor clued me in when he gave me a product called EstroFactors to try and help clear my monthly bouts of acne.  The bottle says it is for menopausal women and upon reading this, I quickly and emphatically questioned why on earth was he giving ME, a young woman of 32, pills for menopause!   He told me that many women with RA tend to hold on to estrogen in their bodies and that the pills would actually help my body detoxify excess hormone. 

So what does this have to do with RA?  Well, science has found there to be a correlation between estrogen and rheumatoid arthritis.  Apparently, too much estrogen, and hormone imbalances in general, can actually make rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worse.  

There is so much conflicting information about this topic on the web, so I will just share my own experience with hormones and RA.  I have always been hormonally imbalanced.  My periods have always been irregular and heavy, I have always had really bad cramps and PMS (I think anyone who has known me through the years would agree).  However there have been several things that I have done within the last year that I have noticed a marked improvement in not only my menstrual symptoms, but my rheumatoid arthritis severity. 

The biggest change came when I eliminated animal protein from my diet.  No, I am not a political vegan, just someone who has found that I feel SO much better when I significantly reduce or eliminate all meat, fish, dairy, and eggs from my diet.  All animal protein is highly inflammatory and really difficult to digest.   For my own health, I want to avoid inflammation like the plague! It is what causes the pain we feel in our joints!  Don’t get me wrong, I love barbeque ribs and fried chicken, cheese burgers and turkey sandwiches, but not even the best baby back ribs (my mom’s) are worth the pain and disability I feel when I flare.  I feel like every day that I am trapped by RA is a day wasted that I will never get back.  It just isn’t worth it.  Since going vegan, I have lost 30 pounds without effort, I feel better,  have more energy, I look younger, and best of all, I don’t have half as many flares as I used to.

Going vegan has also helped to regulate my period.  For the first time in my life, it comes and goes on time; usually lasting about 5-6 days, down from 8.   There is no more PMS or heavy flow, and only minor cramps (Sorry, I know that’s too much information, but I am trying to illustrate a point).  This dramatic improvement  is largely attributed to my significant reduction of fat consumption, and subsequent weight loss.   

Even the leanest cuts of meat still have a relatively high amount of fat.  So even when you try and eat a low-fat diet, it is still pretty fattening when you compare it to a healthy, balanced, vegan diet (yes, there is such a thing!)  Moreover, most environmental toxins (including  xenoestrogens*) are fat solulable.  That means, they are stored in our body fat!   Oh, did I mention that hormones are stored in fat as well? Well they are, and cows have a ton of hormonally loaded fat.  And no, when we eat meat, those hormones don’t just go away.  They get stored in our fat right along with all the other toxins that cow has stored in its fat.  This is true for any animal or egg, organic or not,  that is consumed.  Beef has a higher concentration of hormones simply because of a cow’s large size.

If you remember from earlier in this article, I mentioned that my doctor had said that some people with rheumatoid arthritis have a tendency to hold on to excess estrogen.    I have always been hormonally imbalanced and ate animal protein for 31 years.  That is a long time for my body to store quite a surplus of excess hormone.  So it will likely take some time before I can detoxify and come into hormonal balance.  Taking EstroFactors should help this process.  In the meantime, I cannot complain.  I am down to having only have one “major” flare at about the same time each month.  As long as I don’t suddenly get invited to judge a BBQ Pitmaster competition that is sponsored by Ziploc plastic bags, I know there will be a day not too far into the future when I will have conquered this as well.

* Xenoestrogen:  Any of the by-products of industrial or chemical processing that have estrogen-like effects [including plastics].      www.medilexicon.com/medicaldictionary.php?t=100174

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Nine Steps to Treating Autoimmune Disease by Dr. Mark Hyman, MD

This list is a part of an excellent article written by Dr. Mark Hyman MD called How to Stop Attacking Yourself: 9 Steps to Heal Autoimmune Disease that was recently published on The Huffington Post site.  I highly encourage reading the entire article, but in the meantime, enjoy this very straight forward, and helpful list of things you can start doing today to begin to feel better.  Enjoy!

“1. Check for hidden infections — yeast, viruses, bacteria, Lyme, etc. — with the help of a doctor, and treat them.

2. Check for hidden food allergens with IgG food testing or just try The UltraSimple Diet, which is designed to eliminate most food allergens.

3. Get tested for celiac disease, which is a blood test that any doctor can do.

4. Get checked for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity.

5. Fix your gut. For details, see my blog on irritable bowel syndrome.

6. Use nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics to help calm your immune response naturally.

7. Exercise regularly — it’s a natural anti-inflammatory.

8. Practice deep relaxation like yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, or massage, because stress worsens the immune response.

9. Tell your doctor about Functional medicine and encourage him or her to get trained — go to http://www.functionalmedicine.org/ for more information and to get a copy of the Textbook for Functional Medicine.

Give these steps a try — and see if you don’t start feeling less inflamed. As I said earlier, the answers are right in front of you. Treat the underlying causes of your illness and you will begin to experience vibrant health once more.”

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD

How to Stop Attacking Yourself: 9 Steps to Heal Autoimmune Disease

 

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What is Functional Medicine and How Does it Differ From Conventional Medicine?

Dr. Mark Hyman MD, Chairman, IFM Board of Directors

An excellent and in-depth explanation of functional medicine…..it’s not too long either =)

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Functioning Well With Functional Medicine: The Low-Down on RA Treatment

The functional medicine approach is different from conventional medicine in that it seeks to find the cause of the problem rather than just addressing symptoms.  That is not to say there is no value in conventional medicine; I am very grateful for it when it comes to emergency care.   As for chronic illness, however, I contend that a functional approach (even when combined with conventional) is superior.  For me, I want to know what is causing my illness so that I can take the necessary steps to feel better, once and for all.  I want the power and control over my health and my body. The functional approach places me in the driver’s seat of my own health.   I can’t stand feeling helpless, and being crippled is a torturous prison cell.  I will do whatever it takes to remain free of those shackles.  

While I am afraid that my rheumatoid arthritis will never go away entirely, the functional approach has empowered me with knowledge and tools to manage it effectively without the use of pharmaceutical drugs.  Perhaps not everyone can do what I have done, but I would be willing to bet that most of us could….

My Treatment: An Overview

  • My doctor took all the standard auto-immune and inflammation related blood tests (and then some) to begin constructing the most complete and accurate picture of my health as possible.   
  • I was given a psychiatric examination to ascertain what my mental and emotional state was and how it may be contributing to my disease. 
  • My diet was analyzed and modified repeatedly to ensure that the foods I ate weren’t exacerbating  my symptoms. 
  • My genes were analyzed to determine if they could be a factor.  And they were, but not so much the typical “RA genes” as genes that were responsible for reacting to stress.  (I apologize for not being as scientifically articulate as I should be here).
  • I have been prescribed a combination of nutraceuticals that not only effectively relieve pain safely and without side effects, but reduce inflammation, and contribute to my overall health. (More on nutraceuticals coming soon)
  • I have been counseled  in fitness, work-life balance, stress reduction, anger management, and so much more – and was even  given the support to practice it all.
  • I received 30 – 60 minutes (depending on the nature of the visit) with my doctor and his undivided attention at each visit.

The best part is, all of it was designed around me.  It was completely individualized for me.  And that is how medicine should be. 

This disease is bad enough without having to deal with some of the horrible side effects related to many of the drugs commonly prescribed for RA.   My heart goes out to all who suffer.  I am not here to judge, condemn, or brag.  I just want to help as many people as I can to feel better.  Spreading awareness about the benefits of functional medicine is something I personnally can do to try and help.

On a side note….Good news! Many conventional doctors are adapting a functional approach to the way they practice medicine.   Ask around, you may be surprised to find these doctors are in your area!

What the Heck is Functional Medicine?

To understand what I will be sharing, it is important to first understand what functional medicine is.  The Institute for Functional Medicine offers a very susinct definition on their website, http://www.functionalmedicine.org/

Functional medicine is personalized medicine that deals with primary prevention and underlying causes instead of symptoms for serious chronic disease. It is a science-based field of health care that is grounded in the following principles:

  • Biochemical individuality describes the importance of individual variations in metabolic function that derive from genetic and environmental differences among individuals.
  • Patient-centered medicine emphasizes ‘patient care’ rather than ‘disease care,’ following Sir William Osler’s admonition that ‘It is more important to know what patient has the disease than to know what disease the patient has.’
  • Dynamic balance of internal and external factors.
  • Web-like interconnections of physiological factors – an abundance of research now supports the view that the human body functions as an orchestrated network of interconnected systems, rather than individual systems functioning autonomously and without effect on each other. For example, we now know that immunological dysfunctions can promote cardiovascular disease, that dietary imbalances can cause hormonal disturbances, and that environmental exposures can precipitate neurologic syndromes such as Parkinson’s disease.
  • Health as a positive vitality – not merely the absence of disease.
  • Promotion of organ reserve as the means to enhance health span.”

I will be writing a lot about functional medicine in this blog, but for more immediate and technical information on functional medicine, please explore the Institute’s website at http://www.functionalmedicine.org/index.asp.  The site includes information for patients, educational opportunities for professionals, and a directory of doctors who practice the functional medicine approach.

Remember, knowledge is the power to heal yourself.

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