Breakthrough

I’ve had a breakthrough of sorts.

Remember back when I was doing my own version of The Plan?  I started it in May 2016 and blogged every day while testing new foods for intolerance, as measured on the scale by water retention the following morning.  Remember?  Remember how frustrating it was for me because I was reacting to so many things that didn’t seem to have a relationship to each other? This cheese was fine, but not that one.  Ibuprofen was fine, but not aspirin.  Cooked vegetables and butter were fine, but not avocado.  Pair that with the food intolerance testing I had done that showed only minor sensitivities to a couple of things (eggs, beef, whey and pumpkin), and I was left pretty confused and convinced the theory behind The Plan was bogus.

One month after starting that project I wrote this post.  In it I said:

I seem to be reactive to an awful lot of things.  I’m not sure why.  Actually, that’s an understatement.  I have no flippin clue why.

Through my meticulous testing I had identified the following “Friendly” foods: chicken, beef, unrefined coconut oil, butter, cooked vegetables (kale, carrots, onions, garlic, celery), fresh mozzarella cheese (without vinegar as an ingredient), dandelion tea, raw mixed greens, lemon juice, my prescription meds and supplements (multi, A, D, K, Pregnenolone, Licorice Root, DHEA, magnesium glycinate, probiotics, biotin), ibuprofen

…And the following reactive foods: ham, avocado, eggs, sauerkraut, coffee, red pepper flakes, aspirin, fresh mozzarella cheese (with vinegar as an ingredient)

I concluded the following:  There is some correlation between eating foods that are less reactive and the following improvements:

  • losing on the scale
  • improved mood (less anxiety/depression)
  • improved blood sugar numbers.

I just didn’t know how to identify which foods were likely to cause reactions without spending endless days of my life eating little other than kale soup and baked chicken.

Fast forward to now.

What I’ve recently learned is that the foods that I found to be reactive are foods that are high in histamine, block the enzymes that break down histamine, or cause a significant release of endogenous histamine from the body.  The “friendly” foods I identified do not fall into this category.

*mic drop*

I know, right?

A couple possible exceptions: coffee was determined to be reactive and lemon juice non-reactive…not everyone would have these experiences.  It’s possible my study was flawed, or that these were idiosyncratic results.

When I started following a Peat-inspired diet at the end of 2013 I started drinking a lot of orange juice.  That’s when the itching started.  I didn’t think much of it at first, but it continued.  It changed forms – internal itching, external itching.  Itching in my throat, my ears, under my breasts, my girl parts.  It wouldn’t go away completely for very long.  It’s taken breaks, making it hard to pinpoint the cause.  I thought it might be yeast – hence the antifungals.  I thought it might be parasites – hence the antiparasitics.

Turns out that orange juice (all citrus, actually) is high in histamine.

Two weeks ago I started taking a new medication for my hypertension.  Irbesartan.  It’s in the same family of medications that I’ve previously had allergic reactions to, but I seem to react poorly to many medications, and my doctor was running out of ideas.  I started taking it and within 24 hours I noticed a faint sore throat.  I kept taking it because the sore throat would come and go – maybe it wasn’t related to the medication after all!  My husband was sick – maybe I’m just getting sick.  Since starting the Irbesartan I’ve completely avoiding all starches and foods containing a lot of fiber – the stuff that normally makes me depressed.  And yet, I was depressed.  Not only that, but I had 3 incidents of absolute rage.  Rage like I’ve never seen in myself before.  Screaming rage.  Throwing rage.  I thought, “Well, I must have some pent up anger” – and believe me, I have reasons right now to be angry.  But this was an uncommon level of emotional expression.

And weirdly, I noticed the worse my mood got, the more my throat hurt.  As my mood faded back to baseline, so did my sore throat.

I had learned at this point that medications can cause histamine reactions by blocking the body’s formation of DAO – the enzyme that breaks down histamine – or by increasing mast cell activity (the body’s histamine producers).  So two weeks after starting the Irbesartan I stopped taking it.  That was 3 days ago.  Every day has gotten better since then.  Perpetual sore throat – gone.

There are so many pieces to this puzzle, I’m afraid this post isn’t very cohesive.   My main point is this:  My body is clearly producing too much histamine or having trouble breaking down histamine.  The consequences of this pattern are many.  The mast cells – white blood cells that are part of the immune system – which produce histamine, also produce inflammatory cytokines, serotonin, and other substances to fight threats to the system.  Hello, perpetually high inflammation.  The itching, the flushing, the fatigue, the mood disturbance, the prickly heat, tachycardia, aches, difficulty exercising – all of these symptoms can be explained – at least in part – by high systemic histamine.  Here is a list of symptoms associated with mast cell disorders.  I have 7 out of the first 9, as well as many others.

Mast cell disorders can range from fairly mild to life threatening.  I don’t have the life threatening version – Mastocytosis – which is rare and seems to be characterized by anaphylaxis and losing consciousness.  The less severe forms of histamine issues – Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) – sometimes called “histamine intolerance” are not recognized as “real” medical issues.  Kind of like Leaky Gut.  Probably real, but not to doctors.  There are tests that can be done, but the easiest test is just to eat a low-histamine diet and see how you feel.  You feel better?  You probably have histamine issues.  I think the times in the last few years that I was feeling best were times that I was accidentally eating a low-histamine diet.

No one knows exactly what causes this.  There is some speculation that gut problems interfere with the production of DAO, that genetic predispositions can lead to compromised DAO production (I’m heterozygous for that gene, by the way), or that stress/trauma can lead to increased mast cell production (so, more histamine is released).

I noticed my histamine issues became noticeable when I stopped eating low-carb Paleo and turned to orange juice via Peat (as mentioned above).  It got much worse when I started following the Gut Health Protocol and eating lots of sauerkraut – one of the most high-histamine foods on the planet.  That’s when I started noticing hives and persistent skin itching, eye watering, and sometimes sneezing after eating.

I’ve found a couple of sources of information on histamine disorders that seem to be really helpful.  One is Dr. Janice Joneja, who has a really comprehensive low-histamine/tyramine food guide, and the other is Yasmina Ykelenstam (the Low Histamine Chef) formerly here and now here.

So what is there to do about this?  To start, I’m following a low-histamine diet now.  I’ve eliminated smoked and cured meats, egg whites, aged cheese, chocolate, OJ…basically a lot of the things I was eating daily.   I’m in the process of identifying which foods are triggers for my own symptoms. I have DAO supplements to take if I’m eating something I know is a potential trigger, like an avocado or tomato.  For the most part, I’m trying to avoid triggers, but this leaves me with not much to choose from so that is my backup plan.  At this point I’m not sure if I have a mast-cell sensitivity problem or a DAO-deficiency problem, so I’m just trying to eat whole fresh foods that don’t contain or cause histamine.

Given the physiological response I had to my previous “The Plan” elimination diet, I’m expecting to feel better as time goes on, and to see a drop in inflammation and probably body weight.  I’ll probably update daily for a while.

I can’t be bothered with a title

I continue to struggle.  It’s gotten worse since I’ve run out of my serotonin drops.  I can’t tell if I’m depressed or if I’m sad about the state of my life.  My marriage is on the rocks, my job is dumb (but easy, thankfully), and every day is a struggle against sadness and fatigue. I feel like a rotten mom. I can’t avoid crying in front of her – it just starts spontaneously.  I know I shouldn’t…I should be preserving her innocent childhood as long as I can, but I’m afraid that’s just a fantasy anyway. Tapping helps in the moment with difficult emotions, but I notice it doesn’t seem to help when the cause is biological.  It doesn’t make me able to stop crying altogether for the rest of the day.  Maybe I’m not doing it right.

I went to my doctor a week ago.  My blood pressure was 180/100.  That’s on 2 prescription medications to control it.  I’m pretty sure it was the hydrocortisone that made me gain weight, but now that I’ve gained it my blood pressure is up.  I’ve lost a few pounds by coming off the hydrocortisone already.  So the focus of my visit with him was finding a new stupid medication to treat my stupid hypertension.  We did that. I’m hoping this one doesn’t cause the sore throat/cough that the other ACE inhibitors did.

Fasting blood sugar recently has been in the 160s.  I’m unable to stick to a low-carb diet anymore.  The dramatic drops in blood sugar are intolerable.  I can’t eat starches or fibers without becoming incapacitated with depression so it’s meat and eggs and sugar.  Perfect recipe for a fucking heart attack.

I don’t know what to do anymore.  I can force myself to exercise through the fatigue I guess. Fuck. I’m a fucking mess.

Update

  • Currently sticking to a diet that I’m completely sick of that includes eggs, meat, broth, some well-cooked vegetables, orange juice, and chocolate.  I probably shouldn’t be eating the chocolate but it’s the only source of pleasure in my current diet, so there it is.  Also, I don’t feel good eating no carbohydrates and orange juice gets really old.  I have to stay within these boundaries or I become depressed.  No serotonin drops to rescue me anymore. I’m taking colostrum again, in the hopes of helping to tolerate a greater variety of foods.  It helped before but I quit because of the expense.  I don’t care about the expense anymore.
  • Despite my highly restrictive and generally low-carb diet, my weight is near my all-time high and I’m having trouble losing the excess.  My hunger throughout the day remains high.
  • My blood sugar is in a shitty state of affairs.  Fasting blood sugar is in the range of 145-165 these days.  A graph for your perusal:

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  • Things started trending up in the blood sugar department at the end of September. Numerous things occurred during or around this time – I started taking CoQ10, I started taking a longer trial of hydrocortisone, I continued eating carbohydrates (though this was started in June), I learned about Tapping (which stirred up some emotional crap), my marriage became rocky again…lots o crap.  I’ve since quit hydrocortisone.
  • I’ve been experimenting with thyroid (Armour) a little, and also with iodine a little.  I can tolerate a little thyroid at a time, but without the hydrocortisone I can’t take much without lots of adrenaline symptoms.
  • Found that Tapping isn’t the answer for weight loss (for me) because my problems are about 10% emotional eating and 90% high and insatiable hunger.
  • Fatigue has been high and exercise makes it worse.  I try and I quit over and over again.  One day I clocked 10,000 steps and was in a lot of pain afterwards throughout my pelvis and legs.  I need to address the fatigue and inability to make energy before I can hope to be successful with exercise.  I do continue to walk short distances daily but it doesn’t add up to much.
  • Going to see my functional medicine doc on Friday 12/16.  I can’t wait.  I hope he has ideas.  I’m hoping he’ll run some labs for me – maybe a thyroid panel, hs-CRP…

I don’t know.  I’m feeling hopeless.  I’m not giving up but I’m not sure what to do.