Food for Thought: How a Nutritionist Saved Christmas (and Cured my Arthritis)
“You suppose you are the trouble. But you are the cure. You suppose that you are the lock on the door. But you are the key that opens it.” -Rumi
“The proportion of kids with chronic disease has risen dramatically over the past two decades. Twenty-seven percent of children now suffer from chronic disease, up from just 13 percent in 1994 (Van Cleave et al. 2010).” (Kresser, Unconventional Medicine)
This year, I got one of the best Christmas presents I could have asked for: a nutritionist helped me heal my arthritis. He also taught me what every doctor should tell patients about food allergies, but doesn’t. While this feels like a nerdy blog post to write so close to Christmas, it is information I wish I had been taught as a child and that could have saved me years of joint and skin problems. I hope it can be a gift to someone else and save them that pain.
A few weeks ago, I went to a local nutritionist who was half-traditional, half-alternative (his practice included kinesiology, or muscle testing). My Mom had already visited him and after a week on his protocol, saw dramatic improvements in gut issues she had suffered with for about a year. My Lyme disease symptoms had plateaued and I was looking for ways to boost my health and immune system, so I booked an appointment.
After a quick demonstration of muscle testing in which he showed me changes in my muscular strength as he put his fingers against certain meridians, he began testing me for food sensitivities. I had done a regular blood test previously and interestingly, this one not only confirmed the prior results, but included two additional sensitivities I was unaware of. Ultimately, he concluded, “You are highly sensitive to dairy, soy, corn, and quinoa.” When I told him that I don’t really have any of those foods in my diet, he suddenly looked me in the eye(and smelled me, I think) for about 10 seconds before saying, “You’ve had dairy recently, I can tell.” I felt like I was at Confession, wondering whether to tell him about the sliver of truffle cheese I had had on a sandwich the day before. Then, he gave me information about food allergies that no previous doctor had:
- When most people think of food allergies, we think of IgE inflammatory responses: breaking out in hives, throat closing up, life-threatening responses. What we don’t learn about are food sensitivities, another category of allergy that can be just as devastating over the long-term. These are associated with the IgG/IgG4 pathway, which causes delayed symptom responses over time.
- No amount of the food you are sensitive to is safe to have, since eating even a small amount (even kissing someone who has had a small amount) will set off an inflammatory cascade. Even though I had previously “cut out” dairy from my diet for many months, I still had foods containing butter or small amounts of cheese because I felt fine afterwards, not noticing the effects.
- You can be sensitive to a food despite not having any obvious physical reaction after eating it. Because IgG/IgG4 reactions are delayed and continue for a few hours to a week, they are very difficult to identify from a food diary.
- Both IgE and IgG/IgG4 responses can be measured on a standard blood test, or through a technique such as kinesiology, but blood tests provide more tangible results.
- Even products made in a factory that produces the substance you are sensitive to are not “clean” and will elicit a reaction. Trace exposure, such as from soy-based teabags and coffee cups if you are sensitive to soy, will also cause a reaction.
- According to my nutritionist, many cases of arthritis are tied to untreated dairy sensitivities. From further reading, many common issues (e.g. skin- eczema, psoriasis; dental- gingivitis, periodontal disease, etc) are also linked to untreated food sensitivities and can reverse if the sensitivities are treated.
- If you fully cut out these foods from your diet and add in supportive supplements to help rebuild your system (e.g. amino acids, Magnesium, probiotics, vitamin D in my case), symptoms can clear up within weeks.
After this visit and two weeks on a new no-tolerance diary/soy/corn/quinoa avoidance diet, my arthritis dramatically improved. My hands began to strengthen, my skin cleared up, and a few friends I met with for coffee told me I looked much healthier, but couldn’t put their fingers on it. After three weeks, I could play harp for more than an hour at a time, hand-write cards, and am considering taking up tennis again in the new year…something I gave up for over a decade because of tendonitis (another manifestation of inflammation).
The New Normal
As my brothers came home for the holidays, they were both happy for me and skeptical. The improvements in my hands and skin were obvious, but it also raised the question: Why did these problems exist in the first place? How was someone otherwise “healthy” allergic to some of the most basic foods in the Western diet? And given that one of the most prominent theories of allergies blames insufficient exposure (e.g. farm or outdoor exposure as a child dramatically reduces many allergies), then isn’t cutting foods out of our diets going to cause even further allergy problems?
The main statement I have heard in conversations over the past few months is, “But this isn’t normal. It’s not normal to have to cut so many foods out of your diet. These problems didn’t exist 50 years ago” While that may be true, none of the stresses our bodies are faced with nowadays are normal either. Just a handful of them include: foods severely depleted of nutrients, GMOs, hormones, frequent antibiotic exposure, new pesticides and herbicides, plastics and novel materials, very high levels of EM radiation, societal stresses and constant adaptations, infrequent exercise, increases in vector-borne diseases like Lyme, foods filled with preservatives and fillers like high fructose corn syrup, early disruption to the microbiome (e.g. C-section birth), etc. Are any of these things normal? Is it normal that so many Americans are on anti-depressants or have various chronic illnesses while they are still young? After becoming aware of the stress I put on my body on a daily basis, I became much kinder to it and willing to remove the stresses (such as unhealthy eating habits) that were within my control.
Food is responsible for health to a much greater extant than most people realize. Many of the problems that people grudgingly adapt to- skin problems, arthritis, mood imbalances, gut issues, etc- tie back to inflammation, which generally ties back to food, since 90% of the immune system is located in the gut. Undetected food sensitivities are a common way that people do daily harm to their bodies. When I got a haircut, my hairstylist who suffered from arthritis commented, “But I love cheese and absolutely love ice cream. How can I give up those?” For me, no taste is as good as the feeling that your body is working effortlessly and with energy you didn’t know you were capable of.