Diet vs drugs: Why I’m sticking with my UC medication in 2015

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So let me begin with a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor (yada yada); I’m not any sort of medical professional (blah blah blah) and I speak only from my own layperson experiences (etc etc).

Today I saw my doctor for the first time in a year! Time was when I saw him monthly, before I was diagnosed with UC, and soon after, while I struggled to get my last flare under control.

Am I in remission?

Hard to say, says the doc. And for that reason, he doesn’t want to take me off my meds. I’ve been taking Asacol (800mg) twice a day for almost a year and a half. I have been fortunate in that I haven’t experienced any side effects that I’ve been aware of, although I know this isn’t true for everyone.

Asacol is a very small, very simple part of my life. I take it every morning and most nights. I say ‘most’ nights, because sometimes I forget (and I’m totally okay anyway). But doc says that coming off it completely may send me back into a flare, and considering I’m doing so well, I’m so healthy, and I’m experiencing no side effects, there’s no reason to come off it.

Medication vs. diet: What a year has taught me

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When I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I read loads and loads of blogs and forums and really anything the Google results returned. I found that many, many people were successfully treating their autoimmune diseases through diet, and I wanted in. I didn’t want to rely on medication, and so my healing diet journey began.

First up was SCD, and I believe it did great things for my body, flushing it of toxins and giving it a good long time to just recover. Essentially, I treated my gut like a baby’s, and that was exactly what it needed…

… but it wasn’t a permanent fix. Next up I tried autoimmune paleo for a while, and struggled with it (it was just too restrictive, so I kept cheating and bingeing, and then guilting myself and it was ALL TOO MUCH). Paleo was next, and that’s probably the diet I stick closest to now, although I’m certainly not strictly paleo.

I try to eat a high fat, mid protein, low carb diet. Basically, a healthy diet devoid of processed junk. I stick with it around 90% of the time, and I’m happy with that.

But that said.

I do not believe that diet alone could have helped me get my symptoms under control – because I tried; I did. I was terrified of going to the doctor when I was bleeding daily, severely – I didn’t want to know what was wrong with me, and anyway I was convinced it was cancer (aren’t we always? Thanks Dr Google). So I searched for holistic, natural cures for diarrhoea. I had a freezer crammed with blueberries, a fridge full of fresh ginger and cupboards creaking under the weight of white rice and salted crackers. I tried doing a completely ‘white’ diet – rice, bread, pasta, etc – and that helped for a while, until it didn’t any more. I tried avoiding fibre, but I was way too far gone for that. Then for a while, I lived on boiled eggs and basmati rice because it was all my tummy could handle.

None of it stopped the diarrhoea, at least for any significant period of time – and that of course is because I was in the midst of an aggressive flare, and I needed cortisone, and then long-term medication to manage it.

Asacol has changed my life. Throughout all my dietary experimentation of 2014 – and there was a lot of it – Asacol staved off flares and helped keep my system in check, even when I had cramps and discomfort and the occasional bout of OMG-it’s-another-flare panic.

I’m not saying that a dietary change can’t help some people – we’ve all seen piles and piles of evidence stating the opposite. But diet alone wasn’t the answer for me; medication has been.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I abuse my body. I don’t fill it with unhealthy rubbish just because Asacol is so good at keeping the junk from causing trouble. I try to stick to my healthy, clean eating as much as possible, and I won’t go back to grains, or too much dairy, because it places strain on my body that it simply does not need. I want to know, one day when I’m old, that I did everything I could to promote good health long into old age. As anyone with IBD knows, it can lead to many other horrible complications later in life.

For me, the answer so far has been meds first, diet second, but always focusing on eating healthily. I know this flies in the face of what many bloggers say, and as I reiterate, it’s simply my own experience.

If you’re flaring, if you’re very sick and you can’t get your symptoms under control, see a doctor. And if what you’re doing is working for you, that’s simply great.

Interesting note about dairy

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   Basically exactly how it feels  

I’ve discovered fairly recently that I’m able to tolerate small to ‘mid’-sized amounts of dairy, despite being lactose intolerant.

There is a belief that if you’re intolerant to a certain type of food, and you cut it out completely for some time, your body begins to ‘recover’ and may be able to handle it in small quantities again. This has been my experience (this in particular I think is more due to diet than medication, but obviously the meds must help). I cut dairy out for about a year, so I think that gave my body some much-needed recovery time. But I don’t push it – after all, I’m still lactose intolerant, and overdoing it could be a contributing factor to flares, so I (mostly) take it nice and slow with foods that are very low in lactose.

Here’s to another flare-free year.

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Day 97: What the f@#!, nuts?

So, it’s pretty much official: my gut hates nuts. The whole kinds, anyway. It seems to tolerate nut milks and yogurts, but when it comes to actual pieces of nuts, it goes, well, completely nuts.

Last night K and I headed out for drinks with colleagues and friends after work, and we only got home at around 9. Neither of us was hungry enough for a meal, so I ‘just’ had a bowl of almonds (unblanched – silly), and some cashew pieces.

Soon after, I felt distinctly faint, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I headed straight to the bathroom, where I remained for about half an hour, wishing for death. The GI symptoms where horrendous: severe cramps and diarrhoea, and an intense nausea that had me hanging my head over the bath at the same time (though I couldn’t vomit for some reason – I think that’s psychological). Plus I was completely light-headed and drenched in sweat.

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Times this by 100, and that’s how my head felt

When I was finally able to get off the loo, the furtherest I could manage was the bathroom floor. AND I’M A TOTAL GERMAPHOBE. I hate bathroom floors, even my own, but at that moment, it was heaven. The cool tiles helped to ease the sweating and I eventually managed to drag myself into the shower.

Guys, I have never felt like that – not even during the worst of my flares. It was scary. I even considered that my drink might have been spiked at the bar, but that had been a few hours before. How can I deny that it was the nuts – especially since this is not the first time I’ve had an adverse reaction to them?

Nut allergy vs nut intolerance

I always thought that if your body couldn’t handle nuts, you would just die. But that was silly of me. Having done a little googling, I’ve found a few reputable sites that tell me that a nut intolerance is different to a nut allergy, and can cause all the symptoms I experienced last night (but not death – even though it felt like my last moments had come).

The strange thing is, I’ve never had a problem with nuts of any kind before. But I’ve also learnt that a damaged gut may react to foods that it never used to – doh! Also, adults can develop intolerances over the years – like I developed lactose intolerance due to the fact that, as an adult, my body stopped producing lactase enzymes.

The strange thing is that my body only reacts to whole nuts, as I’ve mentioned. Not even my foray in nut butters a few weeks ago had this kind of effect on me, so it must be that my gut simply can’t break them down.

So nuts – at least in their whole form – are out. Sigh.

Seriously, what the fuck, nuts? I thought we were friends!

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Look how happy that bugger is

 

Day 57: Food and symptoms

Today I took it very easy on my gut and didn’t introduce anything new. I also didn’t have any honey or yogurt, and I avoided all drinks besides water and one cup of weak filter coffee.

Today I’m constipated, bloated and still a bit crampy. It’s not surprising, I guess, considering the ordeal I’ve put my belly through over the past week, but it is always strange to go from crazy diarrhoea one day to constipation the next. It seems the balance eludes me for any significant period of time.

Found at sickforcute.com, where they echo the exact sentiments I had last night: 'Ever had such a bad stomach that you're convinced you have monsters in your belly? They're probably in there planning their attacks, being devious, and dancing around trying to stir up trouble. Wear this shirt to your next doctors visit and see if he can prescribe something for your bad stomach. HA!'

Found at sickforcute.com, where they echo the exact sentiments I had last night: ‘Ever had such a bad stomach that you’re convinced you have monsters in your belly? They’re probably in there planning their attacks, being devious, and dancing around trying to stir up trouble. Wear this shirt to your next doctors visit and see if he can prescribe something for your bad stomach. HA!’

Sometimes I feel like no matter what food I eat or what supplements I throw at my gut, it’s just going to do its own thing regardless, and I’m just along for the ride. I know it’s not really like that, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing SCD, but it’s just how it feels.

Selfie of me in 100 years from now, still trying to figure out why I'm bloated

Selfie of me in 100 years from now, still trying to figure out which foods are causing me to get bloated

Today I cooked up some big batches of veg – butternut, green beans, tomato and garlic sauce, gem squash and onions, which I’m testing again this week. My beautiful jar of cashew nut butter is staring at me, just waiting to be unsealed. I’m so keen to try it so I may introduce it from tomorrow. Though what I’m really needing is more sweet stuff so I can kick the bananas. They’re doing me no favours but as the only bit of sweetness in my diet, I’m struggling to give them up.

FAFscrapethenuts

 

As an interesting aside, the SCDLifestyle.com guys say that berries are well tolerated by most people with GI disease so they should be one of the first raw fruits you introduce. I’ll try to get them into my diet ASAP. Raw fruit can be introduced from phase 4.

How’s your diet going? What’s working for you and what’s gotta go?

Day 51: Swallowing my own advice is a bitter pill

Today was a bleak day.

I was exhausted, due to the fact that I spent most of the night in the bathroom. Every time I drifted off, I was rudely awoken by a very angry colon. I don’t know how many times my diarrhoea woke me last night, but I do know I must’ve been pretty dehydrated today because no matter how much water I drank, I hardly needed to pee (a sure sign for me).

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about not anticipating flares, and just a few weeks before that, I wrote about staying calm when you think you’re flaring, and not to stress because stress makes it worse. But not only did I have an extremely stressful day at work today, but I also constantly fretted about the fact that I may be in the throes of a new flare. Well done Debby. Way to take your own advice.

Strangely, after my last BM at home this morning before work, my stomach hasn’t worked since. It hasn’t felt happy, but it also hasn’t gurgled and kicked the way it did all through the night last night. Plus, K has had the same thing. So……. maybe this is actually just a stomach bug? Maybe it’s a reaction to something we ate? Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that raw meat? I mean, it only occurred to me today, but isn’t it actually too soon on this diet to be eating my meat completely raw?

Needless to say, I haven’t added onion yet. I haven’t really changed much about my diet today, due to the fact that the diarrhoea hasn’t returned. However, I don’t necessarily believe that it isn’t a flare. It could just be a coincidence that K has a runny tummy too. I’m giving it a few more days, and if it happens again, I’ll get in touch with my physician and get my ESR levels tested. That’ll tell me if I have inflammation, which will be an immediate sign.

In the mean time, I’m not introducing anything new, and I’m also avoiding acidic foods like tomato and coffee (is coffee acidic? Well you know what I mean). I’m also trying not to be tearful but it’s really hard. I spoke to my mom this evening and she told my quite sternly – and correctly – that there’s no point in worrying and that I have to stay positive. I know she’s absolutely right and I’m going to keep trying to do that.

Looks like food won this round

Looks like food won this round

Day 29: Meh. Bleh.

Those damn mushrooms! Today I don’t know how many times I went to the loo. It’s crazy how your BMs can do a 180 in such a short space of time when you have a digestive issue.

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I didn’t have full-on diarrhoea, thankfully, but multiple loose-ish stools in a single day is enough to make me start worrying. I didn’t have any more mushrooms today, and I also held back on introducing the garlic. I want my system to be completely cleared after this little setback.

I also need to try to stay calm and not stress about potential flares. If it happens, it happens. Stressing about it is totally counter-productive will only make things WORSE. I do, however, understand what people mean about retreating back to your SCD ‘safe zone’, and being scared to try new things. Right now, I feel like maybe I should just eat chicken and butternut for the rest of my life!

This is not how I envision spending the rest of my life...

This is not how I envision spending the rest of my life…

I’ve discovered venison mince (can’t remember if I mentioned) and I’m really enjoying the smoky flavour. I don’t think it’s anywhere as near as healthy as ostrich mince, but damn it tastes so much better!

Being on day 29 means I’m just one day shy of my wine. I can’t wait – though K reminded me tonight that it might not agree with me. And she’s right – it probably won’t. And that will be okay too; at least I’ll know. Then it’ll be up to me to decide whether or not to continue drinking. Basically, whether or not the pain is worth it.

That’s all I have for tonight, folks. My bubbly belly wants a shower and to get into bed. It was about a million degrees celcius in Cape Town today and we spent the afternoon drinking (water) in the sun at a popular beachfront bar/hotel for a friend’s birthday. It was gorgeous, but just waaaay too hot with zero shade. I’ll post pics of my pretty city tomorrow. Before these 90 days are out, I’ll convince you to visit!