IBD joint pain (and what you can do to ease it)

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Before I was diagnosed with UC, I visited a doctor and told him that I had severe diarrhoea and pain in my wrists and ankles. He must never have encountered IBD before, because he was stumped.

Of course, my more experienced doctors immediately put the two together, and since I’ve started treatment, the pain has mostly disappeared.

However, from time to time, I’ll get twangs in my knees – more niggles and annoyances than anything else, and I’m wondering if any other IBD sufferers experience the same thing? My GI issues are completely under control, but yet I still get these strange pains from time to time.

A few things that help are:

– Warming the area. Put a blanket over your knees or have a hot bath. Don’t worry if it makes you feel like a granny – it works!

– Avoiding tight pants/jeans. Maybe it’s a no-brainer or maybe it never occurred to you (it never occurred to me until I was like, “Duh!”), but wearing pants that put pressure on your knees can exacerbate the pain. More reason to wear tracksuit bottoms (yay!)

– Not sitting still for too long in the same position. Stretch your legs and walk around often, but don’t overdo the exercise (until the pain goes away).

– Not sitting with your legs crossed (a leg swung over your sore knee can make the pain worse).

– Adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, like coconut oil, almonds, avocado, tumeric, blueberries, fatty fish, sweet potatoes, leafy greens and almost any other vegetable you can get your hands on.

– Taking a good quality fish oil supplement.

– Taking anti-inflammatories (if you MUST). Only when my pain became so bad that I couldn’t walk did I take anti-inflammatories, but it really did help and it gave me several hours of mobility that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Always check with your doc, though.

What solutions/suggestions do you have for IBD-related joint pain?

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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.

18 GIFs that perfectly sum up how it feels to have IBD

The first time you have a bad flare and come out of the bathroom.

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How you feel when anyone suggests you should get checked out by a doctor.

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When you finally relent and see a doctor… and have to wait for all the test results to find out if you’re really dying.

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When you find out you’re not really dying.

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When your doctor tells you you’ll be on medication for the rest of your life but you don’t need to change your diet.

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When you decide to take a break from your doctor so you can see a nutritionalist for a second opinion.

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When your nutritionalist tells you to break up with gluten.

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When you decide to binge anyway, and your loved ones try to stop you.

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When you discover delicious, healthy food that’s good for your belly.

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When you start to feel better thanks to your new diet

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When you have the occasional dietary slip-up and it doesn’t turn into a binge.

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When your new diet, together with your meds, becomes a way of life, and you feel better than ever.

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When you realise that IBD doesn’t have to ruin your life and you can do all the things you used to do… even if it means less cake, cheese or booze. It’s all worth it.

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(…And when it’s your birthday and you treat yourself to cake anyway – because it’s worth it, once a year).

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Healing foods to eat if you can’t afford supplements

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Having a GI disorder like ulcerative colitis is expensive. There’s the traditional medical route and all it entails – doctors’ appointments, blood tests, colonoscopies, gastroscopies, specialist appointments, hospital stays and medication – and there’s the functional/natural medication route, with nutritionalists’ appointments, tests, supplements and special diets.

If you, like me, have been willing to try virtually anything to heal your gut, you’ve probably found that the damage to your bank balance can be pretty extensive.

When I started seeing a new nutritionalist about three or four months ago, I was pretty upfront with her about the fact that while I was willing to undergo any tests she thought necessary, and willing to try any supplements she recommended, there was a limit to my financial resources. In spirit I wanted to try everything she suggested… but in reality, my credit card cried out in pain. She completely understood and tailored a course of treatment for me that I was able to afford.

Using food as a supplement

She cut down my supplements to the bare minimum for me (Vitamin D, fish oil, a good probiotic and curcumin), and said that it was now up to me to use food to make up the deficit. Although it wouldn’t work as quickly as UltraInflamX, for example, it would work and it would help to reduce inflammation and repair the damage. This is, of course, the whole point of a healing diet, and these foods would form the foundation of it.

Here are the items she suggested I include in my diet as often as possible, preferably every day, to help fight inflammation and heal my gut.

  1. Avocado
  2. Olive oil
  3. Coconut and coconut oil
  4. Turmeric
  5. Healthy fats with all meals and snacks for anti-inflammatory support
  6. Homemade chicken or lamb stock/broth
  7. Peas – a good source of protein. Pea protein to be used in fruit smoothies and soups
  8. Fermented foods
  9. Animal protein
  10. Seeds

I made my first batch of sauerkraut recently and it was really easy. It tastes very ‘sour’ so I know it must be right! I include all the rest of the foods in my diet regularly, if not daily, except for the broth. I just haven’t got around to making it, which is a sorry excuse! I think what puts me off is that not only is it a long process, but we also have a small, poorly ventilated flat and I’m just not sure I want to subject K to those smells!

When it comes to spices like turmeric, you can easily add little bits to curries, soups or broths, which is what I do. As for the pea protein, make sure it’s well blended into your soup or smoothie so it isn’t ‘grainy’, and when it comes to animal protein, always choose meat that has nothing added to it – no preservatives, hormones, spices, sugar, etc. Be especially careful of bacon.

What healing foods do you consume regularly?

Allergic to… everything

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K jokes that I must be an alien because I’m allergic to practically everything on the planet. When I was a baby, I developed asthma. I was obviously still quite sickly because then the doctors figured out I was allergic to pets as well – and all the other regular allergen-inducing elements like grass, dust, house mites, pollen, people, walls, TV, water and being alive. Okay okay I’m exaggerating a bit, but I was a pretty allergic kid, and I continue to be a pretty allergic adult.

Often when I emerge from my (piping hot) showers, I’ll have a rash on my face, neck and upper body, a bit like itchy bites. If I swim in the sea, my body breaks out in tiny red dots from head to toe – tiny, raised red spots that take anything from thirty minutes to a couple of hours to disappear. Friends, unable to contain their amazement/mirth, have even photographed it.

When I visit my sister, she gives me an allergy tablet as soon as I arrive, because they have two dogs and within minutes I’m a sneezing, snotty mess. Right now, as I type this, I look like I’m deep in the throes of influenza – the kind you read about in Chaucerian tales, which wiped out thousands of people because of poor sanitation and rats and the fact that no one ever bathed (I swear I bath). My eyes are red and puffy and I have thick dark circles below them. I have no idea why this is – I simply started sneezing a few hours ago and haven’t stopped. I did open the windows of our apartment, and outside there are some trees, so it could be that. A cat could’ve walked past our front door. A cat could’ve thought about walking past our front door. It could be any one of a million things.

My research into autoimmune disease, and the time spent talking to nutritionalists, has made me realise that many people with IBD or other types of autoimmune diseases often display many allergies/intolerances, and also may exhibit symptoms of more than one autoimmune condition. For me, it’s asthma, eczema/psoriasis (mild and never properly diagnosed) and dry eyes – and of course ulcerative colitis. I’ve read many blogs posts by people who also have multiple autoimmune conditions so it seems to be pretty common. Oh and I’m lactose intolerant (and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few more as well).

I’m not trying to draw any conclusions  – you’ve got the Google doctors and scientists for that. I’m more just musing out loud. And wondering how the hell I’m going to get it together to look half-presentable for the show tonight. My favourite drag queen can’t see me looking like I’m coming off a 36-hour heroin binge.

Quick-fix solutions for puffy, panda eyes?? Eeeep!

7 Days of gut-healing meals (and why they’re good for you)

Lately I’ve redoubled my efforts to include as many healing, happy-gut foods in my diet. Here are some of my current favourite meals and snacks for health and healing.

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Chopped banana, strawberries and frozen blueberries drizzled with honey

It’s sad that fruit has a bad reputation (mainly due to its high fructose content), because it can really be so healthy. Bananas are easy to digest and they give you energy and heart-supporting potassium. I’ve also always found them extremely soothing to eat, especially when my tummy’s unhappy. Strawberries give me a good dose of vitamin C and blueberries are known to help ease the symptoms of digestive diseases.

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Eggs, baby spinach and music

A lot of healing diets forbid or discourage the consumption of eggs, but I’ve never personally had a problem with them. They’re full of protein as well as important vitamins and minerals. Spinach meanwhile is virtually a ‘superfood’ and I’ve really been trying to get it into my diet as often as possible. I actually feel like I’m slowly healing my body with each mouthful! Spinach is full of vitamins, and it’s even got Omega-3 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. It’s good for digestion and flushing out toxins, and I recently learnt that cooking spinach actually increases its health benefits because the body can’t completely break down its nutrients when it’s raw. Music is good for the mind, body and soul, so include as much of it in your diet as you can.

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Brussels sprouts

I adore Brussels sprouts (I know, it’s unusual!) and I can easily – and often do – eat bowls of them as snacks. Like most other veggies, they offer high doses of vitamins and nutrients, as well as their fair share of fibre. This means they can cause bloating and should be avoided if you’re flaring. Don’t cook your Brussels sprouts for too long or you’ll destroy the healthy bits! Three to five minutes is enough.

 

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ALL THE VEGETABLES!!! (and a little steak)

So this is what my dinner plate looks like most nights. I take the 3/4 veggie rule so seriously that I usually end up with four quarters of vegetables on my plate and no space for the meat – hence the mashed butternut on the side! Starting with the butternut, it’s filling and easy to digest – it’s one of the first vegetables you can introduce on SCD, and I’ve always loved it and found it to be unproblematic. Carrots are the first veggie introduced on SCD, as they’re also generally very easy to break down. They’re also full of vitamins and minerals.

Broccoli and cauliflower are cruciferous vegetables (as are Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage and kale), which means they’re packed with phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and fibre, and overall they’re just amazingly fabulous for your health. They also help support the functioning of the digestive tract (read this fascinating article about the healthy interaction between cruciferous vegetables and the bacteria in your gut). Most of us know that peas are a great source of protein and fibre – but did you know that they also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties?

Avocado is one of the healthiest fats you can add to your diet and its Omega-3 helps to reduce inflammation in the gut. My nutritionalist has recommended I eat it every day – that’s how healing it is! Lastly, lean red meat is obviously a protein source, and despite what detractors might say, it’s also one of the best sources of nutrients that you won’t get from plant-based foods.

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Coconut fish curry with cauliflower rice

I’m not the biggest fish fan but I am trying to get it into my diet more often because it’s just so damn healthy. This is hake, which offers Omega-3 acids and a range of nutrients. I’ve cooked it in homemade coconut milk, which is another incredibly healthy fat that my nutritionalist recommends I consume daily, due to the fact that it’s so healing for the gut. As you can see, I’ve tossed in some handfuls of baby spinach for an extra health kick, and it’s seasoned with all the usual ‘legal’ seasonings like garlic and ginger – both of which are also considered ‘super foods’ due to their healing and health-sustaining properties.

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Coconut yoghurt with honey

This is made from coconut milk, and has the added benefit of gelatine and probiotics, which are added just prior to incubating it. Probiotics introduce healthy bacteria to your gut and gelatine is an amazing weapon in the fight against inflammation.  This is one of the healthiest things you can feed a damaged gut. Here’s my recipe for homemade coconut yogurt.

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Oysters and champagne

Okay so this was a bit of a splurge (I was celebrating signing my permanent contract at work), and champagne – or any alcohol for that matter – should be avoided when you’re flaring, or when you’re trying to heal your gut. I was thrilled to discover some time ago that oysters, however, are so so good for you! They’re full of zinc, which is essential for those of us battling digestive diseases as we tend to lose a lot of it. Zinc is essential for healthy functioning and also helps to heal woulds. You’ll find it in pumpkin seeds too.

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Bonus: Cauliflower pizza

Everyone needs to feel like they’re eating something fun every now and then – even those of us with IBD! This cauliflower pizza was made from many of the healthy ingredients listed above, so it has the added benefit of hitting that ‘junk food’ spot without actually being junk food! The olives and mushrooms are also sources of healthy fats and nutrients, and it’s all drizzled with coconut oil for that extra bit of healing.

What are you favourite healing, healthy meals?

5 things you need to do for success on AIP/SCD

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I’ve been more-or-less following the autoimmune paleo protocol for the past two months (more ‘more’ than ‘less’), and I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my body. Most noticeably, I’m less bloated, I wheeze less, and my eczema/psoriasis seems to be less angry. I didn’t experience this level of improvement during my time on SCD, so I’ve given some thought to why AIP is working better for me than SCD did.

Bearing in mind that I embarked on SCD alone, and AIP with the guidance of a qualified nutritionalist, here are the five factors that I think are most critical to success on a healing diet.

1. Find out what’s going on in your gut

Yup, I’m talking about seeing a nutritionalist and getting the tests done. Yes, it costs a bit and yes, it’s icky doing those tests, but it’s worth it. Until you know what you’re actually trying to fix, how can you be sure you’re doing the right thing? For example, if you have yeast overgrowth but you’re continuing to include sugar in your diet, you’re not going to notice substantial improvement and you won’t derive maximum benefit from your diet.

For this step, you’ll need to visit a nutritionalist or a gut-health specialist. Surprisingly, I discovered that I don’t have any yeast issues, but I do have low stomach acid and lingering inflammation. We also found that there’s a big bad bacteria party going on in my gut, and hardly any good guys to balance them out. Each of these issues requires specific supplements, which work in conjunction with diet, exercise and medication to help bring my symptoms under control.

2. Cut out nightshades

It’s very, very difficult to do this, but I do believe it’s worth it. Some might say that a life without tomatoes (or potato chips) is no life at all… and it’s hard to argue with that. But a happy belly might. Although I’ve made lots of changes, I think this has been one of the most beneficial (for me. Loads of people have no issues with nightshades). I can say with certainty that when I eat spicy foods, my belly doesn’t thank me for it. On that note…

3. Listen to your belly pain (and all other aches too)

One of the most pervasive symptoms of IBD is pain. Stomach cramps, of course, but also joint pain and other aches and niggling pains throughout the body.

When you’re in a flare or in an untreated state, your stomach cramps are likely to be constant or at least fairly frequent. One of the great joys in healing is that this pain finally starts to abate. Which is why it’s so important to pay attention to stomach cramps when you’re on a healing diet. They indicate that your body is reacting badly to something you’ve put in it. Now that you’re healing, the amazing thing about this kind of pain is that it’s pinpointing something specific – that is, something you’ve ingested – rather than a general state of illness. It means that you can take action and cut that item out of your diet – either temporarily so you can re-test it later, or permanently. Always, always listen to your gut pain. If I eat dairy – bam, cramps. Same goes for spicy food or anything too rich.

By the same token, you should listen to the other pains too. They indicate that your condition is either improving or worsening. For me, one of the prime indicators of a flare is the terrible pain I get in my knees, ankles, feet and wrists. Now that I’m healing, the pain is less frequent and far less severe. However, the fact that I do still experience it tells me that my gut is yet far from healed.

4. Pay attention to visible indicators

People with autoimmune diseases tend to have more than one of them – lucky us! I have UC, but I also have eczema/psoriasis, dry eyes and many allergies. Monitoring these more visible, measurable symptoms of autoimmune disease are an amazing indicator of your overall health. Because they’re all linked to each other, when they improve, you can be fairly sure your gut is healing – and vice versa of course. Now that the angry, scaly red spots on my legs are healing, I feel confident that my gut is starting to heal (FYI: Spending time in the sun, which is something I rarely do, also helped to dry them up quite nicely. Use sunblock!).

5. Eat good fats but don’t overdo it

After meds and supplements, the most beneficial thing for an inflamed gut is healthy fats like avocado and coconut milk. Try to include these in every meal, but in moderation. I find that if I overdo them, I become extremely nauseous, and may be rewarded with cramps and diarrhoea. The same goes for nuts – again, I’m speaking for myself here. I can tolerate nuts in small quantities but if I overdo it, especially in combination with alcohol (come on, what’s better than nuts and wine?!), I can become quite violently ill. Too much of a good thing, right? 🙂 PS: speaking of alcohol, it’s actually prohibited on AIP, but if you do choose to consume it, stick to dry wines only (nothing else is legal), and don’t overdo it, or this might happen.

As I say, these are the factors that seem to be working for me, but they’re different for everyone. What are your most important success factors for diet success?