Adventures and Experiments in Natural Living

Peeling the Onion: My Journey Towards Better Health

Have you ever stumbled across one of those blogs, one that has plenty of content and then stops pretty suddenly? This always makes me wonder what’s going on, what has happened in the writer’s life to stop them from writing.

Well, it’s been about four months since my last post, and I’m going to tell you what’s gone on in mine.

Last year, 2020, was a scary time for me. With the pandemic in the background, I developed some very extreme health symptoms, some of which were debilitating, like extreme brain fog and fatigue, and others that were alarming, like a constantly racing heart and frequent palpitations. My inflammation was also extremely high, causing me to wonder if I had an autoimmune condition.

Luckily, after digging through some low inflammation cookbooks, I finally identified what was causing those disturbing symptoms: I had developed severe histamine intolerance.

Adopting a low histamine diet made the worst of my symptoms clear up in about a week. I wrote more about how I figured out I had histamine intolerance here.

Histamine intolerance was the first layer of the metaphorical onion I peeled.

Histamine Intolerance

I decided to seek out help in dealing with this condition. I spoke to a couple of health professionals about my histamine intolerance, and both informed me that histamine intolerance is frequently caused by small intestine bacterial overgrowth, also known as SIBO.

I got tested for SIBO, and the test turned out to be positive.

My SIBO breath test results showed high levels of both hydrogen and methane, levels which tend to be consistent with a long lasting SIBO condition. Histamine intolerance is also more common in long lasting SIBO.

SIBO was the second layer of my health onion.

SIBO

At the beginning of 2021 I spent most of my free time learning about SIBO, so that I could find the best strategy to take towards long term healing.

So now that I had two layers of the onion peeled – histamine intolerance and SIBO – I adjusted my diet to avoid fermentable foods, following the Low Histamine Bi-Phasic diet.

Strangely, I started to notice other symptoms now, such as bladder pain and burning sensations when I had a bowel movement. My inflammation seemed to have returned full throttle, even though I was still eating a low histamine diet. And, weirdest of all, the third and fourth toes on both of my feet started swelling up, feeling very painful when I walked. I showed them to my husband and he said that it looked like gout.

During my SIBO self-education, I learned about some of the other food chemical intolerances that sometimes go hand in hand with SIBO – one of them was oxalates, a natural pesticide in plants that can accumulate in our body tissue when intake is too high.

I wasn’t sure if my symptoms matched up with oxalate issues, but I decided to try lowering some of the high oxalate foods in my diet. My gouty toes improved, my bladder pain went down.

Then one day I decided to give myself a free day from my strict diet. I made a batch of cookies, the main ingredient of which was almond flour. I ate several of these cookies and felt exhilarated, thinking, “Woohoo, a free day to eat anything I want! What a brilliant idea!”

The next day I woke up with an inflammed lower back, gouty toes, bladder pain, and burning poop again. I could also tell my histamine levels were up again. I felt miserable.

Eventually I started working with a dietician who specializes in food chemical intolerances, and she helped me understand that the oxalates were causing a lot of inflammation in my body, which was as a result causing a histamine cascade. So my histamine intolerance may be caused by SIBO, but also by oxalate overload.

Oxalates

While I originally thought that oxalates were just this minor issue I had along with the others, my point of view has shifted, and I now understand that they were the third important issue I had discovered on my health journey – yet another layer in my onion.

With hindsight, I realized that when I adapted my diet to help with my SIBO, I unknowingly started eating more high oxalate foods, which is why I started noticing new symptoms. And yes, I have learned that oxalates can indeed cause gout.

I’m now following a low oxalate diet, and have plans to do a microbiome test to see whether I’m lacking one of the key gut bacteria that helps break down oxalates.

You’ll be hearing more from me here on my experiences with oxalate dumping, the super high oxalate diet I used to eat – and why I think that spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, and my formerly beloved lambsquarters should probably be considered toxic rather than healthy – even for those with a well-functioning gut.

Peeling Back the Layers

Every time I peel one of these layers back, I try to learn as much as I can. In part this is so that I can best know what to do to protect my health, but I will admit that it’s also for the sheer pleasure of learning how the natural world works, including the natural world inside our bodies.

Meanwhile, I’m undergoing treatment for SIBO, and maintaining a therapeutic diet that is low histamine, low fermentable, and low in oxalates. I hope to publish some of my recipes here so that those with the same very difficult food restrictions as I have can benefit from my kitchen experiments.

My food restrictions make me so much more grateful for the nourishing foods that I am able to eat and gain sustenance from, as well as the herbal medications I’m using to heal myself.

Have you had issues with any of these three problems yourself? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

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