Friday, October 30, 2009

The Diet Connection

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Ever wonder why so many adults have food allergies lately? I have a theory, based on some research I did when I had my first grand mal seizure back in December of 2007.

There are many pathogens in our world, bacteria can make us acutely sick, and in certain situations, like staph pneumonia, can cause death. Viruses go dormant, like the herpes virus, and reappear when our immune system is weakened. Yeasts, which historically did not cause much disease, are now seen in many otherwise healthy people. This may be due to overuse of antibiotics, or a simple breakdown of the structure of our immune system.

It seems certain viruses are fond of the neurological system. They are happiest when occupying some part of that system. Yeasts, when left to their own devices by killing off all the good bacteria with antibiotics, are very happy with all the simple and complex carbohydrates we ingest. These include all the yeasty wheat breads, high sugar syrups and even some fruits.

My theory, by no means complete, is this: it seems to be the combination of what we eat and the pathogens we've been exposed to that creates these "food allergies." When we no longer eat the foods these pathogens like, we no longer have the symptoms of the pathogens overgrowth. These symptoms vary from person to person, including all kinds of digestive disorders, headaches, dizzy spells, hives, difficulty breathing, and yes, seizures.

While some of these symptoms are described as "allergy" and others are described as "intolerance," I think they stem from the same thing, permeability of the gut caused by pathogens, viruses, yeasts and possibly bacteria, which allow certain food particles into the blood stream. These then are identified as undigested protein pathogens by the immune system, which then creates antibodies for them. The immune system then creates histamine when you ingest these foods again, warning you not to eat these proteins.

I think an "intolerance" arises when the symptoms of allergy are so slight they are ignored. After my third daughter was born, I experienced rapid weight loss, 125 pounds in only ten months, and sometimes I'd lose as much as 30 pounds in a month. I was not trying to lose weight, but it seemed everything I ate made my stomach cramp. I did not experience typical digestive disturbances, such as vomiting and diarrhea, my belly just hurt.

Prior to this, after my second daughter was born, I had my first simple partial seizure. If you don't know what that is, it is simply a partial misfiring of the brain, resulting in loss of motor control, bodily function or thought process, but not a total loss of consciousness. Mine felt like I was having a dizzy spell and I needed to sit down. My husband later told me that my memory was terrible during this time.

Of course doctors did not know what to do with me. They thought I had some middle ear problem, or some strange form of post-partum depression. But after my first grand-mal seizure, I took note of the strange rashes I'd break out with, on the tops of both feet, or backs of both hands, my normally thin hair was falling out at such a rate that I literally could see my scalp. I'd also notice these "dizzy spells" happened about 20 minutes after I ate, and by now I was having them two or three times a day. The only thing the doctors found was an active Epstein-Barr Virus infection, of which I had no signs of at all.

After reading about celiac disease on the internet, my husband and I decided that it would not hurt to try a wheat free diet. I had taken out soy years before because soy protein powder had a direct, almost immediate effect on my "dizzy spell" seizures, so I was already carefully reading labels. After a week on the diet my seizures increased. On my daughter's third birthday my husband got a flour free "cake" from our local Whole Foods. About 15 minutes after my first bite I had another simple partial seizure. I was now convinced some ingredient in the food was a connection, but which one? I went back to the internet for more research.

I read that some celiacs, of which then I was almost convinced I was one, need to remove dairy in order to get better. It turns out the main ingredient in that "flourless" cake was cream. OK, so I'll go on a dairy free, wheat free and soy free diet. It would be hard, especially with one income, three children and gluten free flour prices five to ten times the cost of wheat flour, but it was worth a try.

The first few weeks were difficult, and limited to meat, rice, fruit and veggies, but something wonderful happened. About a day into it my friend Theresa, without knowing I was on the diet said, "You've got some color in your cheeks." I noticed the lack of strange matching rashes, then I noticed I'd go a whole day without a partial seizure, and then I went four days, then five, then nine days without a seizure. That nine day stretch was exciting, I hadn't went that long without a seizure in a year. On the tenth day, August 1, 2008, I had my last seizure.

That one was a big one. As God's providence would have it, my brother insisted on stopping over there that evening. "He never comes over," I thought, "why is he being so insistent?" My question was answered about five minutes after he arrived. While I was making dinner for my family I had my first daytime, full-blown, grand mal seizure.

I woke up to my three-year-old little daughter crying and asking if I was OK. She had never seen one of my grand mal seizures before, since all of them, prior to this one, happened during my sleep. My brother, who is normally pretty calm, was truly shaken. He was asking my then seven-year-old what my husband's phone number was. He helped me to my bed and I slept off the drowsiness that follows a seizure like this. It was my shortest seizure, but I agreed to go on medicine to make sure it did not happen again. After all, I had a seven, three and two-year-old to take care of, and what if my brother had not been there?

While on the lowest dose of Tegretol, I was completely seizure free. I continued the diet, once in a while experimenting with foods to see if one or the other I could tolerate. I'd get the most severe diarrhea when I accidentally drank wheat grass juice. I was totally repelled by the smell of cheese, my stomach hurt when I took a lick of my daughter's ice cream. I decided I was on to something. Even if the anti-seizure meds were working, the diet was doing something too. The biggest benefit was I could eat a full meal and not feel pain. I started to gain weight again, I started to notice my hair growing back, I had energy again. No matter what, I was not going to eat wheat, dairy or soy.

I needed periodic blood work to make sure my blood counts did not suffer with the Tegretol. After the third round of tests I got some bad news. My neurologist was convinced that the Tegretol was making my white blood cell, and platelet counts bottom out. "I have to take you off of this," she said. She offered another drug, but I was happy to take the chance to "test" the diet. If it did not heal me the way I thought it did, then I'd have another seizure for sure.

So September 17, 2008 I took my last dose of Tegretol, and waited. A week passed and no seizures, a month passed, I was feeling great, and no seizures. I had energy I hadn't had in years. My hair needed cut because the thin stringy stuff from when I was sick was replaced with fuller, thicker, shinier hair. I was able to eat. Now I am driving again, and expecting our fourth baby girl. I love experimenting with gluten free recipes and finding replacements for those foods I'm "missing." This gluten free, dairy free, soy free diet is not easy, but the rewards are so worth the effort.

What about that Epstein-Barr virus infection? The levels were off the charts and I had not had mono for 16 years. The connection was never made between the infection and my seizures, but what if there was one? Had my immune system degraded to the point where long conquered viruses had an opportunity to flourish or did the virus cause my immune system, and the neurological system, to react to the food? In either case, when I started the diet, I also started taking garlic, and not the powdered pill form either, cloves and cloves of garlic a day. If I had this active infection, I wanted to fight it if I could.

This leads me to my theory. Somehow the virus, or some other pathogen, like yeast, has caused an imbalance somewhere. Somehow the two are connected. Was there some type of pathogenic bacteria in the kiefer I had become so fond of? Celiac disease is much more prevalent in Europe, and so is kiefer. Did I become intolerant to these foods after some digestive illness, like a stomach virus? This happened to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the star of "The View," and since she has felt better with a wheat free celiac diet.

I realize this is all "anecdotal" evidence, but this is where it starts. This is how we found ulcers were not caused by stress, but h-pylori bacteria. The anecdotal evidence may point us to the real research that must be done to find an answer. The real question is there anybody willing to fund the research without some promise of drug profits.

Thanks for reading my story. I hope it helps you, but don't go by what I say alone. Talk to your doctor, and if he won't listen, find another. A good doctor is worth his weight in wheat-free flour! :)

Copyright October 30, 2009 - Christine Emmick

Please check with your healthcare provider before trying any advice on this site.