just call me raegen

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Category: Health

Thanksgiving to My Health, Part 3: My Reactive Hypoglycemia Diet

In this third installation of my T-Give to my restored health, I’m going to talk about my reactive hypoglycemia diet.

Not this one.

Not this one, either.

And no, not even this one.

The one that worked for me was significantly different from all of these aforelinked diets. Then again, my hypoglycemia seemed to be linked to the prescription medications I’d taken and the resultant sh**storm (quite literally) happening in — and then out — my intestines. In other words, my hypoglycemia was different. Heck, my whole body is different. Always has been.

Wow. Even I am horrified by this.

Which brings me to an important point: Touching again on something I said in an earlier blog this month, everybody — and every body — is different. That’s why so much of what you might read on the Internet and try might not work for you — including this. While some things might be worth a shot (again, within reason, and again, I’m not a doctor), many may fail, as each of us is infinitely and indecipherably complex. I can only detail what worked for me and what didn’t.

But I can say that, in reading article after blog after book, it became clear to me that no one had, in the words of the beloved GSW rubric, synthesized the information regarding what many hypoglycemics experience. No one had put the various pieces of what I and many others have gone through together or connected the dots.

Sugar & prescription meds = death!

For example, there are links to discussion boards wherein people talk about upper right quadrant abdominal pain in conjunction with hypoglycemia. Well, in my case, this turned out to be an overactive gallbladder that was likely overactive to try to actually digest something I ate and kill bad intestinal infestations resulting from the antibiotics and antifungals that yes, killed a lot, but no, did not kill everything, but yes, also rendered my intestine fairly incapable of absorbing nutrients. (I lost 15 pounds in 6 months by virtue of doing absolutely nothing besides not digesting food — no exercise, nothing — and that’s a lot of weight for someone who’s never broken a buck thirty in her life.) And as my intestinal issues cleared up on another diet (see Part 2 of this series), so did the gallbladder pain and the severity of my hypoglycemia, which I don’t think is a coincidence.

So now, without further ado, here’s what worked for me:

1) Intestinal repopulation. I never knew how true it was until it was all messed up inside me, but the gut is the linchpin to your being. It handles digestion. It handles immune function. These two things alone are perhaps the most critical functions to actually functioning as a human. And both are pretty much handled by creepy-looking little microorganisms hanging out in there.

Improving Human Intestinal Health

I’m E. coli, and I approved this message. (Photo credit: PNNL – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

This brings me to probiotics. Let’s talk about these.

These little creatures appear in yogurt and other fermented foods (like genuine sauerkraut and real pickles, not the vinegared kinds you buy from Vlasic or Claussen), but they are also crammed into pills you can get over the counter, and they are your friend. The refrigerated kind keep the bacteria alive so some percentage will still be functional once they get into your colon, and ones with enteric coatings protect the bacteria from being destroyed by your stomach acid on the way down the hatch.

This article by the New York Times details how, just as there are different blood types, there are different intestinal types. And though I can’t find an online link beyond this one, I read in a diabetes magazine that one study found that diabetics are usually missing L. reuteri from their intestinal flora. Because hypoglycemia and diabetes have so much in common, I make sure the probiotics I take contain L. reuteri.

Help us help you.

I take my probiotics first thing in the morning with nothing but water. I don’t eat for at least a half hour after that.

2) Multivitamins. Vitamins play such a critical role in how your body does what it does. If you’re deficient in certain vitamins, your body likes to stop doing important stuff that you’d prefer it would do — like grow hair and heal wounds. You can get vitamins from the foods you eat — presuming you actually eat anything nutritious — but you likely won’t get everything you need strictly from food.

Even if you did, though, if your intestines are all jacked up, you’re not going to absorb everything you could from your food. That’s why vitamin supplementation is particularly important for hypoglycemics like me.

When my intestine was really upset, I would take my yeast-free vitamin with nothing but water a half hour or hour after my morning probiotics. This seems counterintuitive, given all the labeling on vitamin bottles and many people’s experience with stomach upset from taking vitamins.  However, my allergist told me this stomach upset is actually the result of the vitamins taking their time going through the intestinal tract when they’re slowed down by the food you’ve eaten and are trying to digest at the same time — hence, his recommendation to take them with nothing but water to flush them through an irritated system as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, this worked for me.

Like this, only inside my colon.

3) CoQ10.  This is another supplement my allergist recommended. This enzyme — an energy generator — is often deficient in diabetics as well, and again, because hypoglycemia and diabetes are both metabolic disorders sharing many of the same dysfunctions, this can be helpful to both. I’d take this once a day with a meal — typically breakfast.

4) Evening primrose oil. This omega 6 is actually great not only for reducing inflammation, but for addressing female hormonal issues as well. Now, I know there’s a lot of controversy over omega balances (“We get too much omega 6, not enough omega 3, yadda-yadda), but I took this omega without any others under my allergist’s recommendation, as it’s helpful for many gastrointestinal disorders, including ulcerative colitis and IBS. I’d take one 500 mg capsule twice a day with food.

5) And now, the food. And your new best friend, the glycemic index.

The glycemic index tells you from a glucose-and-insulin perspective how a food is going to affect the average human being. The lower the number, the less impact the food will have on blood sugar. Note that white flour spaghetti has a lower number than whole grain brown rice, which in turn has a lower number than a banana. (This will be important for what I discuss later on.)

Damn you, vixen!

In my worst phase of intestinal distress, I’d begun to develop food intolerances, which in my case were not true food allergies, but instead allergic-type reactions due to the fact that I simply wasn’t digesting food properly. I became temporarily (but thankfully only mildly) intolerant of chicken, for example, while hypoglycemic.

And in the worst phase of my hypoglycemia, I was eating every two to three hours just to avoid the ensuing panic (a mental feeling actually induced by blood sugar levels), head pounding, and general sense that I was going to pass out that occurred for me when my blood sugar started dropping too low. It was a pain in the butt and annoying as hell, preparing that much food and having to interrupt my life just to feed, but it did get better over time, and I’m grateful every day that I held pretty strictly to the diet so I could speed the process, even though it did feel like it took forever. I can eat at more regular intervals like the rest of humanity now, and it’s the frickin’ best thing ever.

Actually, I lied. THIS is the best thing ever.

The typical reactive hypoglycemia diets out there got it wrong in a couple different areas for me — and again, this is likely because I was dealing with hypoglycemia somehow related to improper digestion.

A) Whole grains were not my friend. Actually, any kind of insoluble fiber was not my friend. This fiber is indigestible to humans, and while it can help with constipation, it can also give someone with the opposite problem one heck of a time. Whole grains will likely make most hypoglycemics’ plight worse in the latter case, because the more irritated one’s colon is, the less it digests and absorbs, and the more out of control insulin and blood sugar levels become. Whole grains — like brown rice and quinoa, for example — were particularly gruesome for me, because not only are they insoluble fibers, but they’re carbs to boot. Keeping a food journal and documenting especially awful blood sugar swings associated with larger (though not large by any means) amounts of brown rice I consumed in a single sitting helped me figure this one out.

B) Conversely — and counterintuively — refined grain products (e.g., white flour pasta and white rice) in moderation helped me. I’m not saying go out and eat some donuts and cake. I’m saying the carbohydrates from sugar-free or low-sugar (low being 5 g of sugar per serving or less) refined grain products helped me. My body needed some kind of carbohydrates to keep going, but table sugar and fruit sugar were too much for me to handle.

English: Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona,...

Stay back! Don’t come any closer! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can hear all the gluten-free hoi palloi whining now: “I can’t eat gluten! I’ll die!” Look, unless you have celiac disease — the legitimate gluten allergy for which you can be tested but likely would’ve had severe, life-threatening symptoms of your whole life — you’re probably just brainwashed by all of today’s gluten-free propaganda. Or perhaps you developed an intolerance (which will likely be temporary) because you’ve got something funky going on with your intestines. But just in case you’re still not convinced, did you know that white flour pasta is actually about 9o% gluten-free because the flour it’s made from is so heavily refined? (I didn’t, either, until my allergist told me.)

Now, I’m not touting the benefits of food engineering, and if you truly believe you feel better not eating gluten, fine, but I will tell you that white pasta helped this hypoglycemic manage blood sugar and actually calm — not irritate — her colon. And the gluten-free brown rice pasta I’d been eating to try to be “healthier” as a vegetarian? Higher on the glycemic index than white pasta, brown rice, and a banana, folks.

Sure, I look healthy… but I’m actually plotting to put you in a diabetic coma.

C) Speaking of bananas… fruit was the hardest thing on me when it came to managing my blood sugar. Staying away from all fruit and fruit products (even no-sugar-added juice) was one of the best things I ever did when I was really sick. And to this day, I still don’t drink fruit juice. Plenty of veggies have vitamin C and other nutrients you need — without all the simple sugars.

D) Cook all veggies, though, while your intestine is healing. Again, insoluble fiber was not my friend. Raw veggies, like whole grains, kept my colon irritated. Even at the expense of cooking away some of the nutrients, cooking vegetables makes them easier to digest. And after all, you can’t absorb any nutrients if your colon’s too irritated by fiber to digest anything. Better to give your body a shot at digesting by making it easier for it to through cooking.

E) One of my BFFs (best food friends) was meat. Deal with it, vegetarians and vegans. And pray you never become hypoglycemic, because you’ll probably have to ditch your high-fiber beans, and your fruits and grains will not save you. And, in fact, it is in part why vegetarians and vegans are more prone to yeast infections — which may explain why they’re so grouchy; candida is linked to depression and mental illness — and why it takes them much longer to heal.

The yeast makes us cray-zaaaay… The yeast makes us cray-zay-ay-ay…

F) One of my other BFFs was fat. Fat slows all sorts of carbs down, and let’s be honest: It’s delicious! Extra-virgin (huh-huh, she said “virgin”) olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, and organic butter were my top three. The only thing to be careful of here is to balance that out with some gut-stopping foods (e.g., white carbs, hard cheeses — unless casein irritates your colon — or certain meats), because fat can do the same work as fiber, though with less irritation to the intestinal lining.

G) Dairy: yes, please, and no, thanks. Hard cheese (heavy in casein protein, low in lactose) was helpful to me while I was having really bad hypoglycemic episodes. Milk, soft cheeses, and yogurt were not, because these things still have much of the lactose left in them, which upsets my stomach when I’m imbalanced (I’m fine with these products otherwise). Hard cheese constipates, milk and other liquid or soft dairy products generally don’t and can sometimes achieve the opposite of constipation.

So what did a typical day in the diet life of Rae Rae look like? Here’s just one example:

Breakfast: 2 eggs cooked in olive oil, baked sweet potato home fries.

Snack: Breakfast leftovers (because I had terrible nausea in the morning with my hypoglycemia, I generally couldn’t finish it all, even though I knew I had to eat).

Lunch: Turkey breast meat (and not that fake turkey lunch meat, either — the Thanksgiving kind), sauteed spinach and butter (sans garlic, since garlic bothered my tummy), olives.

Snack: High-quality, low-sugar beef jerky.

Dinner: Spaghetti and homemade ground beef meatballs in marinara sauce — heavy on the meatballs, easy on the spaghetti — and a little Parmesan cheese.

Now, I realize that this diet looks pretty darn sad. It was. But it worked and was necessary, as were those multivitamins, because on a regimen so strict with so many foods eliminated, you need to get the vitamins and minerals somewhere without the trouble the rest of a food containing them causes.

I’m living proof that hypoglycemia can and will get better and can be controlled entirely through diet if you are willing to be really strict with it and do what’s necessary. It’s hard, but it really is worth it. And as time goes on, foods can be incorporated back into your diet — though I’m guessing you (like me) will make significantly different choices when it comes to what you regularly eat once you’ve felt the pain of hypoglycemia. And it really is a pain — physically and mentally. Few people outside of those who’ve lived with it can truly appreciate what it’s like to look normal on the outside but be feeling like death on the inside, day in and day out, for months or even years on end.

The symptoms of low blood sugar are tough to live with, but at least there are warning signs — like those headaches or that panic out of nowhere for seemingly no reason. That’s why it’s so important to keep that food journal going and always keep snacks around. You’ll need them. For me, I find one or two raw apricots will do the trick until I can get a complete meal. This was the one way fruit was useful to me. It was a quick fix for an episode, though most people (foolishly) use candy or fruit juice, which is much harder on the hypoglycemic body.

Keep the faith, though, if you are hypoglycemic. You may be suffering now, but it can get better. Honor and obey your body, and it will serve you well once again!

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Thanksgiving to My Health, Part 1: Being Vegetarian Made Me Sick

It’s November now, and with T-Give coming up, I’m naturally thinking a lot about the things I’m grateful for.

But actually, there’s one thing specifically I’ve been particularly grateful for every day since 2011, and that is my restored health. See, people (and no one could’ve been guiltier of this than me) take so much of their physical capabilities for granted — that is, until those capabilities are stripped from them by illness or accident. You only have one body, and you won’t know how much it really does for you — or how much you’ve truly taken it for granted — until it fails you.

Fail Silo

This is, like, a visual metaphor. (Photo credit: thetorpedodog)

That’s exactly what happened to me, and in honor of finally being a darn near regularly functioning human body again (some of what now ails me has no cure) after nearly a year of desperately searching for answers, I’d like to share some of what happened to me, in the hopes that someone else who’s going through or will go through what I did can save themselves a lot of trouble that I couldn’t.

Super-important disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, and I can only detail what worked for me. No matter what, whether you’re sick or just considering a new dietary lifestyle, you’re still going to have to educate yourself as well as see a medical professional of some kind — Western, Eastern, homeopath, naturopath, shaman, whatever. People think they can just hop into any old diet and everything’s going to be OK, but this is simply not true — especially if you have any kind of pre-existing conditions (in which case, I urge you to pay extra-special attention to what I experienced, because you may complicate your health issues further, depending on the diet you choose).

Still, in the quest to heal, I absorbed loads of information — both helpful and harmful — that might assist others.

There are many ways people go about understanding their bodies. In other words, there are lots of dietary regimens out there that seek to optimize one’s physical being via focusing on a particular element. There’s the Eat Right for Your Type book by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, which focuses on using blood type to determine one’s optimal diet. There’s also Dr. Elliot Abravanel’s Body Type Diet, which focuses on body shape and cravings to identify what type of diet might best suit a person. (And just for clarification, when I say “diet,” I mean what a person eats, not what a person does to lose weight.)

These are just two resources I’ve found particularly helpful to me, especially in light of the both rather extreme vegetarian/vegan and Paleo/Primal diets that seem to be popular right now. A really old Italian man (the only kind of Italian man that should ever be listened to, incidentally) once told me, with great gusto — complete with the raised, shaking fist — “Eat everything!” Well, that isn’t going to happen — I’m too picky an eater — but there’s a truth about health hidden in his words, as evidenced by the Italian matriarch of my family, my grandmother, who literally did eat everything — I’m talking bone marrow, rinds of fat off meat (along with the meat, of course), sweetbreads, dandelion leaves she actually had me pick out of our lawn, and more — and lived to be 93.

Sweetbreads of veal

Sweetbreads look pretty delicious… until you find out what they are. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At this point, it might be helpful to provide a few facts in order to understand a little bit about where I’m coming from when I say everybody has to find what works for them from a dietary perspective, and there is no one diet that will work for everyone, no matter what anyone out there says about it. The proof, for me, is simply what I’ve lived through, and I’ll always believe my own personal experience over any propaganda — educated or otherwise — anyone else has to deliver. While the title of this blog may mislead you to believe I am against vegetarianism, I am not, except in my own case. I realize there are many health benefits to, as well as admirable spiritual and political reasons for, being vegetarian or vegan for some people. Some people can get away with being vegetarian or vegan, but for me, it made me sick as a dog — twice, in nearly exactly the same manner, which I do not consider to be a coincidence. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s experienced this.

Now, circling back to those two books I referenced earlier, here’s a brief profile:

  • Always either underweight or right in the appropriate BMI place for my height
  • Type O blood
  • Thyroid-type body shape (according to the assessment in Dr. Abravanel’s book)

The last two items alone, if you look at the two resources I mentioned above more in depth, would indicate that I should eat meat and cut out a lot of carbs for optimal health, and the fact that those two different resources — considering entirely different sets of data — have so much overlap in what they suggest is right for me to eat is rather eerie. But again, I said I rely most upon my own personal experience, so let me detail what happened to me that convinced me that I could never be a healthy vegetarian.

Round 1: I meet my first vegans… and my first battle against my intestinal flora

At 22, I found myself at a terrific little literary press, working on events as an intern. This was before “vegan” was a household term, so imagine my surprise when J and K, two coworkers slightly younger than myself, announced that they were. “What’s that?” I asked.

Forrest Gump (character)

Mama always said to never ask a vegan that question. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve ever actually known a vegan IRL, you won’t be surprised by the much more than an earful I got about veganism, amongst other things (like this little urban legend about a McDonald’s chicken sandwich that did indeed fool me at the time). Nevertheless, I like animals and am not a fan of slaughter (unless it’s this Slaughter), so I thought I could at the very least give vegetarianism a try.

With far less literature available and easily accessible on the subject, I began this first stint without vitamins. And did they even sell probiotics back then? (If they did, I certainly didn’t know about it.) But I did have youth on my side. I stopped eating meat entirely, but kept dairy and eggs.

EGG & CHEESE BAGEL SANDWICH

Because this is just too delicious to turn away from. (Photo credit: spike55151)

In a few short months, instead of glowing, I was graying. No, literally, my skin was actually losing its youthful glow. My hair started breaking, if it didn’t completely fall out. And no, this wasn’t my body going through a “healing crisis” or “detox,” as most vegetarian or vegan propaganda will tell you. My body was going through a severe malnutrition crisis.

Of course, I did lose weight; in fact, my stomach started sinking in, my boyfriend at the time pointed out to me. This was again due to a lack of proper digestion and a subsequent lack of nutrients that just reinforced the lack of proper digestion. It was a downward spiral for my health in those few short months I sustained the diet.

So it’s no surprise, then, that I got the first bacterial infection I’ve ever had in my life outside of strep throat I caught from a friend at school as a kid. My digestive tract was completely jacked from this vegetarianism thing.

It got worse when I had to take an antibiotic — so much worse, because then I essentially had no good bacteria left to help me digest and heal. I then began experiencing terrible pain in my lower abdomen, along with a yeast infection.

English: Candida albicans

Candida, you are a beast, you are! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then I had to take an antifungal medication — killing off even more organisms that might’ve helped me digest and heal. The pain in my belly, however, remained.

Unable to find a Western doctor with any explanation for my experience (everyone just wanted to throw more pills at me), I sought counsel from a recommended Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist. After 6 months of acupuncture, taking a tea called tan kwe gin, eating red meat as rare as I could stand it once a week, drinking a glass of red wine once a week for circulation, and eating a small square of dark chocolate every day (also to improve circulation), not only did my health return, but I was doing better than I was even before I stopped eating meat. I put some weight back on (digesting again!) and felt great.

This is 72% cacao organic dark chocolate from ...

And she’s buying the stairway to heaven. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Round 2: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, I’m a moron.

Fast-forward about a decade. I was still at a healthy weight, and I’d even gotten some muscle definition from working out at the gym for a year (first time in my life). I was literally at peak performance, seeing improvement even in minor but chronic health issues I’d dealt with since I was a child. All was right in my little world.

And that’s when I got the brilliant idea to try to be a vegetarian again.

“I could do it better this time around,” I convinced myself. After all, there was so much more literature out there, so many more people living the lifestyle to learn from, supplements galore, etc. I would still eat eggs and dairy, and I would take vitamins to supplement anything I would miss out on from the meat.

I remember so distinctly the many people who told me not to do it — and I’m even talking people who were vegetarians themselves, believe it or not. But I was certain this time would be different, and I didn’t heed the warnings.

Railroad Crossing

“Meh. NBD. I’ll just keep going,” she said. (Photo credit: Capt Kodak)

And I was actually right. This time, it was different. This time, in addition to the gray skin and breaking hair, I got horribly dry skin and these weird little bumps on my forehead, like pimples without heads, that would bleed when squeezed. This time, it took me longer to develop the exact same bacterial infection I’d gotten in my 20s. But this time, getting sick knocked me so hard on my tuckus that it took me over a year to recover to mostly normal again; I’m still not where I was two years ago health-wise, and I probably never will be.

I went through the same antibiotic and antifungal treatments as before, starting November 2010; oddly enough, the antifungal cleared up the rash on my forehead, which I can only assume now was yeast-related. But by March 2011, I was having terrible pains in the upper right quadrant of my abdomen, right near my ribcage. And you know that song you sang as a kid about No. 2? Well, try having that for months on end.

Think fast

When you’re sliding into first… (Photo credit: Roger Smith)

Worst of all — I know, like everything I said before wasn’t bad enough, right? — I began experiencing strange bouts of lightheadeness, physical weakness and sensations I could only come close to describing to others by using the word “weird” — as in, “I’m feeling weird; I think I’m going to pass out.”

Sure enough, I’d become a reactive hypoglycemic seemingly overnight.

It was dark times for little Rae Rae, that’s for sure. My vegetarianism — begun both times with such good intentions — had rendered my body susceptible to infections, and once I started taking any sort of prescription medication, things got even worse than I ever could’ve imagined they might.

Thankfully — though it took many months, many doctors, many frustrations, and many tears — I did find some answers, which I’ll include in later installations of this blog, to appear throughout the month of November, in honor of recovery.