30 November 2015

Eating to starve endo, MS, and obesity

I came across William Li's TED talk while I was browsing Netflix. The title was a bit misleading and I almost didn't watch it because it seemed focused on cancer. But I chose to watch it anyway. I'm so glad I did. William Li talks about the regular creation of blood vessels in the body (angiogenesis) and how excessive angiogenesis can lead to a host of diseases including:

  • Cancer
  • Blinding diseases
  • Psoriasis
  • Arthritis
  • Endometriosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Obesity
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral malaria
  • Rosacea

My attention immediately zeroed in on the fact that endometriosis, multiple sclerosis, and obesity were all on the same list. I thought, "Could it be that my suspicions that I've had for years are finally being substantiated—that all my conditions are caused by the same issue?"

I was even more intrigued when William Li talked about the focus of his research. He is trying to find ways to nourish the body that will inhibit excessive growth of blood vessels and thereby starve these diseases. At about time marker 12:55, he shows a slide that lists the foods he has found to have anti-angiogenesis properties. Here's the food list:

  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Apples
  • Pineapple
  • Cherries
  • Red grapes
  • Bok choy
  • Kale
  • Soybeans
  • Ginseng
  • Maitake mushroom
  • Licorice
  • Turmeric
  • Nutmeg
  • Artichokes
  • Lavender
  • Pumpkin
  • Sea cucumber
  • Tuna
  • Parsley
  • Garlic
  • Tomato
  • Olive oil
  • Grape seed oil
  • Dark chocolate
  • Artichoke (not on his original list but noted on a subsequent slide in the talk)
  • Glucosamine (not on his original list but noted on a subsequent slide in the talk)
  • Vitamin E (not on his original list but noted on a subsequent slide in the talk)
  • Brassica (not on his original list but noted on a subsequent slide in the talk)

I highly recommend watching the talk in its entirety to see the research—particularly the photos of the effects of strawberries and red grapes on tumors. It is powerful!

14 October 2015

Discovering how to live in the moment

Click on image to enlarge
Finding a new book and new information
A few months ago, a Facebook friend recommended a book by Donna Jackson Nakazawa entitled "Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal". When I looked it up on Amazon to investigate further, I was intrigued by the synopsis that reads:
"A groundbreaking book showing the link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and adult illnesses such as heart disease, autoimmune disease, and cancer—Childhood Disrupted also explains how to cope with these emotional traumas and even heal from them. Your biography becomes your biology. The emotional trauma we suffer as children not only shapes our emotional lives as adults, it also affects our physical health, longevity, and overall wellbeing. Scientists now know on a bio-chemical level exactly how parents’ chronic fights, divorce, death in the family, being bullied or hazed, and growing up with a hypercritical, alcoholic, or mentally ill parent can leave permanent, physical “fingerprints” on our brains. When we as children encounter sudden or chronic adversity, excessive stress hormones cause powerful changes in the body, altering our body chemistry. The developing immune system and brain react to this chemical barrage by permanently resetting our stress response to 'high,' which in turn can have a devastating impact on our mental and physical health."
After reading that, I went ahead and bought the Kindle version of the book. Hubby decided he wanted to buy the Audible version of the book and listen to it at the same time I read it.

One of the gems of wisdom I gleaned from the book was the importance of reducing chronic stress in one's life in order to reduce the long-term effects of that chronic stress on one's body. I knew my body was absolutely riddled with chronic stress from the time I was a toddler. The good news I gleaned from the book was that the body is resilient and can be repaired with diligent effort. I decided to employ whatever techniques I could in order to repair my body.

Mindful meditation
The author of the book suggests mindful meditation as one technique to employ. I wasn't truly familiar with how mindful meditation worked, but her simple explanation of it made it easy to grasp:

  • you focus on your breath
  • note and name your thoughts
  • let your thoughts go
  • see that you are not your thoughts
  • free yourself from worrying, spinning stories, and ruminating
  • be in the present moment
  • breathe deeply and bring oxygen into your lungs

I found my own way of mindful meditation that works for me. I sit or lay down (sometimes with my eyes open and sometimes with my eyes closed), and I live in the moment. If my mind wanders to anything other than what is happening around me or inside me at that moment, I quickly acknowledge that my mind has wandered with a thought like, "Okay, that was a wandering thought" and then I go back to experiencing the moment. I often repeat the phrase, "Just for now..." slowly to keep my mind from wandering.

I started out my mindful meditation a couple of months ago when I was going outside every morning just before sunrise to feed a feral mama kitty that had kittens in our backyard shed. I would stay outside to socialize her and the kittens--sitting in my chaise lounge facing the sun as it rose over the roofline of the house and sprayed brilliant sunbeams through the branches of the lemon tree onto my face. It was the perfect setting for learning to live in the moment. I paid close attention to everything around me as it happened. If a hummingbird flitted into view, I focused on the hummingbird. If a kitten scampered by, I focused on the playful kitten. I listened to the sounds around me. I took note of how the summer morning air felt and how it changed when the sun's rays would finally hit my face. I learned a lot as I repeated this exercise morning after morning. I learned how rich each moment is and how easily I can miss that richness if I'm letting my mind ruminate on other things.

My results
I had been suffering from insomnia for months and months. Staying asleep once I got to sleep wasn't an issue. My biggest issue with insomnia was getting my brain to shut down and stop ruminating long enough to get to sleep. After I fine-tuned my own form of mindful meditation, I started trying it out as I was laying down at night trying to get to sleep. And it worked! I was able to fall asleep when most people fall asleep! The sleepless nights of repeatedly looking at the clock became less and less.

I also have to deal with stress-related heart palpitations. They didn't used to be a real problem until after I had an extremely high fever from influenza in December 2013 that brought my relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis out of remission. Since then, heart palpitations come easily and go away with difficulty. I started using my mindful meditation techniques for that too. I've found that deep breathing is a significant component in getting my heart palpitations to subside. If I truly focus and breath deeply, I can get a palpitation attack under control in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

Another by-product of mindful meditation and chronic stress reduction that I didn't anticipate was my clothes getting looser. I read in the book about chronic stress leading to chronic inflammation in the body. I didn't realize how much chronic inflammation it can cause. It has been interesting to experience this firsthand.

Overall my body feels happier. I feel more at ease in my core--even when faced with a stressful trigger. My chronic fatigue and pain have reduced. I still have not-so-good episodes, but I'm noticing that some episodes are lasting for only hours instead of days. This is a big improvement for me. I'm planning on continuing the mindful meditation over the long-term. It will be interesting to see what the long-term benefits will be.

DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with or paid by any entity for any content written in this blog post. This post represents my own personal experiences in finding wellness. The links provided in this post are only provided as a courtesy and do not imply that I am commercially associated with those websites I have linked to or have cited.

30 March 2014

My experience using essential oils to combat my fibromyalgia pain by boosting my serotonin levels

Click to enlarge image
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is found in the body's brain and nervous system with about 80% of it being in the gut. Called a neurotransmitter, serotonin is one of the body's chemical substances that transmits nerve impulses across the spaces (synapses) between nerve cells. Serotonin is involved in many functions throughout the body including: appetite, sleep, memory, learning, temperature, mood, behavior, muscle contraction, depression, the cardiovascular system, endocrine regulation, wound healing, and more. It helps your brain to tell your heart to beat, to remind you to breathe, and to tell your stomach and intestines to digest food. It also tells your body whether you are in pain.
The connection between serotonin and fibromyalgia
Through trial and error I figured out that my fibromyalgia pain is directly affected by the serotonin levels in my body—when serotonin is low my pain levels increase. Then I discovered that I'm not the only one. Here's a great explanation of why this happens:
"Serotonin is involved in multiple functions including regulating sleep cycles, influencing mood, learning, pain perception and the immune system. Serotonin production takes place in the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. Fibromyalgia is one of the conditions that are known as 'low serotonin syndromes'. Here is what we know about the relationship of serotonin and fibromyalgia. Regulation of serotonin metabolism takes place during the deep or therapeutic sleep patterns which are discussed in another section. With the sleep disturbances of fibromyalgia, the metabolic regulation is disrupted. This causes further immune system dysfunction due to the role serotonin plays in the activation of natural killer cells. Compounding the sleep disturbance is the fact that since serotonin helps induce deep sleep, its low levels then further aggravate the inability to achieve this desired sleep pattern. 
"There is another neurotransmitter called substance P which works together with serotonin. Substance P is responsible for transmitting painful impulses to the brain and spinal cord. It produces a nerve generated impulse that dilates blood vessels, and in addition, it can cause fluid and proteins to migrate from the cells to outside the cells. Low serotonin levels can cause elevated substance P levels. These elevated levels, sometimes three times greater in people with fibromyalgia, could explain the enhancement of pain perception which is experienced." (from http://www.fibro-info.com/fibro-serotonin.html)
Essential oils and serotonin
While doing online research on whether there were any essential oils that could positively effect serotonin levels in the body, I came across an online article by Debbie Gordon at Nurturing Instincts entitled "Neurotransmitters and Essential Oils" (it has since been removed from her site). She included in her article the notes she had taken at a lecture about the neurotransmitters in the body—dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. After noting what each neurotransmitter does, Debbie lists the essential oils that are recommended for stimulating the body's production of each neurotransmitter. She also includes a suggested protocol for an oil blend.

I took Debbie's list of suggested oils for increasing serotonin levels and created a blend of my own to test and see if it made a difference on my fibromyalgia pain specifically.

Recipe for my "Fibromyalgia Buster" oil blend

Into a 10 mL roller bottle combine the following essential oils:
  • 20 drops chamomile essential oil (I chose to use 'Cape Chamomile'*)
  • 20 drops lavender essential oil
  • 20 drops wild orange essential oil
  • 20 drops marjoram essential oil
  • fill the rest of the bottle with fractionated coconut oil (FCO) to top it off
  • cap off the bottle and shake to blend the oils 
  • roll the blend on inner wrists, abdomen and/or the bottoms of the feet

My results
The first time using the oil blend, I applied it to the pulse points on the insides of my wrists and then went on with my regular activity. After about an hour, I realized that for the first time in over a month I wasn't feeling the throbbing pain I had been having in my left arm. I usually wince when I have to pull a shirt off over my head to get undressed at night, so I lifted my arm over my head to see if that movement was as painful as it had been. I could lift my arm without wincing. In fact, I didn't feel any pain. I pushed on my normal fibromyalgia pressure points and there was tenderness but not the intensity of pain I'd been having.

I decided to type up what I had discovered so far and then test it further over the next few days to see how often I would need to reapply the oil blend to keep the pain away. After typing on the computer for about an hour, I had to reapply the blend because I was feeling some aching in my left arm. This time, I clocked it to see how long it took to dissipate the aching (if at all). It took about 20 minutes—the same amount of time it takes my body to metabolize a dose of pain reliever.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I tried applying the oil to my upper abdomen as well as my wrists since serotonin is found in the gut. I found that when I applied the oil to my upper abdomen the pain relief lasted longer between applications of oil blend.

One thing I did note was that the blend wasn't as effective when it was raining outside (conditions that are particularly difficult for me and my fibromyalgia pain). Once the rain passed through, the oil blend was more effective again.

I will continue to use this oil blend and post any more of my results/findings (positive or negative). But from what I've experienced the last 2-3 days indicates to me that this is a viable solution to combatting my fibromyalgia pain. I am hoping that by posting this information, someone else can find relief as well.

*Although a large portion of my oils are from a general source, 'Cape Chamomile' is a specific type of chamomile oil not generally carried. I purchased this organic wild harvested oil directly from www.Floracopeia.com (a source I trust). 'Cape Chamomile' oil is known as the *ultimate* stress reliever as well as being an anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory essential oil. I don't know if my results would have been as effective if I had used another type of chamomile oil such as German (aka "Blue") chamomile or Roman chamomile.

References and sources
"What is serotonin? What does serotonin do?" from MedicalNewsToday.com
"Serotonin" from Wikipedia
"Fibromyalgia—The Role of Serotonin" from fibro-info.com

DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with or paid by any entity for any content written in this blog post. This post represents my own personal experiences in finding wellness. The links provided in this post are only provided as a courtesy and do not imply that I am commercially associated with those websites I have linked to or have cited.

02 October 2013

My experience discovering and finding success using Vitamin E for better liver health

At the beginning of the summer (about 3 months ago), I was beginning to feel the effects of my liver being enlarged again. It wasn't as bad as when I ended up in the ER the end of June 2012, but I could feel it was trying to head in that direction. After the thorough ER ultrasound in 2012 uncovered that my liver was enlarged, I put two and two together and realized that my liver had been overtaxed from decades of chronic stress from the endometriosis. My doctor and I had already determined that the ripple effect of the endometriosis had caused damage to how each gland in my endocrine system talks to one another and my body. This most likely caused my fibromyalgia. So it made perfect sense that my liver had also been a victim. My enlarged liver was an indication that I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

What is NAFLD? 
One of the main functions of the liver is to metabolize fats in the food you eat. When there is a build up of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by the consumption of alcohol, you end up with NAFLD. It's normal for the liver to contain fat cells. The liver is the second largest organ in the body weighing about 3 pounds, is shaped like a football and resides under the rib cage on the right side of your body. It is normal for 5-10% percent of the liver's total weight to be fat cells. But more than that and your liver is no longer in the healthy range anymore.

What causes NAFLD?
According to WebMD.com, although the cause of the disease is unclear, there are several factors that can cause the liver to fall victim to NAFLD (I've underlined the ones that probably led to mine):

  • Medications
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Autoimmune or inherited liver disease
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Gastric bypass surgery (rapid weight loss combined with diet)
  • Hepatitis C
  • An overload of iron
  • Diet 
  • Recent studies show an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine and other changes in the intestine may be associated with NAFLD

NAFLD doesn't have to be permanent
The good news is that the liver is one of the most resilient organs in the body. It can regenerate itself as long as there is healthy tissue to regenerate. Even though my enlarged liver was definite evidence that I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), I could reverse it as long as the situation didn't persist long enough for the liver to begin to form scar tissue. Once scar tissue replaces the damaged tissue throughout an enlarged liver, the cirrhosis stage has begun and the liver can't regenerate from scar issue. Cirrhosis can't be reversed. But NAFLD can. So my goal since June 2012 has been to heal my liver.

Following my gut (pardon the pun)
With the onset of symptoms that my liver was unhappy again after a year of babying it, I felt the urge to do some online research about possible vitamin, mineral or nutritional supplements that could help me in trying to increase the health of my liver and get it back on track to healing.

As I often do, I turned to Google first and typed in "vitamins to help non alcoholic fatty liver disease".

The third hit on the Google search results led me to ClinicalTrials.gov (a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health) and a current study being performed by the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center entitled "Treatment for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver With Different Doses of Vitamin E". The study started in February 2013 and appeared to still be actively recruiting. I wasn't all that excited about being a participant in a clinical study, but I continued to read the outline of the study and found that it documented exactly what each control group would be taking.

I decided to follow my gut instinct. Instead of officially participating in the study, I would put myself on the same dose of Vitamin E as the control group with the highest dose of 800 IU/daily. I determined that if I had an adverse reaction, then I would scale back to the next highest dose of 400 IU/daily. And if necessary scale back to the lowest dose of 200 IU/daily.

My results
I found Vitamin E soft gel caps (pictured above) that were 400 IU each. I started taking two a day for a total of 800 IU a day. I started taking them every morning with the rest of my vitamins and meds.

It only took a couple of weeks for me to notice changes. The swelling in the region of my liver began to reduce about that time. The pressure on my stomach began to reduce and the burping on an empty stomach (the tell-tale sign my liver was overstepping its boundaries into my stomach's territory) began to subside.

As the weeks passed, my discomfort was less and less. I knew I had seen success when it dawned on me that I hadn't thought about my liver in a while, because it wasn't causing me discomfort.  Around the month and half mark, I noticed my energy levels coming back. I noticed I had more stamina. I also noticed that my fibromyalgia flare-ups were happening less frequently. I continued to manage my stress with conscious lifestyle choices to see if the trend continued and it did.

Of course, I continued to be extra vigilant about what I ate (as I had been since my ER visit in June 2012). I knew that for me appropriate nutritional choices were a key component to the overall equation. I knew just because I was taking the Vitamin E didn't mean I could go back to eating trigger foods like ice cream, soft cheeses and fried foods. And I still had to continue to eat my healthy foods: walnuts, brazil nuts, pistachios, organic whole wheat pastas and breads, dark leafy greens, foods prepared in a Mediterranean style with olive oil, tomato sauces instead of cream sauces, organic fruits and veggies, and eating lean meats sparingly. And a small helping of frozen yogurt every day.

The major factor I continually work at every day is to actually eat. I must give my body sustenance regularly. I can't forget meals like I am prone to do. I have to nourish my body despite my brain's propensity toward thinking "the less I eat, the better". If I don't, than I am malnourished. And my liver will suffer.

To this date, I am still taking 800 IU of Vitamin E every day. I don't anticipate that I will ever stop, given the positive results I've experienced. My liver is happy. The rest of my body is getting happier because my liver can do its job again. And I have Vitamin E to thank for it.

11 July 2013

One of the most important videos I've ever watched

I highly recommend that everyone watch this frank video of Robyn O'Brien giving a talk at TEDxAustin 2011 about the ramifications of the little known but staggering changes made to the U.S.'s food supply in the mid-1990's that are having a direct effect on all our health and wellness.

The video is only 18 minutes long, but it could be the most important 18 minutes you spend on yourself.

It was for me. Also, thanks to this video, I now know the real reason why we have epidemic numbers of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, food allergies and gluten intolerance in the U.S. and it isn't fast food or sugary drinks.

16 January 2013

Getting ready to quietly celebrate an important two year anniversary

January 25th will mark the two year anniversary since I underwent the surgery that removed all the endometriosis that was growing inside me and wreaking havoc on my digestive tract.

As I head toward this important milestone I am reminded of how much healing my body has been able to do in the past two years. I realize that I can sit and work at my computer for much longer periods of time without having painful repercussions. I am so much more mobile than I was before surgery. I can do the things in my garden that I wanted to do before, but couldn't. My fatigue levels aren't nearly as debilitating either.

It isn't all roses and sunshine, however. I am still learning how to manage the chronic conditions that are a permanent part of my life thanks to three decades of the chronic stress caused by my body being assaulted by the disease. There's only so much a body can take before the endocrine and other systems become affected. I am no exception.

Little by little I'm learning to manage my fibromyalgia. My flare-ups are fewer and farther apart if I manage my stress and nutrition correctly. I found out the hard way over the Christmas holiday that stress and creamy desserts like cheesecake will trigger a flare-up like no other. I've also learned to pay attention to my left shoulder because a flare-up will always start and end there.

I've also learned that I have to baby my liver with the nutrition found in a good solid Mediterranean diet. Even though the rest of me is Scot-Irish-Hispanic-Swiss-German my liver must be Italian. It digs olive oil, bruschetta, hearty pastas with a red meat sauce, and gelato (or sorbet). But give it ice cream, cheesecake or a cream sauce and it throws a fit. I'm convinced my liver and fibromyalgia are in cahoots and the best of BFF's.

I've discovered the blessings of taking large daily doses of Vitamin D. The same is true for my Omega-3-6-9 supplements. I also know that I can't got without my daily dose of anti-inflammatory snack of walnuts or I will be very very sorry. And I've discovered that 1 ounce of super dark chocolate daily is a necessity that doesn't make me gain weight so there's no need to feel guilty in the least for consuming it for the same reason I eat the walnuts.

I've learned that sitting in the sun for 30 minutes a day (particularly during the winter months) is a critical component to managing my wellness on many levels. And I've changed my thinking so I almost don't feel guilty about every one of those precious 30 minutes spent soaking up the warm rays like a cat in a patch of sun. I do it without earbuds in my ears so I can be quiet. The pondering and meditation it makes possible heal and rejuvenate me. I continually remind myself that I will not feel guilty for giving myself this gift.

And although I've known it for a long time, I've come to terms with the reality that the vacuum cleaner and I will never be best of friends. As much as I want a perfectly vacuumed floor all the time, it just isn't going to happen. The vacuum is too mean to my back. I can haul wheelbarrows of sand and rocks around all day long in the garden, but for some reason the vacuum cleaner can defeat me and my sciatic nerve in less than 30 minutes. I've decided to choose my battles wisely--this isn't the hill I'm willing to die on. Hubby can forge a close friendship with the vacuum cleaner. And in the meantime, I can pretend I don't see that dust bunny over there in the corner.

02 November 2012

Factors not being properly considered as causes of obesity (Part 2)

In a previous post I mentioned some factoids that I've gleaned from years of searching for answers as to why I am obese. I have discovered that my obesity is a result of several key factors that I have yet to see scientists fully explore in their research. I will address each of these factors in a multi-part series here on my blog. 

Factor 2--Endocrine Disruptors

As a long-term sufferer of endometriosis, my endocrine system is extremely compromised. It happened because of the chronic state of stress my body was under while the endometriosis (believed to possibly be an autoimmune disorder itself) wreaked havoc unchecked for decades.

Here's what Dr. Andrew Cook has to say about this phenomenon:
"The human body has a wonderfully complex inter-relationship of organ systems. The body acts as a buffer system, processing and eliminating both internal and external factors. Multi-System Disease (MSD) describes an overall decrease in the functionality of multiple organ systems, resulting in an overall decline in health and functionality of the person as a whole. The initial agent, or 'insult' that starts the process, can be any one of countless possibilities [e.g., endometriosis]; but it is one that chronically stresses the body's buffering capacity. Over time, additional factors accumulate, adding an increasingly large burden on the buffering capacity of the body. This is much like adding straws to the camel's back until it finally breaks. The different organ systems which can be involved include the endocrine system (this includes all of the various hormones released by the body – estrogen, progesterone, androgens, thyroid, growth and the stress hormone cortisol), the nervous system, including the autonomic nervous system with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), many aspects of the immune system, and possibly even the coagulation system. In its most severe form, this disease process results in virtually a complete decompensation of almost all of the vital organ systems, and thus the decompensation of the overall health of the patient. He or she can be left in a state of such low body function that performing even routine functions becomes nearly impossible.  
"I believe that women with advanced endometriosis have MSD. This is a good example of a disease process where truly integrative approaches, including surgical, traditional medical and alternative therapies, are required for successful treatment. The endometrial implants are a disease in the body that must be removed surgically. This anatomic disease is like a boat anchor that drags down the health of the individual. No matter what other treatments are instituted, the body will have to deal with the disease, since there is no non-surgical way to remove endometriosis from the body. Conversely, the endometrial implants present in the pelvis may not represent all of the ill health of the patient. Patients with systemic (overall body) symptoms may well be suffering from MSD. This is one reason that even complete surgical removal of the endometrial implants may only treat part of the overall disease process of endometriosis patients. These patients in particular will most likely benefit from an overall approach to improve their underlying health to maximize the buffering capacity of their bodies, and thus the ability of their bodies to detoxify and regain optimal health." (from VitalHealth.com)
I have experienced what Dr. Cook describes above. I have fibromyalgia, Vitamin D deficiency, insulin resistance and odd thyroid function to name just a few of the things that I do know that have gone wrong in my endocrine system.

What is an "endocrine disruptor"?

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:
"Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. The NIEHS supports studies to determine whether exposure to endocrine disruptors may result in human health effects including lowered fertility and an increased incidence of endometriosis and some cancers. Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming." (NIEHS.com)
A large percentage of endocrine disruptors fall into the category of what is called "obesogens":
"Obesogens are foreign chemical compounds that disrupt normal development and balance of lipid metabolism, which in some cases, can lead to obesity.  Obesogens may be functionally defined as chemicals that inappropriately alter lipid homeostasis and fat storage, change metabolic setpoints, disrupt energy balance or modify the regulation of appetite and satiety to promote fat accumulation and obesity." (from wikipedia)
Dr. Oz did a great write-up about obesogens on his website after doing a segment on his show. Included in his article is a list of common places to find obesogens:
  • In your faucets: Pesticides seep deep into the soil and find their way to the water table and into your tap water. The main obesogen in tap water is atrazine. Banned in Europe, but found around the United States, atrazine slows thyroid hormone metabolism. Another culprit found in tap water, tributylin, a fungicide painted on the bottoms of boats, stimulates fat cell production. 
  • Cans and water bottles: Bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen used to make plastics hard which has been banned from baby bottles, but is still present in many other plastics (especially sports water bottles) and the lining of most cans, has been shown to increase insulin resistance in animal studies. 
  • Nonstick pans and microwave popcorn: Animal studies have shown that early exposure to a chemical used to make items non-stick – Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – leads to obesity in later life. It also is known to affect thyroid glands, which are important regulators of hormones that control weight. Found mainly in products like Teflon pans, it’s also hidden in microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes. 
  • Shower curtains and air fresheners: Phthalates, chemicals found in vinyl products such as shower curtains and fragrance products such as air fresheners, may lower testosterone and metabolism levels, causing you to gain weight and lose muscle mass. They’re also found in vinyl flooring and industrial-grade plastic wrap used to shrink wrap meat in the grocery store.
Dr. Oz then goes on to point out helpful ways to avoid obesogens:
  • Buy wild fish (such as salmon, which is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids) and meat products that are hormone- and antibiotic free. 
  • Install a granular activated carbon filter on your faucet to filter out chemicals such as atrazine. 
  • Use aluminum water bottles or those that are BPA-free. 
  • Steer clear of plastics with the number 3 or 7 on the bottom, which may leach BPA. Instead look for the numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6, which are unlikely to contain BPA. 
  • Keep water bottles cool (warm temperatures increase BPA leaching) and never microwave plastic. 
  • Eat fewer canned foods. Opt for frozen or fresh instead. Tuna can be found in pouches that do not contain BPA. 
  • Get rid of your non-stick pans if possible. If you must use a Teflon pan, never use a metal implement on it that can scratch the surface and release the chemicals inside, and throw away any scratched non-stick pans. 
  • Buy meats straight from the butcher counter (instead of pre-packaged) and ask that they wrap them in brown paper. 
  • Skip the air fresheners, open the windows, and try a vase of dried lavender instead.
What changes I've made and the result of each change

Over the past year, I have progressively incorporated certain changes into my life. Like a lot of people, I have to start gradually so I'm not overwhelmed by too many big changes all at once. But little by little I've incorporated significant changes into my life and seen positive results from them.

Buy and eat only organic fruits and vegetables
I started out by deciding to buy only organic fruits and vegetables at the store. I wanted the endocrine disrupting pesticides out of my diet. I had to be pretty ruthless when it came to corn (I love corn). Corn is a huge culprit because of the highly prevalent GM corn grown (do a Google search on "gmo corn bt toxin" and you'll be amazed at what our corn contains). Now I only eat organic corn if I eat it at all. And I try to avoid all corn products in other forms unless it's organic. I've noticed significant digestive improvements once I implemented these changes. If I do consume something at a restaurant that isn't organic, my digestive system lets me know.

Buy and eat only organic milk and dairy products
I also started out by deciding to only buy organic milk and dairy. Milk can be one of the biggest culprits in introducing endocrine disruptors into one's diet. So I did some research and found that Organic Valley brand goes the extra mile in making sure that the cows are fed pesticide-free grass in addition to no antibiotics or growth hormones (not all organic milk goes that extra mile). The bonus is that Costco carries Organic Valley milk at a great price. We also switched to organic butter, cheeses and eggs. I've seen an incredible result from this change. I feel better. My digestive system is much happier.

Stop consuming artificial sweeteners
That meant no more diet sodas. Yeah, it hasn't been easy. But I feel so much better.

Get rid of all non-stick pans
This was a hard one because cookware isn't cheap and my husband is a stickler for having nice chef-quality cookware. He'd acquired quite a collection of cookware with non-stick surfaces. But it was necessary to make this change because I was noticing that the non-stick surfaces were beginning to leave little flecks in some of my foods like scrambled eggs and omelets. My solution was to take Hubby shopping at TJ Maxx. We were able to put together an entire replacement suite of stainless steel cookware to replace what he already had. The cookware he found was top-notch and the greatly discounted prices meant we got an entire new set of pots and pans for less than $300. My health started to improve once we did.

Stop microwaving plastic
It took a lot of discipline to do this one but I've trained myself to heat leftovers and other meal items only on ceramic plates. I noticed that my food tasted better and I started feeling better after I implemented this change.

Stop using bug spray in the house and garden
This was so hard. I grew up in a house where the solution to any errant fly, moth or spider was to spray a spritz of Raid at it. After I implemented this one, I had a lapse of judgment and used some bug spray on a moth or two. Boy, was I sorry. I felt physically ill for days afterward. I've recommitted to not using bug spray again just so I can avoid feeling so horrible.

Install a granular activated carbon filter on the kitchen faucet to filter out chemicals such as atrazine
Although I was already drinking filtered water through the water dispenser from our fridge, I needed to also have filtered water when preparing foods and cooking. The filter isn't uber-chic as far as my design aesthetic goes but my health was more important than how my kitchen looked. In the end, a water filter took up permanent residence on our kitchen tap.

I have many more changes that I can still make to remove endrocine disruptors (obesogens) from my life. But like I said before, I am taking a gradual approach. Each change I make brings about an added layer of wellness.

I've found that my body doesn't hold on to weight as much as it did prior to the changes. I haven't had weight "falling off" my body in huge amounts, but I've noticed my clothes are looser and I'm slightly smaller. Over time, my body may find a more appropriate set point weight. That would be nice.

But what is more important to me is that I am feeling better. My energy levels are more even-keeled, my pain levels are lower and I feel like I'm fighting against my body less and less. Over time I hope that I will continue to see the improvement I've seen in the past year or so. 

13 October 2012

Factors not being properly considered as causes of obesity (Part 1)

In my previous post I mentioned some factoids that I've gleaned from years of searching for answers as to why I am obese. Uninformed individuals would simply say (or silently think), "It's because you eat too much. Duh!" Or the other go-to explanation is, "Well, you gotta get up and move, move, MOVE you lazy lump of lard!" Those uninformed individuals also probably assume that everyone dealing with extra adipose tissue (body fat) is that way because of the choice that fat individual makes every day to eat too much and move too little.

I am not going to make excuses for every obese person because I don't know everyone's individual circumstances. I think there are indeed some obese individuals who are that way because they consume too many daily calories on a regular basis. Notice I said "some". I do not fall into that category.

I am not going to say the hackneyed phrase, "I have a glandular problem" and then watch the eye-rolling ensue. I won't blame it all on genetics either. And, surprisingly, I won't play the "I don't have a choice" card. But you'll probably be surprised at what I will say.

I can most definitively say that in my own experience, my obesity was and is not caused by eating too much and moving too little. In fact, I have discovered that my obesity is a result of several key factors that I have yet to see scientists fully explore in their research.

I will address each of these factors in a multi-part series here on my blog. If it seems that my language gets a little too scientific in places, hang with me because I will always come up with some cool analogy or word picture to make it all click.

Factor 1--Consumption of trans fats (aka hydrogenated oils)
I was raised on margarine. A lot of kids my age were. That's what responsible American moms fed their kids in the 1960s and 1970s, because they were told it was the "healthy" alternative to butter. Butter was so absent in my childhood and adolescence that when I became an adult I had to develop a taste for butter in order to like it. I was also raised on skim milk and can't stand the taste of whole milk... but I digress.

When the big hubbub about trans fats started a few years ago, I wanted to know what it was all about. To simplify things (because I don't want to go into a big explanation that you can read on wikipedia) I found out that trans fats (aka hydrogenated oils) are unsaturated fats that have hydrogen atoms added to them through a process called hydrogenation. This is done so the fat will remain a solid at warmer room temperatures (just think of Crisco and you'll get the picture). It's also done to prevent an unsaturated fat from going rancid as quickly as it would left not hydrogenated. The process increases the shelf life (again think of Crisco).

"Okay... what's wrong with that?" I asked myself.

I searched and searched for an answer. Finally, I found one that gave me the scientific explanation for which I was looking. Here's the short quote I found that made it all click for me:
Why trans-fats are bad for health 
Trans-fats are destructive to health because the body misreads them. Trans-fats have the same chemical signature as omega-3s and omega-6s, so the body uses them for the same purposes. But they are structurally straight rather than bent, so the part of the cell membrane that needs to be porous becomes tight and rigid instead. This causes a variety of health problems—including insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.   [from SupplementQuality.com]
A-ha! The body doesn't know what to do with a trans fat when it encounters it during the digestive process. Thanks to a great chemistry professor in college, when I think of the digestive process I imagine my body's digestive tract looks a lot like a sorting center with all the food that's been broken down going along a conveyor belt. Little workers stand along the conveyor belt. Each worker is tasked with looking for a different shaped puzzle piece that will fit into a corresponding slot in a cell that only a certain shape will fit into. When a worker sees the right shaped piece, they pull it and put it in a cell where the piece fits.

I know it's ridiculous, but just go with me here...

The crew that's in charge of finding omega-3s and omega-6s is standing there at my conveyor belt all those years I ate margarine. They are encountering little trans fats that look an awful lot like the omegas they're assigned to look for. Every time they encounter a trans fats they take it and slot it into a cell where an omega belongs. But it's the wrong puzzle piece!  It's a piece that doesn't even belong in my body! So the cell that a trans fat gets incorrectly slotted into, over time, can no longer absorb insulin because it's spongy absorbant membrane has been filled with tight and rigid trans fats that don't have the wonderful porous surface an omega would have if it filled the same spot.

I hope you see where I'm going with this.

Overeating or not overeating has no relevance in this scenario. It's all about what I ate not how much I ate.  And since I was a typical American child born in the 60's, I was raised on foods that contained hydrogenated oils. That's just the way it was. It was the food of the future. It was everywhere and in every thing.

Now multiply my own scenario by how many people were born in the United States between say 1960 and 1975. Imagine all of those people being fed the same diet riddled with trans fats. They aren't overeating. They are just eating what mom gives them to eat because mom is doing what responsible modern moms were being told was good for their growing children.

How many people ended up walking around with insulin resistant cells? And insulin resistance is a condition that can evolve into Type-2 diabetes. Diabetics that are Type-2 because of insulin resistance still have a healthy pancreas that's producing enough of the insulin hormone to properly remove sugars (blood glucose) from the bloodstream. But the cells are not able to take in glucose, amino acids and fatty acids if trans fats have made the cell membranes non-absorbant. So sugars aren't removed from the bloodstream. This leads to high blood sugar which can become toxic and lead to neurological damage if left unchecked over the long-term.

I propose that the consumption of trans fats during the time period aforementioned is a main factor in the rise of Type-2 diabetes, insulin resistance and the other endocrine system related maladies found in the United States in individuals between the ages of 35-50. I also propose that this rise in insulin resistance has a direct correlation to the increasing number of individuals in that same age group that struggle with obesity despite normal daily caloric intake and activity.

Insulin resistance can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fogginess and inability to focus
  • High blood sugar
  • Intestinal bloating – most intestinal gas is produced from carbohydrates in the diet, mostly those that humans cannot digest and absorb
  • Sleepiness, especially after meals
  • Weight gain, fat storage, difficulty losing weight
  • Increased blood triglyceride levels
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with cardiovascular disease
  • Acanthosis nigricans
  • Increased hunger

Hmm... there are several things on that list that obesity is usually blamed for.

So to break it down to the point of bordering on the ridiculous... eating margarine (or Crisco or any hydrogenated oil) causes insulin resistance. And from above list (from good ole' wikipedia) it appears that insulin resistance causes obesity.

That would explain why I can reduce my daily caloric intake drastically over a long period of time (believe me, I've done it) and still not lose an ounce of weight.

What I can't figure out is why this connection and science never gets properly communicated to the masses.

02 October 2012

Enough is enough

For months now I've contemplated whether I should write this post. And for months, I've crammed the thought back into the recesses of my brain and decided to just move forward with as much positive attitude as possible. But today, a friend shared a video link on Facebook of a news anchor calling out a bully on live television and at the bottom of the video's page is a link to a blog called The Fat Nutritionist. And after watching and reading, I've chosen to write this post.

Not everything went away
Before my January 2011 surgery, amongst my other issues I could feel a large lump on the right side of my rib cage. The size would fluctuate up and down, but it was always firm and at least the size of my palm when I palpated it. I assumed that it was digestive related because I would burp after pressing on it. I figured it would go away once my digestive tract was all surgically "unstuck" (for want of a better term) and could flow freely after I'd gone through the post-op healing process.

A year post-surgery, the lump was still there. In the spring of 2012, the same symptoms I'd had prior to my surgery began occurring again. I burped a lot even on an empty stomach and antacids didn't provide any relief. By late spring, I was miserable with pressure and bloating that seemed to center around my stomach and right side of my rib cage. I decided I had to do what I was dreading and find a general practitioner. Hubby needed one too.

Finding a doctor--strike one
We decided to make appointments with a local practitioner that is both an OB/GYN and family practice doc. He came highly recommended by friends from our church congregation. It seemed like it would be a good fit considering his background and the complexities of being a long-term endometriosis sufferer that now has to deal with non-gynecological repercussions from living with the disease for so long (click here to read more about Multi-System Disease).

Prior to my appointment, I was very thorough in providing all my surgical records and my medical history to the new doc's office staff via email as requested. I wanted this doc to be fully informed before I landed in his exam room. I know my case is complex and I never want to blindside anyone.

In mid-June when the appointment day finally came, we went to the office. I was taken aback to find his waiting room full of advertisements for various doctor-prescribed treatments like expensive sunscreen and botox treatments. Why would a family practitioner be giving botox injections? In the pre-appointment screening room where patients' vitals are taken I found more advertising posters and the like. I was uncomfortable.

When the doc came in to interview the two of us, I was dismayed to discover that his office staff had not even opened the emails containing the pre-appointment paperwork I had been asked to fill out let alone print them for the doctor to review. So the doc had no idea of my pre-existing conditions or complex medical history. This made me even more uncomfortable.

He introduced himself and began scanning my vitals that had just been taken by his medical assistant as well as the brief form I'd filled out in the waiting room to make up for the "missing" forms I'd already filled out and sent via email. I made a point of mentioning that he was supposed to have a copy of my medical history prior to our appointment so he could review it because it was complex. He nodded and asked for a brief explanation of my history. He scratched down notes while I spoke.

Then he looked up from his papers and said, "Have you ever discussed the option of gastric bypass surgery with any of your previous doctors?"

I was stunned.

I proceeded to get very terse and told him a) I was morally against having the procedure for myself; b) I had been firmly instructed by a highly competent psychiatrist that under no circumstances should I ever be considered for the procedure given my history with eating disorders (which I had documented clearly on the pre-appointment paperwork he never received); and c) given my recent surgery to repair significant damage to my digestive tract, I didn't think it was wise to mess with it again particularly since I was currently in significant discomfort in that region.

I thought that would suffice and he would move on. But it didn't. Instead, he proceeded to talk to me (more like lecture me) for 10-15 more minutes trying to convince me to go through the pre-screening process for the surgery with our local hospital system. In the course of those infuriating 10-15 minutes, he revealed that he himself had recently lost almost 75 pounds in less than a year on the HCG diet (a highly controversial calorie-restricted diet). Huge red flags started going up for me.

I sat as patiently as I could as he interviewed Hubby. Not once did the doc mention that Hubby should consider gastric bypass surgery. He didn't even mention his weight at all.

By the time we walked out to the reception desk to pay our co-pay, I was steaming. The last straw was when I noticed a sticky note hanging next to the computer the staff member was working on. It noted how much a 30 day supply of HCG cost so she would know how much to charge a patient.

The aftermath of discrimination
When we got back to the car, I cried tears of anger. I felt victimized, belittled, and confused. Questions raced through my head:
"Will I ever find a doctor who won't discriminate against me because of my weight?"  
"How many more times will I have to hear a doctor suggest gastric bypass surgery?" (that doc had brought my total count to 4 in the last 10 years) 
"Will I ever receive adequate medical care as an obese patient with anorexic eating habits?" 
"What am I going to do about the lump under my rib cage and the constant bloating and discomfort?" 
"Do I just not eat anything anymore from now on and go on a liquid diet as if I've had gastric bypass surgery?" 
"Do I just go ahead and lie my way through the pre-screening process for gastric bypass surgery and then have the surgery just to prove to everyone that it won't work?"

I was in a very dark place. I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. I felt disgusting, unacceptable and repulsive. I questioned whether I should ever go out into public again.

Hubby's loving kindness was the only thing that pulled me through.

Yelp to the rescue--doctor number two
Together we scoured reviews on Yelp.com for other doctors within a 30 miles radius that might be good candidates so I could at least have someone maintaining my prescription medications that treat my fibromyalgia. I literally need the meds to function or my body attacks itself with it's own toxins. If I didn't need the meds to survive, I would have gone off my meds long ago (I've already tried unsuccessfully) just so I'd never have to encounter another doctor again.

We made an appointment with a promising prospective practitioner for the following week and went through the gyrations of providing my complex medical history to the doctor prior to being seen. On the initial visit, he was kind and courteous. My weight was never mentioned once. It's a good thing too because I had privately vowed to get up and walk out if he did. He agreed to take over my meds and wanted me to get a full blood work-up to find out what was going on.

Landing in the ER
The next day, I woke up feeling nauseated and dizzy with an electric shock sort of pain zapping me every so often under my right collarbone. I tried to tough it out to attend a dentist appointment to get my teeth cleaned in the afternoon. By mid afternoon sitting in the dentist office waiting room, I was suffering from chills and sweats and shaking profusely. Hubby raced me to our new doctor before the office closed for the weekend. I was given an EKG in the office to rule out a heart attack. Then the doc strongly encouraged me to go directly to the ER. I wheedled and pled with him asking if it was really necessary. After the third or fourth time he told me "I strongly encourage you to go to the ER," Hubby told me it was no longer optional and we were going. We drove directly to the best medical facility in our area and spent the rest of the evening in the ER with the docs running tests on me, x-raying me and giving my chest and abdomen a very thorough ultrasound. To my surprise, not one of the ER staff mentioned my weight or made me feel like I was anything but just a patient with an urgent medical need. I was impressed and relieved.

The Diagnosis
Just before midnight, a very kind ER doc informed me that my heart was fine and everything looked normal except the ultrasound had revealed that my liver was enlarged. That was what the lump on my right side was--my liver! It was so enlarged that it was pressing on my stomach causing the bloating, burping and discomfort. My liver was also pressing on a nerve that was sending those pains up toward my collarbone. Essentially, I was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

"Knowing is half the battle"
Once I had a diagnosis in my grubby little hands, I could work with something... FINALLY! I immediately went to the Mayo Clinic website to read everything they had to say and find out what causes NAFLD.

Imagine my shock and rage when I found the following on the list of conditions that can increase ones' risk for NAFLD:
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Malnutrition 
  • Rapid weight loss
Only NINE DAYS after seeing the doctor that lectured me on how important it was for me to get gastric bypass surgery, I was in the ER with severe complications from an enlarged liver that would have been compromised even more by the very treatment he was advocating! And his own method of losing weight, the HCG diet, would have been just as detrimental (if not worse) to my liver!

It turns out that NAFLD can also be caused by chronic conditions like metabolic syndrome. In my case, my entire endocrine and metabolic system is compromised from being a long-term sufferer of Stage 4 endometriosis. It's called Multi-System Disease (MSD).

But apparently there is a large contingent of doctors out there that think everything hinges on how much food a person consumes. And if a person eats less, then that has to be better, right? WRONG!

Final thoughts
I've seen size prejudice and discrimination come from the obese as well as the skinny. Some of the worst cases of discrimination come from formerly obese individuals that become evangelicals thinking that everyone else should do as they have done and "just lose the weight!" and do it the way they did. I've now personally witnessed one of the worst cases where one of those evangelicals is also a medical professional (I hesitate to even use that term given my experience). 

If medical professionals are jumping on the misinformation bandwagon then how are people like me getting proper medical care?  The bottom line is we probably aren't. 

I would guess that thousands of people in my age group in the U.S. have been through the same lifetime experience I have. 

We were raised on margarine instead of butter because medical experts said butter was bad for you. But the margarine filled our bodies with hydrogenated oils that is now known to cause cells to be insulin resistant (and science wonders why there's an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes in this country). (Click here to read more

When our weight didn't match the standardized height and weight charts being published and sent to everyone from our P.E. teachers to our doctors, we were told that an all-protein diet was the best solution to lose weight and do it quickly. So we did that too and became deficient in important vitamins that can only be derived from food and not a pill. 

We were told to avoid all fat so we removed even healthy fats like olive oil and nuts from our diets and thought we were being so "good" when we were really starving our bodies of Omegas 3, 6 and 9. 

We learned that carbs are "bad" and especially any wheat-based carb (nasty, nasty carbs). So we stopped including those in our diets and lives. The result? A complex-carb starved body doesn't have the food needed to easily produce neurotransmitters like serotonin (the essential neurotransmitter for your body to regulate mood, digestion, breathing and the heart). No wonder we live in a society of road rage, depression and anxiety. 

We were told that everything hinged on what we put in our mouths. We believed that the government was ensuring our food was safe and healthy for us even though starting in the early 1990s, unbeknownst to the public, the controls over the American food supply began to be loosened so that chemicals, pesticides and other harmful toxins were legally entering our food supply without our knowledge. "Wholesome" foods like a tall glass of cool milk, fresh corn-on-the-cob (buttered or not) and the apples in Mom's apple pie weren't so "wholesome" anymore (click here to learn more). You can thank corporate lobbyists with deep pockets for this.

Frankly, I've had enough! I will not tolerate being told that all my problems are because I'm fat. All my problems are because I was afraid of getting fat.  I just should have ignored everybody and eaten a Mediterranean diet like the Italians. I'd be slightly plump with an extra 10-15 pounds (maybe even 20), but I'd be sporting a healthy liver right now. 

And I vow one last thing... I refuse to be told one more time that I should consider gastric bypass surgery. Future doctors beware.

Postscript: The reason why I went for over 25 years with undiagnosed endometriosis that raged through my body until it was at the worst level (stage 4) was because of medical professionals who ignored my pleas that something was wrong with me. Instead, I was told that it was normal "women stuff" and/or that I really needed to focus on losing weight. Discrimination against my size resulted in my quality of life being destroyed by an insidious disease for decades. I can't get those years back. And I can't glean from life what I should be right now because of being saddled with the aftermath of issues I face. But if my story can help others to not lose years of a quality life, that can somehow make up for it. 

07 January 2012

A new year, a new lease on life

In a few short weeks it will have been a year since my surgery. I've done so much healing since then. In order to keep proper perspective, I have to keep reminding myself how bad I felt a year ago. In reflection, I've realized that my body was shutting down last year. It is sobering to come to terms with that reality. But it also fills me with gratitude for the second chance I've gotten to live a full life.

Over the past 5 months, I've tried various adjustments in meds and supplements. I think I've found the right combination... finally.

Interestingly, my increased Vitamin D levels have made my seasonal affective disorder more tolerable this winter. I'm very thankful for that.

With this new lease on life, I wonder what 2012 has in store for me. So many possibilities.

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