About six years ago, I started suffering from chronic migraines. I’ve always struggled with headaches occasionally, but after I had Abbie, they began to become regular. Some could say monthly 😉 Overtime they became debilitating, and I started to struggle with them for weeks at a time. I’d only have about a week (in the second half of my cycle) where I felt normal. Living with headaches is an awful way to live.
Around the same time, I started to get recurring sinus and ear infections. I went and got allergy tested, and the specialist couldn’t find anything I was “allergic” to. But, he said I’d have to stay on sinus spray permanently. I thought that was stupid because there was something that was causing my inflammation, but I wasn’t going to argue with a specialist. So I left and continued the infection cycle, each time experiencing an infection worse than the last. One time I was so sick, I lost a significant amount of my hearing for about eight weeks! I was so sick that time I couldn’t get out of bed for 2 1/2 weeks. I thought I was dying. My lungs & ears have never fully recovered from that particularly awful flu.
My headaches also continued to worsen and got so terrible that the doctor put me on a migraine preventative. That worked a charm and took away all of my headaches, but the side effects were unsurvivable – I ended up at emergency one day having an ECG machine with my heart doing weird things. So, that was the end of that medication.
The second medicine I tried had fewer side effects (and made me sleep amazingly), but I still had headaches on it. I stayed on it for a few years, until eventually it was no longer helping enough to warrant staying on it, because of the other side effects it gave me. So, in January 2017 I went cold turkey with nothing, to see what would happen.
For the next two months, I had a headache constantly and barely functioned. But worse, was that over the six months leading up to going off the meds, I had started to develop a lot of visual symptoms, vertigo and dizziness.
These symptoms tended to be at their worst when I didn’t have a headache. I came to know these as “silent migraines”. Silent migraines are no joke. But they weren’t my only problem – I had vertigo at random from pressure changes in my sinuses & ears. Vertigo could hit any place at any time and made me unstable on my feet. These multiple types of dizziness and headaches had forced me into a barely functioning human being.
I started seeing a bunch of alternative practitioners because my doctor couldn’t do anything but medicate me, and I was desperate to find the cause. When my husband had his head injury last year, we concluded that the therapies that made the biggest impact on him were the alternative therapies (that’s a whole other blog post). I wanted that turn around too.
The trend of advice was that I needed to give up gluten and dairy. I was extremely resistant to the idea that food caused my headaches and problems. I knew I had a healthy, varied and balanced diet. But begrudgingly, under the eye of my naturopath, I first gave up gluten. I gave up gluten first because I knew that was going to be easier for me – I was less attached to it. And I also already knew that dairy most likely affected me. (Dairy used to give me horrendous stomach pains and shaking as a child. I had only started to eat it as an adult when I found my stomach could tolerate it.) But, I’d never had any sign whatsoever that gluten affected me, so I figured if I noticed a difference to giving up gluten, while still eating dairy, it would be pretty telling.
To my amazement, within a few days, I noticed that my thinking became clearer and my sinus inflammation reduced. Almost overnight I lost 2.5kgs of inflammation weight (fluid retention). My headaches reduced in their intensity.
Oh, my, what was this – was the notion that I was gluten intolerant be correct?!!!
Ten days later I went back to the naturopath and had to admit that it did indeed look as though I was gluten intolerant. There began the next ten day trial of removing dairy. No surprises there, my inflammation reduced again. Now, I could breathe clearer, AND the fluid in my left ear that had been driving me crazy for months disappeared!!!
Over time I’ve also found it helpful to give up caffeine, yeast, artificial sweeteners and alcohol. I am resisting going completely sugar-free. Although I am careful with how much and what kinds of sugar I eat now.
At the same time I started seeing the naturopath, I started seeing a Functional Neurologist. He independently gave me the same advice as the naturopath (even without me mentioning her advice) to give up dairy and gluten. He also said he believed that gut problems caused my immune and inflammation problems and that he strongly suspected I was iodine deficient. So, off I went to get tested for both of those things.
My iodine test results came back first.
I knew they mustn’t be good but his body language and serious demeanour.
He cut straight to the chase. A normal result would be to get rid of 90% of the iodine I had ingested in the test.
I got rid of 22%.
I was severely iodine deficient, and he said it was no surprise I wasn’t functioning.
I was put on a 12-month iodine replacement therapy, with the encouragement that should help within a few “short months”.
A few weeks later I got the result of my gut tests.
The testing revealed I had extremely low numbers of the two most important good bacterias, had high levels of candida and four bacterias that shouldn’t be allowed to thrive.
I was put on a 6-month gut-rebuild program which involves me taking the most disgusting candida/harmful bacteria medicine you’ve ever tasted, followed by three good bacteria producing probiotics.
I’m now four months into my new program.
It’s been life changing.
I still have occasional headaches (maybe still a handful a month). But, apart from the times I’ve been sick, they’re not debilitating and last a short while. They are inconsequential compared to the weeks on end I used to have. Often taking a couple of magnesium tablets helps, which indicates they’re still an inflammatory response.
My dizziness stays at bay as long as I consistently resist from eating gluten and dairy. I had hoped that I’d be able to tolerate small amounts infrequently, but, now that I feel so good in comparison, I consistently notice an obvious reaction within 20-30 minutes of eating something I shouldn’t. The reaction to dairy is most unliveable – the fluid on my ear & lungs come back for a few days, and I feel revolting. But, the response to gluten is still evident – I put on 2-3 kgs of fluid every time I “try and see if I’ll react this time”, and feel completely drained.
It’s just not worth it.
I feel like there’s probably still something else I react to. The naturopath tells me it’s the nightshade family, but I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to give tomatoes, capsicums and potatoes up.
Every person has their limit, and for me, at this time, I’ve reached mine of feeling deprived. I’m sure over time I’ll give them up to see if I feel better still, but not right now. It’s hard enough as it is to find things to eat when I go out (pretty much just salads). If I give up tomato and potato, it will become impossible to find anything (no salads or hot chips, which are pretty much the only items I can ever eat). So I can’t bring myself to give them up.
Even though I feel so much better, giving up some of my most loved foods (especially ones there is just no substitute for like cheese sob) has not been without its grief. I’m learning to focus on what I can eat, not what I can’t. But, it’s more the social exclusion of food allergies that takes some getting used to. And the fact I now have to cook more. I’m not fond of cooking. But, I’m also not fond of going without. So, I’m getting over my lack-of-love for cooking and experimenting with making yummy substitutes at home.
How about you – have you got any chronic health problems?
If so, I encourage you to explore whether hidden food sensitivities/allergies could be causing your symptoms.
You might also be surprised.
It’s worth a shot, right?
I found this elimination diet book helpful. Even though I didn’t do the full diet.
Have any of you got any dairy & gluten free, healthy recipes that you recommend? I’m all ears.
Kat, you are amazing. Keep it up. It is doing you such good, which no amount of chocolate can. The photos of the food are glorious, too . I agree it is hard to find enough food to feed yourself, but you are on the right path! Well done
Btw, I read your blog a few years ago, and I also painted our kitchen cupboards after reading your blog, and am very happy I did it.