Monday, January 20, 2014

How ulcerative colitis turned out to be a good thing for me!

As a medical transcriptionist, I had  heard of ulcerative colitis, but I didn't know much about it in great detail.  It didn't sound like a very nice condition! I knew that it was mostly diagnosed through a colonoscopy- which was a procedure I dreaded, but knew I was going to have to face someday soon because of my age and need for screening.

Last fall things were going pretty normally for me health wise until I developed an unexpected infection that required a course of two antibiotics.  I carefully read both of the drug inserts when I got home and read that one of the antibiotics cautioned that it could cause rectal bleeding and if that occurred, I should contact the hospital immediately.

Well, I'm glad I read the insert because the next day, I did experience a lot of bleeding - the kind of bleeding you never want to see when you go to the bathroom. When the bleeding wouldn't go away on its own, and because I was over 50, I was scheduled for a colonoscopy. That's how I found out that I had ulcerative colitis. That's also how my journey to better self-care started.

In followup after the colonoscopy, my new GI doctor prescribed steroidal enemas, and another drug, Asacol, to keep the condition under control. When I asked him if there was something I could do to my diet to help heal, he said there was nothing I could do.

And that just didn't ring true to me.  How could it be that food wouldn't affect the digestive system in either a good or bad way?  So I took my prescriptions and filled the enemas, but held off on the other one because it was over $400.  Instead I took to the internet and the library for answers.

UC granularity.png What I learned easily on my own made a lot of sense.  I learned that most of our immune system is in the digestive system where our good bacteria and bad bacterial live in perfect balance.  Antibiotics to kill of bad bacteria certainly affect the good bacteria as well, and as that good bacteria helps to keep the lining of our colons protected, it makes sense that killing that off would cause problems like bleeding!  When I asked my doctor about that he said he had never heard that before, but in several ulcerative colitis forums I read the stories of ulcerative colitis patients who started to have bleeding AFTER taking antibiotics.  How could it not have an effect?

I also read some scary things about Asacol.  It was expensive first of all.  But it didn't seem to keep working for a lot of patients, which meant that they had to escalate to different and harsher drugs.  There were also side effects like hair loss and kidney failure.  Would I be trading one set of problems for another by taking this medication? 

Something on one of the forums I read really struck a cord with me. It was something like, "Modern medicine is an important tool, but it is the every day choices that I make for myself and my family that is the most important factor in good health.  The only person responsible for my health, is me." 

I agreed to take the probiotic my doctor recommended, along with steroids.  Those both definitely started the healing process. However, it was the addition of SCD yogurt that really completed the process and put me back to "normal!"   So it seemed to me that there definitely was a connection between keeping the bacteria balance in check and the health of my digestive system. And I loved that this was something I could do easily in my own kitchen.

But on further reading I discovered that grains, particularly wheat, can also wreak havoc with the digestive system.  This has been known, (but not extensively studied) since the 1950s.  I read about a gusty young mother named Elaine Gottschall, who in the 1950s, looked desperately for a way to care for her 4-year-old daughter with ulcerative colitis.  After an extensive search for medical help, she finally met -92- year old Sidney V. Haas, MD, in New York City. With his help, Ms. Gottschall was able to heal her daughter's digestive system through carefully monitoring her diet. This inspired Ms. Gottschall to pursue degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology at age 47.  It's amazing what a mom will do when she has to!

A few friends recommended the Wheat Belly book, and that was an eye opener as well. Web sites like this further explained why wheat has a negative affect on health.

Fixing my diet was definitely something that I could do to help myself heal, and I could help my family finances by avoiding expensive and unnecessarily medical costs. My doctor was skeptical.  All I know is that I dropped 20 pounds effortlessly, my eczema cleared up, and I have had no further problems in the bathroom - that's proof enough for me.

I also started thinking about some of the stress I was under last summer that might have had an impact on my health.  
  • Sis and I were trying to sell my father's property in another state and the negotiations and conflict from trying to get that deal to go through was very time consuming and stressful. 
  •  Mr. Pete and I had reluctantly and apprehensively taken charge of our local home school soccer league - something I had absolutely no input in but a lot of responsibility for.  
  • Unwanted and unwarranted blog drama
  • And of course there was this.  

 Some of this stress couldn't be avoided, but some of it could.  The lesson I have taken away from this is that if I think something is going to cause me undo stress, it's okay to take a step back.

I'm still on a learning curve.  Last week I started making myself smoothies for breakfast with almond milk, berries and a banana with some unexpected poor results.  I think I'm learning that I need to really limit the sugars from fruits, especially bananas to only once a week and concentrate more on vegetables and maybe just berries and apples, or just a section of orange.  I'm learning what's working for me.

To sum up the whole experience,  if I hadn't gotten ulcerative colitis, I wouldn't have done more reading and research on the modern diet and how it affects health, and I would probably still be struggling to lose weight while eating the suggested amount of "whole grains," and I would be letting stresses and stressful situations have more control over me than they should.  The whole experience has opened me up to new ways of eating and approach food and health and stress and that has been a very good thing for me and for my entire family.


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