Headaches, Allergies and Quality of Life
It never occurred to me how sensitive I was to almost everything until seventh grade. Without warning, I was overwhelmed with pollen allergies. That was the start of it, but there was much more lurking under the surface. In desperation, my parents took me through all the tests that were available then and I was sentenced to five years of weekly shots during the spring and fall in an effort to mitigate the congestion and rashes that came from contact with almost any plant. I had always had very dry skin that would chap and fissure for no reason that I could tell and would leave my hands bleeding from simple handwork.
It was not until I went to college that I began to be interested in the way that food affected my body. I am not sure that the two events were connected, but perhaps on some subconscious level they were, but the food issue became more acute as I realized how I could affect my athletic performance by simply moderating the way I ate. As I did so, I also noticed changes in the way I felt and in my hay fever allergies and in the quality of my skin. I began to keep a subconscious log of the way food affected everything I did.
My first serious job out of college was helping to run a cooperative bakery in Cambridge and for two and a half years, was immersed in flour and flour products. It was during this time that I began to have severe symptoms of arthritic conditions which affected my joints. I was 24 years old and not ready to be crippled. At the advice of a friend, I visited an acupuncturist who practiced in Cambridge near where I lived. I was amazed at the recuperative therapy and how much it helped me, but when I switched jobs, the insurance ran out and I had to seek other ways of dealing with the issues than with the acupuncturist alternative.
When the arthritic conditions started returning, I was forced to go the route conventional medical help. I do not think it was the intent of the doctors who tried to help me to be the way they were, but there was very little listening to the details of my observations about myself. I stayed the course mostly because my insurance would not cover anything else but also to see whether the standard health care route would be able to help as much as the acupuncturist had. The problems came and went and by the summer of my 28th year, I spent most of it on crutches, crippled by the arthritic symptoms that no one could explain or manage.
This landed me by referral in the Massachusetts General Hospital Allergy Clinic, a reputable clinic that specialized in treating those who could find help nowhere else. After a battery of tests that cost the insurance company far more than any acupuncturist, I found myself facing the head of the clinic who was explaining that I was in trouble.
“Arthritis,” she said.
“It can’t be arthritis,” I said, “I’m only 28. What is Arthritis?”
“We don’t know exactly,” she explained, “but it can happen to people your age, or even younger, and it is an inflammation of the joints that is progressive and usually gets worse with age.”
“And you are sure that it could not possibly have anything to do with the way I eat?”
She was quite sure. We had been over this several times. I suspected that it was either wheat or dairy, possibly something else, but they had tested me for these allergies and had found nothing. It was particularly insulting when I had explained to the doctors that when I fasted I had seen remarkable improvement, but I could only fast for so long. I could see them roll their eyes when they heard about fasting and then completely ignore everything I had to tell them – about myself!
“It could not have anything to do with what you are eating,” she insisted, “you will just have to face the fact you have this condition and learn how to live by taking anti-inflammatory over the counter drugs (Advil and Motrin were the suggested drugs of choice) to manage the pain and the inflammation.”
“But I thought you just said that eating things could not affect my condition?”
“This is different,” she snarled, “this is medicine!”
I don’t think I am exaggerating here. I stood up and walked out, stuffing the Motrin samples in my pocket as I wandered home. It lit the fire in me that burned deep. On the way back to the South End where I lived, I decided to fast and do a controlled diet after the fast to try to identify the culprit.
I fasted on pure water for three days. On the fourth day I ate a head of lettuce and some green beans. By the end of the month I had reintroduced almost everything back into my diet except meats, dairy and all forms of wheat. One of my roommates was getting married about that time and we had a special breakfast celebration for him at a local muffin shop. There was nothing on the menu that did not have wheat in it except perhaps the eggs and the butter. “This is the day to try wheat,” I said to myself and I ordered toast.
Within an hour, my knees were swelling. That night I went to a Christmas concert in the old Boston Garden and had to be carried home by four friends. I lay in bed for two days, nearly unable to move except to go to the bathroom. I had found the culprit.
For the next three years, I lived with a diet that forced me to read every label and know every detail of what I put in my mouth. I set about on a journey to understand my body and how all foods affected it. I also learned (from reading labels) what the food industry is doing to our diet. For all practical purposes, I was relegated to eating foods that I prepared myself from fresh produce, and fresh meat and eating salads without dressing when I went out somewhere.
I started discovering that I could become sensitive to anything and was particularly prone to foods that I ate all the time. I had many discussions with others with similar problems and discovered a number of things that seemed to fit patterns for persons with food sensitivities. I use the word “sensitivities” here specifically because the word “allergy” conjures up images of hives, convulsions, anaphylactic shock and rashes. I have found that many persons suffer from anxiety, depression, fatigue, drowsiness, anger, headaches, stomach and dietary tract problems and other “common ailments” simply because of the food they are eating.
Here are some of the things I have discovered about myself:
There are other subtleties of effect also, but suffice it to say, that there are many persons who suffer from such maladies who have been convinced that there is no connection between their skin conditions, or malaise and the foods they eat. They seek to find the answers in over the counter medications that treat symptoms without addressing root cause. Please understand that I realize there is a place for medical intervention, but many common maladies do not require it.
Here is another list of observations I have gathered that may help understand some of the issues.
The discovery of the difficulties with food sensitivities set me on a course to find a method for testing foods that is reliable and can be done by a person on their own. I discovered a number of methods that were reliable, but could only be administered by a practitioner who had spent a number of years learning how to do it. These persons are frequently willing to share their understanding, but it was often gained by a huge investment of time and experience, which is difficult to pass on, and frequently, it cannot be done to oneself.
After several years of searching and taking classes in precision muscle testing, herbal remedies, foot reflexology and other disciplines, I ran across a profoundly simple test that can be learned from a book and takes almost no investment in time to learn. By far the biggest investment follows the testing when a person must discipline themselves to respond to the knowledge they have gained and modify their dietary habits accordingly. This method uses a simple homemade pendulum and is described in detail in “An Introduction to Pendulum Testing for Food Sensitivities”
Before you chuckle at or scorn the idea of a pendulum, read the article.