Musings by Leah Jorgensen

A Good Cleanse

I often write about food and gluten-free living.  My interest in nutrition has evolved ever since I was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains.  I am even considering getting a masters degree in holistic nutrition to further my reach as a freelance writer on the subject.  I am fascinated with the concept of food as medicine.

Diet is an interesting thing.  Most of us don’t think very consciously about what we eat.  We make our food selections based on convenience and flavor over anything else, and by flavor I mean savory and sweet.  But, what happens when we find ourselves living with a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms that we can’t resolve? 

When I was diagnosed with celiac disease back in 2007, I was both relieved and terrified.  For one, I was happy to learn that there was something to the sickness I had endured for quite some time.  I would experience the following:  painful abdominal cramping after most meals; bloating and swelling; migraines; irritability, anxiety and depression; brain fog and poor memory; an itchy, painful inexplicable rash; scaly, dry scalp; chronic head allergy symptoms, including congestion, runny nose, violent sneezing and itchy eyes; and other IBS symptoms.  

I assumed those symptoms were normal for me until my father was diagnosed with celiac a few years back.  I understood that it was a hereditary condition, but, my doctors told me the likelihood of having it passed on to me was slim.  So, I didn’t get tested.  And, I continued to live in discomfort.  I thought yoga, meditation, exercise and a balanced diet would fix everything, or at least make life more endurable.  I was wrong.

By the time I was diagnosed, I had lesions along my small intestine because the immune system, which is predominantly based in the gut, would attack any trace of gluten that made its way through my digestive system.  I was exhausted all of the time.  I had piercing migraines.  And, I was so depressed that I was considering going to a shrink so that I could get access to anti-depressants.

I went to a leading allergist in Seattle, where I was living at the time.  After a series of scratch tests, the allergist announced there was nothing wrong with me.   He assured me that I was perfectly healthy.  Even after I explained my father had been diagnosed with celiac, he insisted my test for sensitivity to wheat allergens came back as negative.   Confused and defeated, I finally took a friend’s advice and scheduled an appointment at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

There, the ND listened to me.  I mean, he interviewed me and asked all kinds of questions that made me feel, well, like I was being heard for the first time.  After a nearly two-hour consultation, mostly of me talking about my health, in general, and a brief examination, the ND affirmed I had celiac disease.  He told me I had all of the classic symptoms.  He prepared a folder of all kinds of helpful information about celiac disease and diet.  He prescribed supplements for me to pick up at the dispensary.  And, while I was elated to know what was making me sick and how to heal naturally, I was overwhelmed by the gluten-free diet and fearful of contamination.

Two years later, I’m doing just fine with living gluten-free.  But, I have been experiencing symptoms that I thought were indicative of gluten contamination.  And, I never resolved my chronic head allergy symptoms (congestion, itchy eyes, sneezing).  I thought I was just experiencing seasonal allergies while living in one of the worst places in the States for seasonal allergies.  However, all of my scratch tests for seasonal allergies came back as negative.  A leading allergist here in Portland decided I had non-allergic rhinitisNon-allergic rhinitis is like the word “coincidence” –  it’s a concept someone came up with to describe something which cannot be understood.  This was distressing for me.

I recently came across the book Allergies Disease in Disguise: How to heal your allergic condition permanently and naturallyby Carolee Bateson-Koch, DC, ND.  I learned in Chapter 8 that the first common condition leading to allergy were yeasts and molds. And the second common condition – parasites.  And the third – digestive difficulties.

A little wiser, I now believe it’s time to cleanse.  It’s the only way to wash out the digestive system and begin the process of clearing away yeasts (candida) or potential parasites.  And, in addition to cleansing, it’s time to restrict my diet even further and balance it all out with supplements like probiotics and natural enzymes. 

I’ve learned that you have to prepare the body to get well.  You need to eliminate the kinds of foods that cause allergic reaction.  You need to build the immune system.  You need to think wellness and wholeness above all else – including convenience and habit.

I am on a cleansing path.  I am lowering the allergic and toxic load.  I’m drinking pure, clean, filtered water with fresh squeezed organic lime.  I am eating raw foods, including organically grown fruit and vegetable juices for up to ten days – I just had an amazing apple-celery-cucumber juice at Blossoming Lotus in Portland.  Then, I am going to begin the process of cutting out yeast and sugars from my diet for the next 4-6 weeks (which includes alcohol, ay me!).   During that time, I am going to take herbs and supplements to balance my intestinal function, killing off any potential parasites and balancing the levels of yeast in my intestines.   This is serious work!

It feels good to cleanse.  It’s not easy to restrict, restrict, restrict.  I thought it was bad enough eliminating gluten from my diet!  This is going to be a serious challenge.  But, I’m up for it.  And, I want to encourage others who do not feel well to consider doing the same.  Life is too short to feel like crap.

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