Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Intestinal Saga, Part 6: It's All Digestive, My Dear Watson

On Kwasniewski's Optimal Diet, I felt the strongest I had felt since I was a high school athlete working out at the gym 6 days a week.  My body composition was extremely desirable to me.  I felt solid and seemed to build muscle very easily.  Eating gobs and gobs of fat along with just enough protein, I was never unsatisfied with meals.  The satiety factor of this dietary pattern was incredible, and I happily stuck to it for close to a year even though I had odd muscle tension throughout my body and would toss and turn in my sleep, sometimes waking up for three hours around 3:00 A.M.  My breath also was absolutely horrible, as my girlfriend at the time made perfectly clear to me.  There were so many things right with the Optimal Diet and, yet, so many things were wrong.  I had the body and strength that I wanted, but, good Lord, was I slothful at times.

Me on the Optimal Diet
During the Optimal Diet, I began to tweak my mealtimes to see whether or not my symptoms were fully attributed to the digestion and absorption of my food.  I experimented with one meal a day, which was easy to do and get adequate calories from since the foods I was eating were so low in fiber and very calorically dense.  As I had expected, my symptoms suddenly became isolated to certain times, depending on when I ate.

First, an hour after eating, my chest would usually begin hurting and feeling tender and then subside over another hour.  Also during this time, I would often get a headache and a bit of lower abdominal discomfort along with a unique "pins and needles" feeling in my chest/upper abdomen.  About 8-10 hours after the large meal, in addition to bloating, I'd feel heaviness come over me in the form of shoulder, abdominal, and -- oddly enough -- left calf tension.  From my studies of human digestion, I knew this is when the food would have been traveling through my small intestine (food typically empties from the stomach in 3 hours).  So I thought maybe something was wrong with that part of my GI tract, but had no clue what it could be.  Sometimes the abdominal tension (which felt like a rock) would be so bad that it would "push up" my stomach, and I'd actually have to vomit.  Taking the experiment further, I learned that if I fasted for a day, I would feel absolutely amazing the entire next day.  Upon eating again, I'd experience some "tender chest" pain, but no "pins and needles," headache or lower abdominal discomfort.  I realized after eating the next day and then feeling those symptoms coming on that they were actually happening 24 hours after my last meal.  I came to call these the "24 hour symptoms" as a result of this discovery.  The "8-10 hour symptoms" consistently happened the same time after mealtime.

So I had my answer.  My detective work paid off.  It was all digestive.  It wasn't "all in my head" as some of my close friends and family suggested.  It wasn't due to poor posture or not exercising enough.  It wasn't because I was some kind of hypochondriac.  It was because I had friggin' digestive problems.

Abdominal/Pelvic CT scan
At this point, some of you may be thinking, "Ryan, why the heck didn't you just go to a doctor to diagnose all of this?"  Well, I did.  I saw quite a few M.D.'s, Naturopaths, and body workers, and they all provided some pieces of the puzzle, but I never got a definitive answer from any of them.  I was subjected to various tests, as well -- barium swallow abdominal/pelvic CT scan, gall bladder ultrasound, and stool/blood analyses of all kinds -- and nothing informed me that I had specific digestive problems.  Yet, here I was with direct experiential proof that all of my symptoms were, in fact, digestive.    

I felt defeated, worn out -- ready to be done with these problems that plagued me over the years.  I knew I was having GI problems, and I had tried the herbs, enzymes, HCL, etc., etc., and the only thing that worked was to either eat nothing or eat less.  And to do that meant I would be back at an unhealthy weight, feeling weak and hungry.  Wonderful.  I was stuck with this sh*t.  But I wasn't ready to give up.  In fact, I was entirely prepared to do whatever it took to get well again.  Onward into the fascinating world of *drumroll* fecal bacteriotherapy.  Say what?!  Yes, this is where it gets interesting, folks.

Part 7 coming up next.  Warning: May not be suitable for the squeamish!

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Intestinal Saga, Part 5: Monastyrsky and Kwasniewski

After my introduction to the man known as "The Bear," I followed the zero-carb "path" and ate nothing but rare-cooked steaks, liver once in a while, bites of butter, and occasional eggs.  To my surprise, I remained at a stable weight during this extreme dietary experiment.  I also had energy to go on long walks, infrequent runs, and swim for hours whenever I could find a body of water large enough.  Despite all of this energy, though, I was still bogged down by the same heaviness that I had felt since I began eating lots of meat again.  The only thing that seemed to alleviate it was eating one meal a day in the evening, after which I would feel the heaviness but it would be gone by morning.  The other problem I had -- hard stools -- was still plaguing me, as well.

In the meantime, I was still reading a lot of zero-carb material on the internet, trying to sort things out.  One man, Jeff, started his own forum dedicated to proving that human beings thrive when there are no sugars and starches in the diet.  He also made it a point to exhibit that, no matter how many calories he ate on a zero-carb diet, he would not gain or lose weight.  At one point he was as high as 4,500 calories a day, literally drinking more than a quart of heavy cream each day.  He also was out to show that exercise is completely different while avoiding carbs and eating an extremely high-fat diet, and his daily and weekly logs displayed how many miles he'd ran and how he felt for days afterwards.  One thing that struck me was that he claimed to not feel sore at all after running over 20 miles in a day -- this coming from a guy that was not, by any means, a runner before the experiment.  I was certainly impressed by all of this and similar reports from others, so I kept on with zero-carb hoping that I would adjust as other folks had.

Fiber Menace: The Truth About the Leading Role of Fiber in Diet Failure, Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's Disease, and Colon CancerI never adjusted, and I was starting to get frustrated.  Spending time on forums, I couldn't find anyone that shared a similar predicament aside from a handful of folks.  I had a few "gut buddies" who related to much of what I had going on, and we would all communicate what seemed to be working and what wasn't.  We each individually tried manipulating our eating patterns and supplementing digestive aids like enzymes, herbs, probiotics, and all of those things that are typically recommended to people with the catch-all health problem known as "irritable bowel syndrome."  While some approaches appeared to have benefit, by and large nothing did the trick.  In the end, we still had the same symptoms.  Seeking to deepen my understanding of what was going on, I returned to studying the human digestive tract.  I payed careful attention to where I was feeling what and how the symptoms could be related to certain organs and functions within my GI tract.  Much of the information I came across was pretty dry and lacked experience.  I needed to find someone who had resolved his or her digestive problems experientially and could help me along.  The problem was that every digestion expert out there seemed to recommend fiber as the Holy Grail of gut reparation.  I was already skeptical of this method of improving intestinal problems because 1) it hadn't worked for me and 2) fiber appeared to be completely unnecessary in digestive functions anyway -- lots of folks I was in contact with weren't having any problem with a zero-fiber diet.  But why the heck was I having problems?  Enter Konstantin Monastyrsky, author of a book called Fiber Menace.

I caught wind of Mr. Monastyrsky's gut manifesto on a forum I frequented.  Reading excerpts from his book, I knew this was the guy to learn from.  His story was very similar to mine -- a vegetarian who developed digestive problems and then realized that things needed to change.  Fiber only seemed to make his problems worse, and so Monastyrsky looked at other means of getting well again, delving into medical texts and other research to find out more about human physiology.  Like me, he was a health detective, and he labeled this approach to wellness "Forensic Nutrition." In Fiber Menace, Monastyrsky laid out the fundamentals of what got him better and built a strong case against many of the mainstream health mantras of our time, such as the supposed "dangers" of a low-carb diet and the necessity of drinking eight glasses of water a day.  I found his viewpoints fascinating and quickly devoured his book.  Shortly thereafter, I tried out some of his supplement recommendations, which included a non-habit-forming laxative (a form of vitmain C) and probiotic bacteria with small amounts of soluble fibers to feed them.  These were things I'd tried before, but for some reason I always ran into problems with.  But when I tried Monastyrsky's supplement regimen, I was free of hard stools for the first time in several months.  Astoundingly, the heaviness in my body went away, and I felt lighter and tension free like I hadn't in a very long time -- probably since I had been eating very little food as a vegetarian.

Dr. Jan Kwasniewski
After a close to a year of eating zero carbohydrates, I began to feel like it was time to eat like a somewhat normal human being again.  I wanted to add some starches back into my diet, but not so much as to disturb the "keto-adaptation" (a term coined by The Bear) I had worked hard to achieve.  I still wanted my body to use fat for fuel, as this felt like very efficient energy and I had certainly grown used to it.  So I went with what I felt was a good dietary transition and began the "Optimal Diet" -- a way of eating developed by a Polish doctor, Jan Kwasniewski.  This diet was all about the ratio of protein, fats and carbohydrates and keeping them in balance to achieve optimal health.  The ratio to be followed was 1 : 2.5-3.5 : 0.5 -- protein : fat : carbohydrates.  What that meant was that I would literally be eating sticks of butter and drinking heavy cream.  And I did gladly.  I love fat.  Always have.  Always will.  So it was easy to eat the Optimal Diet -- however, the heaviness seemed to return as I began eating more consistently and the supplements I was on slowly started to lose their effectiveness.  Crap.  Could I ever win?

Part 6 of "My Intestinal Saga" coming soon ...