Friday, July 8, 2011

My Intestinal Saga, Part 10: Final Thoughts (cont'd.)

Okay, let's add some more notes to parts 5 through 9 of of the saga.

Part 5, Monastyrsky and Kwasniewski: The most important lesson I learned from this time period was that the heaviness in my body was directly related to being constipated 24/7, and that there were ways to restore my intestinal motility.  I highly recommend Monastyrsky's book, Fiber Menace, to anybody interested in the ins and outs (pun intended) of digestion and how to maintain a smoothly functioning GI tract, as this is what ultimately opened my eyes.  This book has a combination of the author's deep experience and thorough research, which makes it a very powerful read.  His recommendations are solid and very helpful to most modern people struggling with GI problems.

Part 6, It's All Digestive My Dear Watson: Damn, I wish I could eat all the fat I wanted without having gut issues.  Maybe someday I'll be able to if I ever resolve things completely.  Until then, I have to actually keep fat consumption at moderate to low levels because I get the same symptoms as I described in this post: the bad breath, the muscle tension, the bloating, the insomnia.  All of these things I believe are related to the slow motility of my intestines.  And I discovered this by thoroughly observing my body's response to eating food.  This is a fine art, and it requires an understanding of just how food travels through the body.

I have found through talking with others that the one place many folks get tripped up in evaluating their own bodies' digestive capacity is not knowing their symptoms connect with very specific parts of the GI tract.  For example, I have heard many people complain about "feeling full" after a meal, and they'll often say that their "stomach is full."  Yet, when I see where their hands go to describe this fullness, I realize it is not their stomach that is full at all -- it is actually their lower abdomen that is bloated and uncomfortable.  The stomach, of course, is just below the sternum a little to the left -- not around the belly button.  So this "fullness" is most likely coming from the last part of the small intestines.  This region is probably bloated from some kind of dysfunction and is putting pressure on the GI tract above it, including the stomach -- which gives the sensation of having eaten too much.  Knowing about little things like this can help a person really narrow down and target their specific digestive ailments.

Part 7, The Holy Grail of Probiotics ... Part 8, A Fecal Transplant Story ... Part 9, The Long Journey of Mister Poop: I'm covering all of these parts together because they fall under the same general category: taking someone else's poo and putting it in my body to restore intestinal flora.  There are many things that I would do differently now if I did the procedure again -- possibly antibiotics before the implant; better donor selection; make a more palatable concoction and pinch my nose (!) while drinking.  I'll outline my plan in more detail in an upcoming blog post.  For now, I will say that I have not ruled out this procedure and still have great hope for its use in the near future.

I believe very deeply that this is the ultimate tool in regaining digestive health and it deserves far more attention and research than it is currently getting.  However, word is definitely getting out, and I'm encouraged by some of the latest coverage of the treatment.  Here's a list of very recent and active links that I've found regarding fecal transplants:

Freakanomics Radio: The Power of Poop -- A good primer for potential donors on the merits of the procedure.  And it's entertaining.
Fecal Transplant - I Took the Plunge! -- On the "Healing Well" forum.  Exhaustive 5-part resource on individual experiences and questions regarding the treatment.
Home Fecal Transplants -- A group of people attempting transplants.  Some are beginning to consider doing an oral transplant similar to the one I did.

How Are Things Now?  

I am currently fairly stable in my gut as long as I follow certain rules that seem to work for me:

1) Low fiber diet: in addition to meat, butter, cheese, etc., I eat white rice or peeled potatoes for my starches and occasional bowls of homemade ice cream (with unrefined sugar).

2) No gluten: this without a doubt keeps my GI tract stable and happy.

3) Magnesium supplementation: prevents hard stools better than anything else I've tried.

4) Pancreatic enzymes: these appear to aid the digestion of foods in my stomach, particularly starches.

5) Moderate to low protein and fat: if I don't gorge on meat and fat (as much as I want to), things remain stable.

6) Two meals a day: this gives my digestive tract time to rest and be free of symptoms, and it appears to allow me to sleep through most of the night without intestinal disturbances.

7) Chewing fennel seeds: three or four times a day I'll grab a pinch of fennel seeds and chew them like gum.  I extract as much of the beneficial oils as possible before spitting out the fiber (when there is no taste left).  Really helps with expelling trapped gas and relaxing the gut.

When following these guidelines consistently, I find that my bloating is very minimal, my muscles have very little tension, and my mind is clear and focused.  Overall, I just have more energy.

This Is (Not) the End, My Friend

Well, here we are at the finish of my intestinal saga -- at least for now.  There will certainly be more updates in the future as I continue to discover more and more about my condition.  I still have a great amount of curiosity in exploring the mystery that is my GI tract, and only time will tell what kinds of crazy treatments I might stumble upon.  One thing all of you out there in blogger land can be sure of is this: you will hear about it.  Thanks for reading -- and happy digesting!

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Intestinal Saga, Part 10: Final Thoughts

For this final installment of "My Intestinal Saga," I wanted to add a few notes and resources to each of the previous parts before I close with an assessment of where I am now, as well as ideas I have to further improve -- or possibly completely resolve  -- my digestive problems.  I would appreciate any input from others, as well.  Please leave a comment if you think you might have more insight into all this gut stuff.  Here we go again down the long, hollow tube!
Part 1, Dabbling in Parasites:  Here I delve into my childhood health issues a bit, which included headaches and TMJ (tempromadibular joint) disorder.  My best guess as to why these things were happening is the same reason that I experienced them in a more mild form as I grew older: digestive tension/pain.  There is a direct correlation for me.  I believe I had a problem with gluten as a young child, and this created a poor digestive environment and subsequent pain in the GI tract that referred pain and tension to my neck and jaw.  Here is a quote from a great blog post explaining this phenomenon:

In a nutshell, referred pain happens when nerve fibers from regions of high sensory input (such as the skin) and nerve fibers from regions of normally low sensory input (such as the internal organs) happen to converge on the same levels of the spinal cord. 

This is something to keep in mind for folks out there engaged in your own health explorations.  The body can be a tricky bugger sometimes, so it is important to stay open to what the origins of your discomforts truly are.

I also want to expand upon some of the thoughts I had in this post about bloating.  I was completely unaware that the bloating was a simple distention of my belly and not an actual "gut."  This unawareness created body image issues for me, as I thought I was fat and struggled to get rid of the belly.  No matter how hard I worked out, it remained, and it left me feeling frustrated and inadequate.  I imagine there are others out there for whom this may be the case, and I just want to say that bloating is not fat!  Even today, I can see my belly go flat and distend over a matter of hours depending on my mealtimes, types of foods eaten, etc.

Part 2, Lower Back Pain: This is where I discovered the magic of referred pain and what measures I truly needed to take to resolve it.  The tweaking of my back left me debilitated, and at that time I thought it was because I had a "bad back."  This turned out to not be the case, as I found out while working in the wilderness, where my back pain disappeared while eating very little.  It was all digestive, once again.

I want to share a wonderful resource that I came across a few years ago that shed a lot of light on how digestion is connected to much of the pain and discomfort I have felt in my life.  It is a book called, The Digestive Awareness Diet.  Interestingly enough, the author actually says that the reason we suddenly throw out our back or get a tweak in our neck isn't from muscle strain, but digestive tension.  This certainly rang true for me.  Check it out.  It might help you better understand your body.  I know it helped me.

A few more resources about general body awareness that might be useful which I utilized during my "yoga years" are the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique, both of which got me thinking about posture and what is and isn't the natural, optimal use of the human body -- or "use" for short.  One of the authors even suggested something I had already intuited: observing little kids and indigenous people to understand proper use. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that resolving digestive tension is a big part of regaining our bodies' natural ease.  Utilizing the body awareness techniques in combination with digestive understanding is a potent combination in restoring some of the light and easy feelings we are supposed to have in our bodies.

Part 3, Making Connections: Ahh, the wondrous world of the ileocecal valve (I found this page randomly on Facebook -- I am one of two people that like it so far.  Ha!).  Some natural health practitioners believe this is the root of many of our digestive ailments.  All I know is that it was directly related to my back pain.  The interesting thing is that once I got my posture back on point after doing yoga and the aforementioned body awareness methods, I was able to feel the pain exactly where it was -- my lower right abdomen -- as opposed to thinking it was only my back muscles acting up.  This reinforces the idea that, in order to come to more full understanding of what's happening in the body, an individual must use a multi-faceted approach to health observation.

Part 4, Gurus and Rotten Meat: One interesting occurrence from this period of wild dietary experimentation was a complete malabsorption of fat.  Looking back, I believe this was due to my duodenum just beginning to recover from years of being beat down by the gluten in my diet.  A classic consequence of such a beating is flattened microvilli, which inevitably leads to the poor processing of proteins and fats.  There is also a chance that Giardia played a role in this process.  Whatever the case may be, this problem resolved on its own after several months.

The chest pain I experienced during this time was exclusively due, once again, to digestive stress.  The chest pain was most likely my stomach being unable to resist the huge amounts of acid it was all of the sudden releasing for my high-meat diet.  I'm sure it was in a weakened state from years of malnourishment.  I swore I was having a heart attack.

I also describe a "heavy" feeling in the entirety of my body.  I believe this was a result of very slow intestinal motility and the hard stools I was constantly having.  Another symptom I didn't mention at this time was shallow breathing, presumably from the stiffness of my abdomen.  I have heard accounts from others of a similar phenomenon, and it is something that I still have now and again.

Final thoughts on "My Intestinal Saga" to be continued ...