Notes From the Crunchy Journey

So I went to see my first rheumatologist this past week. Overall I felt the appointment was good. The doctor let me just list all my many symptoms (mostly pain related) that have come on over the last couple year. Then we ran more blood work, took x-rays and did a physical exam. I was not sure what to expect, but I really liked that she let me just spew symptoms at her and at the end of our appointment she asked if I had any questions. Which I did (because I went prepared), only one of which was pressing.

All the tests came back a couple days ago and she called me to follow up. Not her nurse or a medical assistant, she phoned me directly. That was nice, and almost a first in my experience with allopathic doctors. She is pretty sure I have early stage rheumatoid arthritis and wants me to start taking heavy dose NSAIDs and a mild first line DMARD.

Even though I really liked this doctor, I am still planning on seeking a second opinion. With something like a chronic autoimmune disease I feel I have to do my due diligence and get at least two opinions. Once I get a second opinion I think I can move forward; decide which specialist to see long term as my rheumatologist and also really start chipping away at the lifestyle stuff.

For me the first step will be to move towards an AIP elimination diet. I have already cut out alcohol (not hard since I never drank much anyway) and coffee as well as diligently adding vegetables to every meal and eating fish 2-3 times per week. Next I will cut out gluten and dairy while adding bone broth and more veggies. I would like to get up to 2-3 servings of veggies per meal. Eventually I would like to do full AIP for a month or two, including weaning off my NSAIDs, followed by reintroduction.

I would also like to get back into restorative yoga once per week to help with keeping my joints mobile and help with mindfulness and stress management.

As part of this journey I would also like try acupuncture, visit a naturopath (and maybe even make a naturopath part of my care team), experiment with essential oils for pain, go on a spa retreat, work to reduce my toxic load with things like all-natural cleaning products, organic cotton sheets and even more all-natural body care and makeup. What things would you add to this list?

If you have an autoimmune disease, what things were most helpful for you to bring symptoms under control?

 

Updates on the Crunchy Journey

Six years ago when I first started paleo I did great! I easily lost 40 pounds (of which I have kept 20 off), had great energy levels, good sleep most nights. Then I moved and started a new full time job and after a few months fell off the wagon – I’ve yet to get back on for a sustained amount of time.

In the meantime I’ve struggled with GI issues, fatigue, anxiety and in the last year numbness in my extremities, muscle fasiculations, back pain, muscle and joint pain, and abdominal pain above and beyond my usual IBS symptoms. This started me down the path of blood tests and imaging studies, visits with neurologists and GI specialists, even a liver biopsy. Somewhat scary lab results (like a high ESR and CRP) and most recently to autoimmune markers that point to a strong likelihood of RA (though I have not yet had an official diagnosis of anything).

As somewhat scary as it is to have a probable autoimmune disease, I’m also happy that after four years of progressively feeling worse we are finally nearing some answers… When I told my mom that they found autoantibodies that pointed towards RA she commented, “I’ve never seen someone so happy to find out that they might have rheumatoid arthritis!” But when you have been feeling bad for years and are convinced something more than just poor sleep or being overweight is the cause of your issue, finally getting some evidence that you were right all along feels like a win!

Sadly, I know my story is the norm when it comes to autoimmune disease, because at first the symptoms are so vague and general that it really could be just poor sleep, life stress and/or lifestyle factors… (even with autoimmunity those things are super important)… Symptoms are also often systemic, and there are not really any autoimmune specialists, rather patients must see specialists for all their varying symptoms. A GI doc for their digestive issues, an endocrinologist for their thyroid, a rheumatologist for their joint pain and of course their GP for general wellness check ups and to get referals for all the specialists. According to the AARDA it takes an average of 5 years (and five doctors) before a patient receives a diagnosis. By that metric I am right on time to be (hopefully) nearing a diagnosis.

Now again, I don’t know for sure that I have RA, there are still other tests to do and the autoantibodies they found in my bloodwork can also be present in other autoimmune conditions and even non-autoimmune conditions (like lung infections and cancer). Once we have pinned down a more firm diagnosis I will definitely follow up. Nevertheless…

I’m thankful that my healthcare providers believed me when I said my troubleshooting wasn’t helping and I still wasn’t feeling well. I’m thankful they were willing to order tests even if the likelihood was low that anything would turn up. I’m thankful we are working to find answers and not just fix symptoms. I’m thankful that I have insurance and even though the bills have been pricey, they have so far been manageable. I’m thankful that I have a job that has allowed me to take the time off of work that I have needed for doctors’ appointments, testing and PT. I’m thankful to have a job I enjoy which makes it much easier to come in and find meaning and pleasure in your work even on days when you aren’t feeling great.

WTF is Lunaception?

If you have never heard of Lunaception, it is the idea that women are most fertile when their cycles align with the moon cycle. Now most women have cycles that are about a month long (28-31 days), so there is a certain amount of intuitive sense to our cycles finding a rhythm within the lunar cycle. After all, our word “month” shares the same root word as “moon” for a reason. But is this really the “best” way to cycle? Is it even worth attempting?

Now I will admit that I have never tried to do the full “Lunaception” method, but I stumbled across it in a web search after noticing that I tended to ovulate around the full moon and menstruate around the new moon. I wanted to see if I was the only one with this pattern. I wasn’t! In fact it’s one of the reasons Rosh Chodesh (the new moon) celebration in Judaism has strong ties to feminity in Judaism. Other new age minded people have begun to create Red Tent ceremonies on the new moon.

redtent

That level of ceremony might be beyond my crunchy-hippie threshold, but I still think it is fascinating. From a scientific stand point it makes sense. Our pineal gland is light sensitive and is the primary player in regulating our daily circadian rhythms. Though it has not been well-researched it is not unreasonable to think that the pineal gland might also help regulate our monthly cycles.

In my personal experience, I can tell that when I am most well my body naturally falls back into this pattern of full moon ovulation and new moon menstruation. For instance, over a year ago when I lost my dad my sleep cycles were jacked. Right afterwards I added insult to injury by flying half-way around the world to India for a service trip. Anxiety plus grief plus jet lag led to months of poor sleep, and even to symptoms of depression (more on that another time). My period also fell out of the lunar pattern during this time. Some months were longer, some shorter than my usual 29 days. I even thought it might be perimenopause! Yet, over the past several months I have been to therapy, and invested in self-care and good sleep hygiene (more on this too), my depression and anxiety have abated. At the same time my cycles have also slowly returned themselves to a regular 29 days with ovulation at the full moon and menstruation at the new moon. I take this as yet another positive sign of my improved health and continued recovery from one of the worst years of my life.

Have you ever tracked your period with the moon cycles? Have you ever done the full lunaception method? What has been your experience? Leave your comments and questions below!

First Attempt at Fasting

If you read my last post you know that I am trying to incorporate fasting into my lifestyle. Since I tend to have a lower appetite during my period, just naturally, I thought that would be a good time to try fasting. It also is a time of hormone reset, both estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels at the start of menses.

I discovered intuitively what others have also researched and found true, that appetite drops during menses and peaks during the luteal phase (between ovulation and menses). So it makes sense to me to harness the power of your bodies natural hormone signalling to guide intuitive eating.

To that end I decided to try a fast a couple weeks ago when I was on my period. Unfortunately it happened to fall at a time when I was visiting family so I was not able to do the full 24+ hour fast I had planned. My plan had been to just water fast for at least 24 hours, or until I felt well and truly hungry, whichever was longer. But with visiting family I had to break my fast after only 18 hours of fasting. Still, it was amazingly easy to just not eat during that time. Normally I would have tried to eat something, overriding my body’s natural cues, because I’ve been told for so long that you have to eat or it’ll tank your metabolism, etc.

Though my fast was not as long as I might have liked, it was a proof of concept for me as to the ease of fasting during menses as a woman. So in a couple weeks when it rolls around again I will again attempt a 24+ hour fast while on my period.

Have any of you, male or female, incorporated fasting into your healthy lifestyle? If so, how? Have you found that timing your fasts in any particular way makes them easier?

Share your fasting stories and questions in the comments!

Fasting Experiment

I have been reading a lot lately on the benefits of fasting (like this and this), especially for helping with gut healing, insulin resistance and cancer. Since I have IBS-D, and a strong family history of both diabetes and cancer, it seems to me to be very worthwhile to try a 3-5 day fast.

But then the question occurred to me, when? So many health and medical studies do not include women. The famous studies on fasting, such as the Minnesota Starvation Study which used conscientious objectors during WWII as study participants, have been performed using almost exclusively men. Even current proponents of fasting are largely men. What about we double X-ers? What effects does fasting have that are unique to the female body? With our hormone cycles is there a particular time of month/cycle that fasting is most effective and/or least detrimental?

My hypothesis is that, of course, there is. And I am setting out to find out what that time is as an n=1 experiment. Now because I am on a health journey and hopefully having ongoing improvements in my health, there is just no way to have a true control group. One month I may the stronger than the month before, have better hormone levels going into fasting than the month before, or just have overall better health going into the study than previous fasting tests.

With those caveats in mind though my hypothesis is that the optimum time for women to fast is during menses. For one, personal experience has revealed that I already have a decreased appetite during that time of month. Unlike other phases of the uterine/ovarian cycle, you are neither nurturing a developing oocyte, nor building your endometrium for the possibility of implantation. Your body is already in reset mode.

To that end, I will be attempting a 3-5 day fast during my next menses. My fast will start when I first notice signs of my period starting and will continue until my flow stops. (Sorry if this is TMI for more squeemish readers, but it’s a biological fact of life and I will try to use the appropriate anatomical and physiological terms as much as possible).

Have any of you fasted before? If you are a woman, have you timed fasting to your cycle? What have your experiences been?plate