I would like to share with my readers a personal experience that reinforced my respect for the power of food sensitivities, and may perhaps result in your own reflections linking specific foods with symptoms that trouble you. Before I discovered GAPS, I had been on a fruitless lengthy search for treatment of constipation that had plagued me since childhood.
I received no effective help from conventional medicine, nor from a variety of alternative health care practitioners. I had tried many approaches, but never an elimination diet. Last December I heard an interview with holistic nutritionist Erin Chamerlik on The Livin La Vida Low Carb Show. She described the success she had using an elimination diet with her clients to alleviate multiple distressing diverse symptoms. I decided that in accordance with my no stone left unturned nature, that I should venture down that avenue. I contacted Erin and began to work with her to identify what foods might be contributing to my symptoms.
For those of you who do not know what an elimination diet is, it typically consists of an avoidance of the top allergenic foods, i.e. gluten containing grains, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, corn, nightshades, shellfish, additives, sugar, alcohol, etc, for a few weeks. After that period, each class of food is carefully and systematically reintroduced one at a time. A food that has been avoided is reintroduced at both breakfast and lunch, and then for the next three days, one watches for a reaction, such as a rash, headache, joint pain or swelling, really any sort of unusual symptom.
Food sensitivities frequently may not manifest immediately. They are different than a dramatic anaphylactic reaction which occur in people who are, for example, allergic to peanuts or bee venom. In those cases a person may experience immediate life threatening tissue swelling, resulting in restriction of their airways. Symptoms related to food sensitivities may be far more subtle and delayed, so careful self observation is necessary. Despite their subtlety, symptoms related to food sensitivities can be extremely serious and debilitating.
I have maintained a low carb diet for years because of a family history of obesity, metabolic disorder and my own tendency to gain weight, when my diet is high in carbohydrates. Eggs have always been a happy staple of my diet. In the reintroduction phase of the elimination diet, I was astonished to discover that when I ate eggs, a feeling of profound agitation and dysphoria came over me which lasted all day, and I did not sleep the entire night. Insomnia is another symptom that I have had since childhood, but not like that. It was an extremely unpleasant and powerful reaction. I must have become sensitized to the eggs, because that reaction was nothing familiar to me from my habitual multiple times a week egg consumption. After that experience, I avoided eggs for the next 6 months. My constipation persisted as did my low grade insomnia, but my mood was restored.
Dr. Natasha is not a fan of elimination diets. She believes that they can be very confusing, especially for the person who seems to be reacting to everything. One day it seems like it is to this, the next to that, until the poor subject becomes hopelessly confused. Eventually she may feel unable to eat anything with a feeling of safety. For this reason, Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends the GAPS approach to heal and seal the gut lining, which according to her theory is at the heart of the matter. Gut dysbiosis results in damage to the gut lining, allowing food particles, microflora and toxins to diffuse out of the intestine affecting the body and brain, causing an inflammatory response with potential symptoms related to every organ system.
Once the gut is healed, many food sensitivities can disappear, and foods that previously caused a reaction, may be well tolerated. After having been on GAPS for three months, I decided, in accordance with this hopeful notion that I might now be able to eat eggs again, to try them. I started with a small amount, and it seemed like it was fine. I was delighted. Eggs are so great! They are versatile, nutritious and convenient. I just love them. I began to do some wonderful GAPS friendly baking, eggs for breakfast and in my soups and did not think more about it.
A couple of months later I started to feel really anxious and down. My sleep was disrupted and I had continuous hot flashes day and night. I was in a perpetual state of major autonomic dysregulation. Mornings I was exhausted from lack of rest and sweating all night. I could not figure out what was going on, as there was nothing in my life that was upsetting or different. Was this some resurgence of menopausal symptoms? Suddenly I thought of the eggs. Could it be that I was reacting to them again? I stopped eating them and within two days I felt happy again, the hot flashes were reduced by ninety percent, and my sleep improved.
So now, I am off eggs again. At the GAPS Practitioner’s Training I asked Dr. Campbell-McBride if a person followed GAPS for two years and had healed and sealed their gut, could a food allergy, such as an egg allergy persist? She said, “Absolutely” and went on to say that it might be due to a parasite or fluke that was lodged somewhere and was continuing to cause that sensitivity. I thought that was fascinating. I never considered that a food allergy could be related to a parasite.
I have not given up yet about the eggs. It may have been too early in my healing process to reintroduce them. I may be allergic to just the yolk or the white, and I have not sorted that out yet either. A skin sensitivity test may be helpful in that regard. I will let you know what happens. My father and brother were allergic to eggs. They had canker sores and peeling skin on their fingers when they ate eggs. My manifestations were all psychiatric and autonomic, anxiety, depression, insomnia and hot flashing. So, that is interesting, that the same allergy manifested completely differently. If I had gone to see a conventional psychiatrist with my symptoms, I would probably have been prescribed an anti-depressant, hypnotic, and hormone replacement therapy.
I do not agree with Dr. Natasha that elimination diets are fundamentally not useful. In certain situations, they can be a clarifying tool. In my own case, for example, it helped me figure out that I was reacting to eggs. Often when I try something on myself, I also invite my patients to try my experiment as well. Several joined me on the elimination diet with Erin, and discovered that their migratory arthritis was related to gluten, their severe stomach pains related to gluten and soy, quinoa caused a rash, that sluggishness and rash appeared when they ate gluten, and dairy caused migraines. This was all crucial information. These were not, however, people who felt safe eating only three foods. Their sensitivities were much more circumscribed. In cases where people feel safe eating only a handful of foods, it makes much more sense to start with the GAPS Introductory Diet.
GAPS also offers the possibility that one day, these food sensitivities maybe alleviated, instead of having to avoid the foods for the rest of your life. Omitting the offending food is not really addressing the underlying problem. I do think, however, that elimination diets can have a place in sorting things out, and Erin Chamerlik was very helpful and responsive. She works on-line, so geography is not an issue. I recommend her if you decide to go that route. Also, as I have mentioned in other posts, many people are not ready to make the commitment necessary for GAPS, so if initially they can figure out which food is causing a serious problem, that is already a big improvement.
The elimination diet did not help my constipation or insomnia, GAPS is helping me with that. I am hoping that one day I will be able to enjoy eggs again. It may be a dosage question. Maybe a bit could be tolerated once in awhile until further healing occurs, or maybe that’s just the way it is always going to be.