It was about 6 pm one evening in the spring of 2008. I had eaten some turkey chili that I made for dinner (it was delicious). About half an hour later, I doubled over in pain. It felt like someone reached into my abdomen and violently twisted my stomach and intestines. The pain came in terrible waves. A friend from my church happened to stop by and saw me on my living room sofa, bent over in sheer agony. She immediately took me to the hospital. The doctor gave me some painkillers and Mylanta, and I was discharged that night.
I saw a gastroenterologist who performed an endoscopy a couple of weeks later. I was diagnosed with gastritis and placed on a prescription proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) to block stomach acid production. Knowing the potential side effects of PPIs, I did not want to be on one, but I was desperate for relief. Over the next year or two, I worked on tapering down the dosage until I could switch to an over-the-counter PPI with the lowest dose I could find. In 2010, I was told I had a sluggish gallbladder that needed to be removed. I wasn’t thrilled at that idea since I didn’t have gallstones, so I got a second opinion. At that visit, I was diagnosed with gastritis (again) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In 2011 I received another diagnosis - Interstitial Cystitis (IC), after experiencing painful bladder spasms and difficulty urinating. That same year, my primary physician diagnosed me with chronic rhinitis. It felt like my health was unraveling.
The list of foods (healthy foods) I couldn’t eat due to all these diagnoses started to get longer. I could not eat spicy foods (including jerk chicken – that’s a big deal, considering that I’m from Jamaica), citrus fruit, tomatoes, kiwi, pistachios, and raw onions, to name a few. Not only that, I was still on the PPI and was concerned about the potential for nutrient deficiencies (and other complications) without stomach acid to help with the absorption of essential nutrients. I desperately wanted to get off the PPI (and tried to, several times), but getting off this drug was easier said than done due to the rebound effect associated with them. I remember the Summer of 2011. There was a shortage of the PPI I was taking. I drove about 50 miles to find a store that had it in stock because if I stopped taking it, I would feel like someone set my stomach on fire (yes, that rebound effect).
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I could successfully navigate the terrain of managing these conditions by avoiding certain foods. I know my symptoms would have been much worse if I wasn't managing them with diet. But one slip, and I would have a flare-up (recalling the day I took a garlic extract - bad idea). Those flare-ups were brutal and took me out of commission for a day or two, and it would take about a week for my gut to get back to "normal." So, to be free of these symptoms and chronic conditions, I needed to find out why they were happening in the first place. My body was telling me something, and I needed to learn how to translate that message better, so I had to look deeper. What was the imbalance in my body that set the stage for these attacks? What did I need to do to correct that imbalance? What were the preceding factors that contributed to the imbalance in the first place? What triggered the symptoms? What perpetuated them? I needed to get to the root cause.
From my recollection of the days of studying Holistic Nutrition in 2003, I knew there was more that could be done. Back then, the responsibilities of life took precedence, and I didn't get very far in my studies, but I remembered that there were tools available to help me. I just needed to devote the time to get the training so I could apply the right interventions the right way. I started researching alternative approaches that could help with these chronic conditions in 2014 and was able to get off the PPI in 2015 (finally) using supplements that targeted the health of my gut lining. In 2017, I officially began my studies in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, an advanced practice, leading-edge, evidence-based, systems biology approach to health and healing that focuses on addressing the root causes of chronic conditions. This knowledge and training were just what I needed. And this was the point where my health started taking a turn for the better. I had found my answers.
I learned that Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) was associated with many conditions, including IBS and interstitial cystitis, so I completed a SIBO test after determining that my symptoms lined up with many SIBO symptoms. The test was positive. Very positive. With my new training in Integrative and Functional nutrition, I knew exactly how to address it. So I started a SIBO-specific diet, followed the SIBO eradication protocol, and incorporated other interventions to heal my GI tract (gut) and reduce inflammation. I have not had another flare-up of IC since then. That was at the end of 2018 (almost four years ago as of this posting). A stool test gave me additional, vital information that I used to heal and balance my gut further. Not only have I not had a flare-up of IC or IBS, but I also often forget that I ever had those conditions! I can eat citrus and spicy foods (yes, including chili and jerk chicken). In addition, there is no further need for bladder instillations with that steroid solution! (An awful experience, by the way). I also noticed other benefits to healing my gut. For example, I no longer feel attacked by pollen in the spring and the chronic rhinitis is gone.
I believe our body was designed to heal itself, but it needs the right tools to do it. From my training in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, not only have I learned how to correct underlying imbalances, but I learned to go even further - the furthest "upstream" one can go - to my genes. Through further functional testing (nutrigenetic testing, to be specific), I learned that I had genetic variations that affected my body's detoxification system and how I utilize certain nutrients. Through diet, supplementation, and lifestyle factors, I am able to address these genetic imbalances as well.
I am incredibly grateful to be a beneficiary of my training over the past 23 years, starting out as a dietitian, then adding wellness coaching for lasting lifestyle change, and now with integrative and functional nutrition. I am amazed and thankful for these gifts of knowledge and how my body has benefited.
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