Hi everyone! It's great to be back and blogging again, after a rather stressful, painful, and frustrating period of several months of illness. It was quite a journey, trying to figure out what was going on with me, and I'm glad to report I'm finally on the mend.
All this began late in the summer, when I started breaking out in horrific rashes, from what I thought was eczema from a leaky gut. Life was being extra hectic, and while I was (and still am) eating a grain-free/gluten-free/dairy-free Paleo diet, I wasn't taking the best care of myself. Nights of five- and six-hours of sleep were becoming the norm, meals were rushed, and I was taking little to no time for myself to rest, exercise, or de-stress. I was seriously pushing my body beyond its limits.
It wasn't long before I started breaking out in rashes. Having suffered through eczema as a teen, that's what I assumed was going on with me, so I went about my old ways of cortisone creams. Soon, a few spots here and there on a couple fingers had spread to large, angry, red patches that were hot to the touch on my forearms. Then my chest began flaring up. My doctors quickly shot me up full of steroids and put me on rounds of pills to try to calm the effects. In hindsight, this was a huge mistake. Rashes like eczema don't crop up because our bodies are starved of steroids; it's your body telling you that something else is wrong.
So, in the meantime, I also assumed I was having some kind of autoimmune issues from a leaky gut. I found a great friend in Sarah Ballantyne, better known as The Paleo Mom, with her fantastic write-ups on how to modify the Paleo diet for autoimmune conditions. Sarah herself suffers from an autoimmune condition, and has to avoid/limit certain foods, to keep her symptoms at bay, and also takes certain supplements to help her body heal. I began restricting foods, and started taking fermented cod liver oil for extra Omega-3's, L-glutamine to heal what I thought was a leaky gut, and a slew of other supplements. Unfortunately for me, the end of each round of steroids brought my rashes back, angrier and more inflamed than before, and spreading to areas like my face. I started getting blisters on my palms, and later, the back of my hands would crack and weep. Sarah was extremely supportive and helped reassure me that I was on the right track with my eating, with plenty of bone broths, fermented foods, and sticking with the Autoimmune Protocol, but the painful rashes continued. I was at my wits end. No amount of creams or supplements or a change of diet were helping. A final call to one doctor ended with her washing her hands of me, and telling me to go see a dermatologist. There's conventional medicine for you: clearly what was wrong with me was just manifesting in my skin, and not the skin itself. Even I knew that. I've been to dermatologists my whole life for my prior eczema problems. All they do is push creams and pills on you. None of them ever stopped to help me find the root cause. This doctor clearly wasn't going to help me find the root cause of my rashes, either. It was then that I decided to seek out help from a functional medicine practitioner.
If you've never been to a functional medicine practitioner, I highly recommend it. These specialists are here to help treat the whole body and restore balance without the use of drugs. Drugs are "band-aid" solutions to symptoms, but they never fully address the root causes. I was fortunate to have found a chiropractor in town who uses the nutrition teachings of Weston A. Price, the late expert on the downfalls of the modern Western diet on our health, and the importance of traditional foods for well-being. I was thoroughly impressed just with this doctor's intake paperwork, which asked for everything, including eight pages of not just medical history, but eating habits, elimination patterns, and a host of possible symptoms, from head to toe. In all my life, I had never seen such a comprehensive questionnaire. It's stuff I wished all of my conventionally-trained doctors had asked (and should have), but never did.
It was wonderful to sit down with a health professional who not only knew what Paleo was, but actually implements it in his practice. We geeked out over supplements for a while, and I was off for some extensive blood work. Thankfully, the results came back relatively normal, with no signs of anything serious, like Hashimoto's thyroiditis. My thyroid levels were low, but not at the point of hypothyroidism. My liver was also congested. What surprised me the most was that my Vitamin D levels were extremely low, and I happen to live in the Sunshine State. I should mention that the blood work was done in my regular doctor's office, as the nurse who gave me my annual check-up had no idea what Paleo was, and wanted me to have my fasting blood sugar tested. This was based on the fact that I had gestational diabetes when pregnant with my daughter. Nevermind that it was seven years ago, way before I went Paleo. This woman not only didn't know what Paleo was; she was also rushing through my appointment, couldn't get me out of the office fast enough, and obviously couldn't care less. I wasn't about to waste my time on deaf ears, explaining how an ancestral-type diet reverses insulin resistance. Here, however, was the proof in black and white when my lab work came back: my fasting insulin level was that of an Amazonian hunter-gatherer. Paleo for the win ;)
Back at the chiropractor's office with test results, I was told to continue with the Paleo diet, and we added on a few more supplements. Unfortunately, the flare-ups continued. Soon after that, the chiropractor suspected the rashes were actually coming from what's called a healing crisis. Also called a Herxheimer reaction or die-off, a wide range of symptoms can manifest in the body from brain fog to skin conditions from the toxins released by an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. In my case, it appears I've been ravaged by a Candida infection this whole time. Candida is a yeast that normally resides in the gut, but can become rampant for a number of reasons, including stress and not making enough hydrochloric acid for digestion. Unfortunately, when Candida go wild, and especially when they die, they release up to 79 various toxins. That would explain why my liver was on overdrive, trying to detox. Unfortunately, one of these toxins isn't readily removed by the liver: acetaldehyde. This particular toxin stays in the body, and isn't purged like the others. Acetaldehyde is serious trouble: it's a neurotoxin that can damage brain cells, and wreak havoc on the immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. That probably explains my low thyroid numbers, too.
Before knowing acetaldehyde was the problem, the toxins continued to build up under my skin. They especially liked to accumulate near my joints, which for me, was on the backs of my hands, and on my wrists, forearms, and elbows. At one point, I was wrapping my elbows and backs of my hands with gauze, to soak up all the fluid that was seeping out and forming blisters. The fluid coming out was also burning, and it was in fact the acetaldehyde accumulating in my tissues, swelling them up with nowhere else to go. My skin was hot to the touch, and at one point, my face was so swollen, I couldn't even fully open my eyes. My energy level had plummeted, and I was walking around in an exhausted brain fog. I also developed post-nasal drip and a lot of phlegm. Here I thought I was catching a little cold, and didn't think anything of it at the time, but it turns out these are more symptoms of a Candida infection, too, with the toxins invading the lung cells, and the body trying to expel them.
Thankfully, at this point, I was already exploring the GAPS diet, and had cut out sugar, including fruits and even Paleo-friendly carbs, like sweet potatoes and winter squash. That cut off the food source to the sugar-loving Candida yeast in my gut. I had also stumbled across the wonderful detox benefits of Bentonite clay. Human beings throughout history have relied on clay internally and externally for its healing properties. Modern scientific analysis now reveals why it's so beneficial: Bentonite clay is negatively charged and attracts and holds onto positively charged toxins in the body, so they can be eliminated. With the thumbs-up of my chiropractor, I began soaking my feet in hot water and clay at night, and drinking a few teaspoons of dry clay in water, several times a day. Clay isn't absorbed by the body, but it does a great job neutralizing toxins in the gut, and it also literally pulls Candida right off intestinal walls. That took care of the Candida overgrowth in my gut, but there was still the matter of dealing with the accumulated acetaldehyde in my swollen tissues.
Here's what motivated me to write this post: many people have written about Candida, but not many address the issue of the acetaldehyde. In all my Candida research, there's plenty of advice on how to deal with cutting out Candida's food source (sugar), how to purge Candida overgrowth from the gut, how to meal plan, and eat properly to minimize future flare-ups. However, like I said before, that nasty by-product of Candida, acetaldehyde, that was poisoning me is stubborn, and likes to stick around, despite all detox efforts. My gut was healing, but I couldn't deal with any more burning fluid seeping out of my skin. It took a lot of research before I came across something that directly addressed the overload of acetaldehyde swelling my body, and how to get rid of it: molybdenum.
Molybdenum is an essential trace mineral. When it comes to Candida, molybdenum has the amazing ability of being able to go straight to the liver, and help it turn that acetaldehyde toxin into something that can be readily excreted by the kidneys: acetic acid. Back to my original healing protocol of thinking I was healing eczema from a leaky gut, I was already taking NOW Foods NAC supplement, which contains some molybdenum, at 50 mcg per capsule, for a total of 100 mcg for the day. However, when tackling acetaldehyde poisoning, upwards of 250 mcg three times a day may be necessary. Based on my NOW Foods NAC supplement, that amounts to fifteen capsules a day. I can tell you, within an hour of increasing my intake of one capsule to five, I was already feeling tremendously better. The hot, red, inflamed areas started feeling a little cooler to the touch, and I could feel the swelling lessen. The next day, I awoke with a much clearer mind, and a definite improvement in all my symptoms; the first time in ages. It's a slow-going process, but very reassuring to see and feel the difference, and know I'm on the right track of healing.
Here's hoping none of you have to experience what I went through. I'm going to do my best not to fall into those traps again, with continued good, clean, healthy eating, probiotics, plenty of rest, those awesome chiropractic adjustments, and taking time for myself.
Here's to your good health!
Candida source image courtesy of GreaterImmunity.com