*If you’re just catching up, be sure to read Part I of my story first!
Have you heard of functional medicine? I hadn’t until about a year ago. This is not a “woo-woo” form of healing; it is every bit as based on science as Western medicine, if not more so. Functional medicine aims to find the root cause of symptoms, and this can involve quite a bit of digging. Finding the root cause of a symptom is something that conventional doctors tend not to do – instead, they often merely treat the symptoms and ignore the real reason the patient is having the symptoms in the first place. Headache? Take aspirin. Heartburn? Take an antacid. Obese? Staple your stomach. Easy peasy, right?
I never questioned the conventional approach until I learned about functional medicine. Once I became aware of the “root cause” concept, the old Western medicine approach seemed pretty silly to me. This is why I sought out a functional medicine practitioner to guide me in my journey to heal my body. I was exposed to Reed Davis and his school of Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (or FDN) through the Underground Wellness podcasts, and found a practitioner near me in Melbourne.
The first step was to take a Metabolic Typing test to determine my metabolic type. This is a 100% online questionnaire – no blood tests, saliva tests, or anything besides just you and your computer screen. How is that possible? Well, an incredibly smart man named Bill Wolcott assembled a giant puzzle of disparate studies to conclude that every human is one of six metabolic types. It turns out that there are varying organs and processes in the body which control the digestion, absorption, and assimilation of the nutrients we consume. I discovered that my body metabolizes carbohydrates extremely quickly, which causes irregularity in my blood sugar level (resulting in sweet cravings, low energy, and getting hungry again too quickly). Therefore the majority of what I eat should be, instead, protein and fat.
My FDN, Darren, instructed me to start out by making my meals 40% protein, 30% fat, and 30% carbohydrates. (Remember, in this case the term “carbohydrate” refers to a macronutrient, not to something like bread. Carbohydrates are in every food, and plants are mainly carbohydrates.) He then told me to adjust the ratios to determine what was ideal for me – perhaps I needed a little more or a little less carbs or fat at each meal. The initial 40-30-30 ratio turned out to work well for me (but I would later notice a shift, and consequently had to adjust my carb intake. More on that later). The biggest adjustment of following this regime was (don’t gag on me now) getting used to eating meat for breakfast. I had no choice, though, since there are no other foods containing so much protein and minimal carbohydrates. Having a steak at 8am was totally bizarre at first, but it didn’t take long for me to accept my fate. When we really want to heal, we can get used to some pretty weird things… More about coffee enemas later!
One of the helpful tools I received from taking the metabolic typing test was a sheet telling me the best and worst foods for my “type.”
Acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, garlic, and onions were out, but all meat and (healthy) fats were a go! No garlic or onions meant that eating out would be near impossible… but in reality, I had no idea how difficult my restrictions were going to get. (Foreshadowing!)
Within one week of adhering to my metabolic typing diet, I started to notice many of my symptoms improving. My bloating decreased, I felt less tired, my mood improved, I was staying full for longer and my sweet cravings great diminished. However, after about two months, I noticed that some digestive issues were returning (bloating and gas, to be specific). At this stage Darren advised it was time to do an IgG allergy test, which involved pricking my finger and dropping a tiny amount of blood onto a paper card to be analyzed. Note that this type of allergy is not the type where your throat closes up – those are called IgE-mediated allergies, and they result in hives, itchy eyes, and trouble breathing. An IgG allergy, on the other hand, is essentially a food sensitivity with no antigen-antibody response. Instead, the person experiences delayed reactions like fatigue, under-eye circles, or headaches. IgG allergies can go away over time if you avoid the food and heal your gut in the meantime.
When my IgG results came back, Darren was shocked. He had never come across a client with so many food sensitivities. In total, I had reactions to about 36 different foods, including eggs, peanuts, almonds, wheat, cheese, and many more. So from there, my already restricted diet became even smaller. Still, I pressed on, and after a short time I started to feel better again by avoiding all the foods on the IgG test.
But… a month or two later, something familiar happened. My tummy troubles returned slowly, and not in full force, but they were there. However, a stroke of luck had just come my way: I was about to travel back home to the US for a month, where I would be able to do another food sensitivity test that was significantly more accurate than the IgG test. This new test, called the MRT test, is sadly not available in Australia because it involves overnighting live blood samples to a lab in the States. But in early July, I had my blood drawn in Chicago and got my results a week later. Interestingly, the results of the MRT test looked quite different to the IgG results. The only overlapping foods were corn, whey, and pecans. Besides that, I was apparently highly sensitive to beef (my staple!), lamb, salmon (nooooo!), cucumbers (?!?), some chemicals, and many other things (31 in total). So, once again, my allowed foods list shrunk to a miniature size. I was condemned to chicken, pork, or seafood (but not salmon) at EVERY meal. This was a pretty rough time. Looking back, I did really well for the most part, but of course there were breakdowns and self-pity parties aplenty. I try not to judge myself for this, as my reactions were natural given the circumstances. The bottom line is that I got through it and not only am I still standing, but I’m still committed to healing my body! It’s a small miracle.
For the next few months, I continued on the pork-chicken-seafood road. It was boring but at least I could still have bacon, right? Well, until I realized that pretty much all bacon (and cured meat) contains sugar. But I could still have pork belly! No one could take away my pork belly.
Over that time, I felt okay, but far from amazing. I can now clearly see that although it was great to avoid the foods on the allergy tests, based on my symptoms, I had to be reacting to almost everything I was eating. This was an indication of advanced leaky gut.
Leaky gut? Uh, gross!
Yeah, it’s not pretty. Leaky gut is a condition where your intestines become hyperpermeable and can no longer keep in particles that are not supposed to leave the GI tract. As a result, undigested food molecules (along with toxins, yeast, etc.) escape into your bloodstream, where they encounter immune cells. The job of immune cells is to attack and get rid of foreign invaders, and those food particles definitely fit the bill. Inevitably, though, the immune system cannot deal with every single invader, so particles find their way into various tissues, causing inflammation – in other words, symptoms.
So, it was clear that I had a bad case of leaky gut. The consensus in the integrative medical community is that, left unchecked, leaky gut often leads to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, Chronic Fatigue, Multiple Sclerosis, etc. Once I realized this, I was even more motivated than before to heal my gut. The last thing I want is to develop an autoimmune disease that can’t be cured; one that I would have to live with for the rest of my life. No thank you.
Check back next week for Part III of Melissa’s health journey, as she discovers how to reduce her symptoms despite being sensitive to everything she eats. Plus, what will be the outcome of her next test? Will she have a parasite or fungal infection? Don’t miss one installment of this thrilling series!