The year is 2003. Is was having one of my routine flare ups. In addition to the usual nausea, body aches and feverish feeling, I had a nagging slight pain in my lower left bowel area.
My family had moved into a new home in 2000 and we had selected a new primary care doctor, but I had not seen him yet. Since my father had suffered from a perforated bowel, and I had never had pain with my flare ups before, I thought it might be good to visit the doctor. He was able to see me in a few hours.
His diagnosis was a probable minor attack of diverticulitis. Given that the fever had broke by the time I got to the doctor’s office, he figured the worst was over and recommended a high fiber diet as follow up. I was surprised he didn’t suggest any “bowel rest” or antibiotic treatment – just right to high fiber.
During the exam he said, “do you have a history of digestive problems?” I said, “oh yeah, how much time do have?” I told him my story. He listened intently for about 15 minutes and then declared that I very likely had multiple food allergies causing the symptoms. Whoa, no one ever told me about food allergies before!
We started some diagnostics with a comprehensive stool parasitology test and a food allergy profile that looked at both IgE and IgG reactivity. Let me explain what that means. The stool test examines what bacteria strains are in your poop as well as any invasive parasites like giardia, cryptosporidium, worms, etc. Food allergy testing is a strange beast and there are different ways to do it. I’ll go into this more in a future blog post, but basically food allergies cause immunoglobulins (Ig) to circulate in your blood. These can be of IgE type more indicative of immediate, anaphylactic type reactions or IgG type generally causing delayed and more subtle reactions like I experience.
What were the results? No parasites in my poop, but very few beneficial bacteria either. It makes sense that years of antibiotics killed off a lot of gut bacteria. The food allergy test was positive for an IgG reaction to a large variety of foods including all milk products, some fruits, nuts, vegetables and even sucrose. My doctor ran a separate test for gluten tolerance and he said I was not wholly gluten intolerant but heading in that direction.
His suggestion: give up all the foods that showed an IgG reaction and go gluten free. At this point in my life I was still consuming almost anything I wanted, except that I was mostly a vegetarian. My dietary staples included wheat-based grains, cheese, yogurt, nuts, a few fruits and lots of vegetables. What the doctor was suggesting was a huge lifestyle change and I balked. Little did I know that my future would hold far stricter dietary limitations.
Since I had a long-standing anecdotal history of milk reactions (recall episodes I mentioned from my early teens?), my compromise was to give up all milk products and see if that helped. It took me a few weeks to understand how many things have milk in them and remove them from my diet. After a couple of months, the flare ups went from several per week down to several per month. Hey, improvement, right!
I kind of forgot about all those other things the tests showed. You know, the poor gut bacteria and all the other food allergies. I embraced a milk-free lifestyle and moved on.
Let’s pause here on an up note, because things went downhill from there. I’ll explain more in the next blog post