In my early 30s, I awoke with half of my face swollen like a pro boxer had pounded my head in. Itchy eyes, lips and cheek with puffy, dark patches of brooding skin stared back at me in the mirror. All I could say was WTF? Panicked, I hightailed it to my general practitioner doctor who, after taking one look at me, calmly asked, “Did you have shellfish for dinner last night?”
As a matter of fact, I had. Canned crab from Asia, the makings of a delicious dip at a dinner party. And the last time I’ve ever consumed crab from a can. Diagnosis: allergy to shellfish. But not just the deliciousness of crab, add in shrimp, lobster, mussels, oysters, and all their other crustacean friends. A little while later, tuna and farmed salmon (who are fed shrimp) joined the party.
Frustrated with this new new-found foodie horror, I went to a series of allergists, who all declared I must stay away from the offending parties, much like avoiding an ex at a work function. Just steer clear – no matter how many drinks you’ve had. One doctor gave me a prescription for an epi-pen, even though I’d never shown issues with my breathing after eating shellfish. Luckily (I suppose), my symptoms always showed up 6-8 hours later…. when they were being processed for nutrients in my gut.
Being a stubborn being, I refused to accept this sentence. I can’t remember how I discovered the antihistamine Claritin could help me avoid the symptoms, but it did. So, for many years, I popped a carefully timed pill and enjoyed these favorite delicacies, even though I broke out with acne a few days afterwards. Fast forward a few years when other favorites began to give me grief… avocados, almonds, and, every now and again, a new food would mysteriously cause the familiar tingle… which led to an eye itch… and then the full on “eye blow up” as I not-so-affectionately called my allergic reaction. Not both eyes, only one, and the eyes would differ each time. This could happen anywhere, after any meal, sometimes disastrously. Once, it happened before I had to present in front of a crowd… another time, the week after I started a new job. And elephant-woman-titus lasts for 2 days. Go figure. The human body is indeed a freak of nature.
About a year ago, the convenient pill trick stopped working, and new allergen foods arrived like millennial-themed wines on a store shelf. I kept a food diary to figure out what caused a reaction this time, that time and the other time, uncovering fresh allergies but the record keeping has become exhausting. I’ve determined my food is turning against me. And I don’t eat badly. Those who know me are aware of my healthy tendencies. I maintain my weight by eating low carb with plenty of vegetables, absolutely don’t eat fast food, processed garbage and all that stuff. Wine is my vice, but even that I keep in check (so I think). With the exception of Claritin and the occasional Advil, I don’t even take pharmaceuticals of any sort.
So I declared 2015 the Year of Curing my Food Allergies. As a food-obsessed former chef, I just can’t live like this anymore.
I threw myself into the internet, reading WebMD, Dr. Hyman, Dr. Oz, every quack (sounding) website or blog. Hours upon hours spent learning the science behind what I’ve discovered is causing my food allergies. I finally figured it out: I have intestinal permeability or “leaky gut syndrome.”
Yes, there needs to be a better name, I know.
Leaky gut is, essentially, what it sounds like. My intestinal walls have thinned after years of (possible) abuse and things that aren’t supposed to cross the barrier are leaking out into my larger system. Once out there, these things (proteins mostly) are considered evil intruders, and my cells set about destroying them. Histamines flood my system and create inflammation in the form of my ubiquitous eye blow ups or many other things like adult acne, hives, joint aches, etc. Yes, all that and a bag of plantain chips. These are all considered auto immune disorders, and the internet is thick with accounts of people who have cured themselves of numerous diseases using only food choices. Think fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s and other thyroid disorders, Crohn’s disease, and even multiple sclerosis. Big, evil things… not just food allergies.
Armed with enough knowledge to be dangerous (hey – I’m only eating differently), I’m going all in to fix my gut, using only food as my cure. Wish me luck. More posts to follow, as my journey serves itself up.