Monday, April 2, 2012

Trouble Down Below 2: Problems and Solutions

From the vantage point of the patient, digestive disorders are a two-sided problem:  how to deal with the unpleasant or even dangerous symptoms that result from eating the wrong foods and how to replace the nutrients that those same foods should be providing but probably are not.  In addition, the gastrointestinal tract also plays an important role in the immune system.  Chronic digestive upsets can undermine one of the body’s main defenses against illness.  Finding solutions to some of my food-related problems has dramatically improved my health, comfort, and physical condition.  Here are a some specifics.

Getting Enough Protein     As a young person I had weak muscles.  At some point I noticed that the protein reading on my annual blood work was a bit low.  I started drinking whey protein shakes once or twice a day.  A few years later I learned about a proteolytic enzyme supplement (Wobenzym) that can help your body digest protein.  I still take both of those and I am much stronger than I was thirty years ago.  

Dealing with Fiber   Whenever I was hungry as a child my mother would always encourage me to eat fruit.  I would say that I had nothing against fruit but it didn’t really satisfy my hunger.  As an adult, I feel the same way.  Possibly the reason is that my body seems to have trouble processing fibrous foods.  Kale, collard and mustard greens, all very nutritious, are impossible for me.  A few years back we bought a juicer and started making our own fruit and vegetable juice.  This means I can bypass the fiber and still get the nutrients in these foods.  So how do I get enough fiber in my diet? For a person eating 2000 calories a day, the USDA recommends 28 grams of fiber.  I take a fiber supplement 2-3 times a day, currently a combination of a flavored psyllium product (a generic of Metamucil or Citrucel) and glucomannan.

Health columnist Melinda Beck has written many informative articles about digestive disorders, especially the ones that have been covered by recent research, such as gluten intolerance (celiac disease) and, more recently, the inability to digest certain carbohydrates (Fodmaps) found in some common foods.  I read these articles avidly, hoping they will shed some light on my own situation but they usually do not.  Gluten, dairy, eggs, and peanuts, which cause life-threatening allergies in others, pass quite happily through my gut.  The assortment of foods to which I have bad reactions is diverse, idiosyncratic and somewhat weird.  What follows is a partial list.

Probable Allergens – Foods I Absolutely Avoid     Mushrooms (alas), eggplant, black beans (other beans are OK), okra, dill, marjoram, tarragon, fresh basil (no more pesto).  

Considered Suspect processed meats, especially sausage, any processed food with a long list of mysterious ingredients, foods that are very acid, very spicy, or very rich.  I swapped coffee for tea a few years back but I still put hot sauce on lots of dishes.  

When I was younger I used to get any type of gastrointestinal bug that was in my vicinity, a real problem when traveling.  Seven years ago Mister, a health and diet food store in Las Vegas, suggested I try Dr. Ohhira’s probiotics.  I was dubious at first but I listened to an interview CD they sent and did a little research.  This product, which was invented by a Japanese microbiologist is made from plants that are fermented for three years and contains 12 strains of lactic acid bacteria.  For me, it took a 4-6 months to work but since then I have been largely free of GI upsets.  Using this product has changed my life.

In some ways my digestive problems have been a good thing because they have caused me to look carefully at what I was eating and to find solutions that may have made me healthier than I would have been if I had never had to pay attention to my gut.

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