Micaela Stafford – The Lady Whose Body Rejected Everything

One day back in May 2011, I was shown an article in a newspaper about a lady who was very unwell.  She had been searching for years to find a solution to her illness and even though some things she tried helped a little, the relief was short-lived. The only food her body would tolerate at this time was rice. Everything else made her feel ill – migraines, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea and more. She weighed 7 1/2 stones. Food sensitivities were ruling her life.

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Her efforts to find a cure led her to many general doctors, gut specialists, nutritionists and dieticians – to no avail. Such was her determination to regain her health she then approached newspapers and radio stations to widen her search.

I felt that treating her was worth trying as it was possible that the core problem had been missed. The term “gut dysbiosis” is a relatively new one and not one to have entered mainstream medicine yet. It is very often the case that until a condition is accurately named – in other words, one which truly describes what is happening – that treatment can be wrongly advised.

Take irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. This is the diagnosis which is often returned when all else has been excluded. (These tests of course have to be performed as IBS has similar symptoms to other gut disorders.) The problem is that IBS merely encompasses a set of symptoms – it does not address the root cause, but “gut dysbiosis”, does. It succinctly describes the condition of microbial life in the gut being out of balance. So when I was faced with Micaela’s illness, I knew that before she could benefit from the nutrients in food, her gut microbes needed normalising.

When we met, I was shocked at how thin and drawn Micaela looked. The specialists that she had consulted, once they had determined that (from their point of view) there was nothing to be done, advised her that is was “all in her head”. It most certainly was not, all in her head – it was very real. However, over many, many years, her mind had been affected by being chronically ill and she was in a bad place by the time she came to me. With hindsight, it would have been most helpful to have had specialist input to help her manage this. Also, I suspect that her recovery would have been quicker if her mind was being treated at the same time. Stress is counterproductive due to the constant release of stress hormones – which long-term, damage the body physically.

Micaela had to take a huge leap of faith as here was someone, (me!) telling her something completely different to all the other professionals from whom she had sought help. To be frank, I had never treated a gut condition this severe and whilst I had confidence in the theory, I could not be confident of the outcome as treatment would be incredibly difficult for Micaela. In fact I could never have predicted how tough it would end up being.

Most of Micaela’s life had been blighted with ill health and she had to undergo many forms of treatment for her ailments. The history she recounted to me showed clearly that there were many opportunities for undesirable microbes to colonise in her gut. At the point where we met, I suspected that the only reason that she was able to tolerate rice, was that these microbes were using it as fuel. (To test this, add cooked rice to warm water and yeast. The yeast will digest the rice by turning it to sugar – its preferred energy source. The mixture will bubble until the rice has almost all been used up.) The main offender was Candida. I cannot know this as a certainty as it was never proved and I don’t perform tests as they can be unreliable. However, treatment which just involved nutritious food would only benefit her no matter which organisms were to blame.

Where to start though!  As Micaela could only tolerate rice – what would I give her? The important thing to start with was to rid her of the pathogenic organisms. To this end, she had to undergo a two day broth fast. This was just the liquid from boiled chicken bones, vegetables and herbs. This is not only very easily absorbed but definitely not a favourite of Candida or its friends! The problem for Micaela was the “die off” reaction – all the symptoms of IBS but even worse. It was a very, very hard time for her and this was just the start of treatment.

The only way to tackle gut dysbiosis is -
1) Clear the gut of pathogenic microbes.
2) Heal the gut (which has been damaged by these microbes).
3) Replace the beneficial microbes (with probiotics).
3) Introduce absorbable nutrition as quickly as is practical.

This is the treatment that Micaela needed to heal her insides and ultimately – herself. She had endured years of poor nourishment as her gut would not absorb it – even when she occasionally tried something other than rice. In other words, she was suffering from malnutrition – and then everything is wrong.

At three weeks of treatment, with the inclusion of about forty foods that she could eat and enjoy, she thought she was well again and there was another news item in her local paper. We were both very excited that she was eating so well, but I feared that it was very early days to be celebrating – and my hunch was right – she was far from completely recovered. There were still hard times to be overcome. For six months foods were added or added and removed until finally that year, Micaela enjoyed a Christmas dinner.

The last few years have been a steep learning curve for both of us and we’re still climbing! Eating out is not a problem for Micaela now – there is always something she can have and enjoy without any adverse symptoms.  From my point of view, I have achieved my aim, which is the same for all.
“To ensure that all the body’s nutritional requirements are met as quickly as possible, in the most acceptable way to the person being treated.”

Fortunately, although Micaela’s condition is not completely unique, most IBS sufferers can recover more easily than she did. Fortunate indeed as there are not too many people with Micaela’s amazing determination to succeed.

The picture at the top, is of Micaela now, at 9 1/2 stones and happy.

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“Why Do Some People Suffer Gut Problems More Than Others?” (IBS Part 2)

This post starts to answer some of the questions I posed last time. Everything hangs on your immunity. It really is the be-all and end-all of wellness or illness. Let me tell you a story, a bit scary in places but it all ends happily ever after.

When you were developing in your mother’s womb, your gut was sterile. When you were born, you were covered with the bacteria and other microbes that were in your mother’s vagina – the same ones that were in her colon. (Told you it was scary!)

Walking BarefootYou were put to the breast where you and your brand new gut microbes were nourished and you all thrived. As you grew you were given a good diet of eggs, meat, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit and quality dairy products. Playing was fun and you crawled around the garden in the sunshine, tasting the worms and making mud pies. (Well I did!)
Childhood illnesses were encountered and fought off and even when antibiotics were necessary, you were quick to recover on your nutrient-dense diet. The status quo is maintained and you continued your healthy lifestyle. As an adult, you are healthy and wellness is easy.

 

Now another even more scary story which does not end so happily.

When you were developing in your mother’s womb, your gut was sterile. When you were born, it had to be by Caesarian section as your mother was in difficulties and you had to go straight into an incubator. You had not picked up your dose of mum’s gut microbes but you got a little of everyone else’s flora from being handled. As your mother was unwell for a while, you were fed formula milk and you and your new – but unbalanced – gut microbes were nourished.

French FriesYour diet was mostly quick and easy foods as your mother went back to work and you play time was mostly indoors at the nursery. You suffered all the childhood illnesses going around at the time, and needed several courses of antibiotics which upset your tummy. As an adolescent you settled on a high carbohydrate diet as the government advised.

You had a holiday abroad, got a stomach bug from which you partially recovered but ever since, your stomach has been a problem. Foods you were able to eat become ones you now can’t tolerate. You suffer gas, diarrhoea, stomach cramps  gurgling and more. As an adult, you don’t really know what wellness is.These symptoms can be due to IBS, but may progress to being celiac disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease (IBD). All these diseases are autoimmune conditions.

I have made these stories simple but there are lots of other factors that contribute to how you will fare health-wise. Vaccinations, household cleaning products, exposure to sunlight, accessible good quality food etc. – if/how/when these are done will all impact on your immunity.  The problems encountered in the second story can be overcome as long as the very basics are observed – nurture of the immune system.

Next time I will give you a “close up” of what is happening in a gut suffering “dysbiosis” – microbial life at war!

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Vitamin D and Gut Problems

Over the last ten years, inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD) have steeply increased in both adults and children. They are autoimmune illnesses. This is a very serious situation as both IBD – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease – are usually controlled with steroid drugs and many will go on to have bowel surgery – more than once in many cases. Celiac disease – a severe gluten sensitivity – is also thought to be an autoimmune disease.

Walking BarefootThese diseases are capable of disrupting normal childhood activities and bringing isolation to sufferers. They are characterised by persistent diarrhoea, sometimes accompanied with blood and mucus; severe stomach cramps; anaemia; tiredness and often, emotional upsets. It is a truly catastrophic illness for all involved.

As usual, I believe that it is a nutritional problem. If all of us were able to feed on the diet we are programmed for and obtain sufficient sunshine to keep our vitamin D levels in an optimum range, I doubt there would be very much in the way of chronic illness – not in adults or their offspring.

But things are constantly changing. We largely live indoors, use the car, eat fast microwaved food and know little or nothing about the art and science that should go on in a kitchen.

With this in mind, how can we and our children expect to stay well? Wholesome diets for human beings encompass all the known nutrients for our health. But what of the nutrients we don’t yet know about? We shouldn’t worry. Nature takes care of that providing we eat the food we are genetically programmed for. (Plenty of information about this in my other blogs.) Anything else just wouldn’t make any sense. After all, wild animals don’t have nutritionists and books to guide them, they just eat what they instinctively know is right.

One of the biggest problems that the western world faces is vitamin D deficiency – yes, here I go again! We have carefully slathered on the high factor sunscreen before venturing out to prevent skin cancer but effectively screened the UVB rays that create vitamin D in our skin – and thus left us wide open to a multitude of other cancers, infections, porous bones and gut problems amongst others. This is devastating and will lead to a very poorly world indeed – and it’s already started.

“Our vitamin D needs to come from the sun”

People with gut disorders often have low vitamin D levels in their blood. There is speculation as to whether this is the cause or effect of gut problems but to me there is no doubt – our vitamin D needs to come from the sun, not in supplement form. This accompanied with a healthy diet could protect us all from from these life-changing illnesses. Evidence is emerging that the diet of a pregnant woman also affects her offspring – for better or for worse.

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The Return to Health – A Double-Edged Sword?

For many people who have suffered chronic health issues, a return to health brings its own problems and it is this that I want to discuss here.

The effects of chronic illness don’t just happen overnight. Health slowly spirals downward over years, almost unnoticed, until it has an impact on daily life. Some cannot even continue their normal occupation. At this point, it can have a devastating affect. Those activities that you deem vital to your existence are either severely hampered or become impossible.

Let us consider Micaela. Her illness, when she looks back at her life, started during her teens but it was an irritation, not a disability at this time. Around twelve years prior to consulting me, life had become very difficult and she had multiple food sensitivities. Three years before our meeting, her circumstances had become so severe, that all her body would accept was rice. And this is what Micaela lived on. No job, just existing.

Try to imagine this. You know that you can’t live on just rice but you have to, or suffer the consequences. Micaela’s thoughts were about her health every single day and the only thing that she could depend upon if she was not to suffer migraines and stomach cramps, was rice.

As with many others suffering similar illnesses, Micaela’s became her life. It was never allowed to be in the background – doctors, tests, drugs and feeling ill ensured that it remained current and the only force in life that was constant. The frequent round of consultations with medical people, invasive and unpleasant examinations and being told that it “was all in her head”, all served to make her feel utterly let down and isolated.

Her life had been stolen from her, but she made the best job she could of what was left of it. When I told her that the food she relied upon was perpetuating the problem and that the rice had to go, it scared her. She was as dependent upon rice as a drug addict is upon their fix. Although after just 3 weeks of treatment Micaela had progressed from just rice to eating 40 nutritious and healthy foods, it was a further 3 months before she was able to gather all the packs of rice together and finally dispose of them.

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I have seen this many times. Sufferers join self-help groups and adopt strategies and behaviours to accommodate their problem. Chronic illness will mess with the necessary nutrients for all body functions, so again there is a spiralling problem. One of the most debilitating effects of long term poor health is depression. This is due to the lack of nutrients to the brain as well as the tedium, frustration, the life altering distressing symptoms or more likely, all of these things put together.

A different consequence of an individual’s recovery involves the rest of the family. It is more often a spouse or partner that bears the brunt of these effects. Some years ago I treated a young man for obesity. He had been big for as long as he could remember and therefore he felt (as others do also) that it defined who he was as a person. His confidence and self-esteem were low, he dressed tidily but would never wear the trendy clothes that others of his age did. All this changed when he lost weight – for he had been redefined. I bumped into his wife a year or so later and sadly, they had split up. There is no blame to apportion here – this is human nature. This of course, is not an inevitable outcome but when you have been ill the whole of your formative life, it is common.

This last story has a warning – obesity (or rather the metabolic disease that it is) is just as much an illness as IBS and diabetes. When these problems are removed, there are adjustments to make and this can be extremely problematic.

When wellness becomes the norm instead of illness, the weight loss clubs, self-help groups, voluntary work – just everything that has previously filled the days, can become redundant. These may be replaced with a new job, meeting people, having a holiday and although this all sounds wonderful, they still have to be coped with.

To sum up, when someone has recovered from chronic ill health, it is often replacing one problem with another. It can of course be managed, but forewarned is forearmed.

July 2014 update on Micaela.
She is fit and well, eating lots of different foods but not grains for the most part. She has three jobs – two from home and one away. Life is good – her words! 

 I would like to thank Micaela Stafford for her permission to include some of her case history in this blog.

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