I haven’t been working on writing or art, and I haven’t been reading books, but I have been reading a ton. (And also marathoning The Twilight Zone.) I got into research mode, I guess, because I’d finally had enough of the last two years of bad digestion and decided to do better than simply live with it.
A couple years ago, I had cancer that required a hysterectomy. (I’m okay now. I go for checkups every few months and so far it’s shown no signs of coming back.) I spent the two weeks following my surgery living in my recliner, and just as I was anticipating getting back to work and normalcy, I developed massive pains. They started in my shoulders, then showed up in my knees. I was stiff and painful enough that I couldn’t manage my bra, and had to walk with a cane sometimes — something I had started doing anyway because of being weak first from my cancer, then from surgery.
When I saw my doctor, it turned out to be something I had been expecting to show up one day. I had inherited my mom’s rheumatoid arthritis. I just hadn’t recognized it because I had expected it to appear in my hands, not my shoulders. But it made it down to my fingers soon enough. In time I was able to see a rheumatologist, who prescribed me leflunomide. The medication sorted out my RA effectively — but also wrought havoc upon my digestive system. I mentioned it to my rheumatologist, and she said that it should only be a short-lived side effect. “Take a probiotic. Eat some yogurt.” I had already been doing both of those things …
I didn’t really want to try changing medicines, because the leuflonomide was dealing with my RA so well, and because some of the other drugs have even worse side effects — the one my mom was on caused her to develop thyroid cancer. So I lived with it. And lived with it. I would try things to address it now and then. Probiotic juice, kefir. They would seem to help at first, but the effect was temporary. I did notice if I ate salad or multi-grain hot cereal, my digestion was a little better, though I couldn’t just eat those things my whole life. But clearly what I ate had an effect on how middling to awful my digestion was: it wasn’t solely the medication.
I think I was searching “elimination diets” or “inflammatory foods” when I came across the term AIP, or autoimmune protocol. Hey, I thought, I have an autoimmune disease. So I kept reading. AIP is a temporary elimination diet that is intended to help you find out which foods may trigger your inflammation, and also to give your gut a break from being so often inflammed. The controversial term “leaky gut” shows up from time to time. It’s got a bit of a hippie vibe to it, but sometimes I do, too.
At its strictest, AIP eliminates all dairy products; eggs; alcohol; all “additives and preservatives;” all cooking oils except for coconut, olive and avocado; all extraneous sweeteners except for limited honey or real maple syrup; all nightshade vegetables, including spices derived from chiles; all food that is a seed: grains, legumes, nuts, coffee, spices derived from seeds, etc. — except for coconut. Unsweetened coconut in all its forms — oil, milk, water, shredded — is embraced. Fruits are to be limited. Vegetables other than nightshades are welcomed, as are all kinds of meat. In fact, there are a number of foods you are encouraged to start or increase eating on AIP, and organ meats are one of them. The others include oily, cold-water ocean fish, bone broth, non-dairy fermented foods and kelp.
I haven’t been able to talk myself into trying organ meats yet, but I have started eating sardines from time to time (which aren’t gutted, so I guess I am eating very tiny organ meats), as well as bone broth. I even put a little nori (kelp) into my sardine and bone broth soup. I’ve started a couple jars of salt-fermented vegetables — one beets, the other carrot — though I’ve been eating fermented foods all along, because I’m not actually cutting out dairy. Yogurt and kefir are still in my diet, though I’m trying to go easy on the cheese. In fact, I’m not really even very close to compliant, but I’m eating more … “AIP-informed,” you could say.
As for nightshades, eggplant rarely shows up in my life. I dislike raw tomatoes so I tend to skip them anyway when I can. Tomato sauce I’ve only been able to take in small amounts anyway, so skipping it altogether isn’t too hard. I’d feel sad about potatoes except that I then remember you can usually substitute sweet potatoes (which aren’t really potatoes and are AIP compliant). I will cry if I have to give up peppers and pepper-based spices.
I haven’t cut out eggs, but I think I’m eating less of them. For oils, I was only using coconut and olive anyway (though there’s still butter). Trying to be more judicious about how much candy I eat. As with peppers, I would cry if I had to give up beans altogether, but maybe cutting back wouldn’t kill me. I’m eating fewer sandwhiches and less cold cereal, and more of the minimally-processed hot cereal. I am also planning sourdough experiments, since sourdough is apparently kinder to the digestive system.
Something I’m doing, or some combination of things I’m doing, is making a difference. I highly suspect it’s mainly the reduction of sugar, because when I’ve caved and gone overboard on sugar, it has a dramatic effect on my digestion later. Sugar, after all, feeds the not-so-beneficial bacteria in the gut, and then they crowd out the good guys. I need to feed the beneficial bacteria what they crave instead. They seem to want beets.