Putting the Pieces Together

prednisoneWe don’t talk enough about the added effects of chronic health problems. We’ll talk about what medications help. We might mention their physical side effects. But how often do we talk about how these things affect our daily lives? It’s almost as if being alive is enough. But in some ways it really isn’t.

Being alive and living are not mutually inclusive. Doctors and even society can sometimes fail to see the difference. Even worse, they can misunderstand how certain treatments that help us be more comfortable in one way might affect our ability to function well in another way. For example, a person on chemotherapy might be able to move more easily, but they potentially do so at the cost of constantly feeling sick. Different patients need different care, something that our entire healthcare system – insurance, legislators, and even doctors – seems to have forgotten.

I was reminded today about the importance of finding the right care, and especially of finding the right doctors. I was also reminded of how hard it can be sometimes to see the bigger picture of health when we’re focused on the daily minutiae. It can be difficult to piece together the real problem when we don’t think about our bodies as a whole puzzle.

Walking into my rheumatologist‘s office this morning, I went through the list in my head of things I needed to tell Anna, his PA. Headaches. Stiff hips in yoga class. Some trouble sleeping. Nothing much seemed out of the ordinary as far as my arthritis went. I followed the nurse back to a patient room and answered the usual questions. No new symptoms. No illnesses since I was last in. No changes in my medication.

Wait, I remembered as she listed the prescriptions on file. I’m still on prednisone from my surgery in May. But the moment was lost. She’d already moved on to the next question. That’s okay, I told myself. It’s not that big a deal, and I’ll be tapering off from it next week.

The nurse left the room, and I quietly scrolled through my Twitter feed as I waited. Once Anna stepped in, we jumped quickly through the niceties as she asked about school and how my eye was doing since the surgery.

I’ve recently been lucky with doctors. I hear complaints all the time from friends about poor bedside manner and the awkward moments of patient-physician interaction. The two physicians I see most, though, are some of my favorite people. And their staff are also fantastic. The first thing my rheumatologist ever said to me was, “Girl, you’ve been through some crazy shit.” I felt comfortable there. And after three years, talking with Anna was easy. Her probing questions about my physical and emotional health felt more like a concerned friend than a discerning doctor. I spouted off the list I’d made in the waiting room. But that’s the thing about good doctors: they know what to ask and when to listen.

“Is there anything else?” She tilted her head toward me, waiting.

I hesitated. My other issues seemed unrelated, and probably just caused by stress. But I decided to tell her anyway.

In the past, I’ve had problems with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have been treated at various points in my life, and I’ve learned to manage it on my own. Most of the time I have no trouble with it at all. But over the past month I had been noticing OCD symptoms. Anxiety, obsessive thoughts over simple conversations, negative listless thoughts throughout the day, trouble shutting down my brain to go to sleep at night. I figured it was related to stress from overworking myself at school.

But as I spoke, I started to pick up the pieces I’d laid before her and put them together. It wasn’t just that my mind whirred as I tried to sleep. There was also a listless energy that made lying still uncomfortable to the point of being almost unbearable at times.

“Prednisone,” I told her. “I’ve been on prednisone since the surgery. I didn’t think about it until just now. Those are all the same symptoms I had the last time I was on it.”

She nodded and explained those those were all symptoms she’d heard before. Even the anxious thoughts. It was funny to hear her say that, considering my previous doctors had told me trouble sleeping was the only side effect that could be connected to the medication. three years ago, I’d spent over a year begging my doctors to let me stop using prednisone. They couldn’t believe a corticosteroid would have such a strong emotional reaction in a young woman. And even if it did, they argued, the benefits outweighed the costs. I had quite disagreed.

Her words brought a smile to my face. It was like a tiny cloud lifted from around my head. For a month I’d been having headaches and feeling downright crummy. But it had a reason now – one that didn’t involve me having to reassess my lifestyle or think about adding yet another prescription to my list. She told me that a few weeks to a month after stopping the prednisone I should feel normal again.

So often we get lost among the piles of puzzle pieces that we fail to see how they fit together. Writing down your symptoms or saying them out loud to another person – even when they seem unrelated – may be exactly what’s needed to figure out what’s wrong. Or what’s missing. As I’ve said several times in this blog, I am a strong advocate for keeping a journal to catalog both your physical and emotional experiences and of trying on several doctors until you find the one that best fits your needs.

Know your self. Trust your body. Advocate for your best life.

12 Tips for a Healthier Digestive Tract

When you’re taking a lot of medications, each seems to come with its own set of unpleasant side effects. Often, they tend to wreak havoc on your digestive system, creating the need for more medications to alleviate discomfort. Through all my years of dealing with various prescriptions, I’ve found that keeping a healthy digestive tract helps with many side effects. If you can keep the medications moving through your system, your body can take from them what it will use and quickly flush the rest out. This is exactly what the body was designed to do with your food. So here are a few tips I’ve picked up to keep your digestive tract healthy and moving!

1. Keep in mind the hierarchy of foods.

Some foods take longer to digest than others, placing them differently on the Quick Exit Hierarchy of Foods. Eating foods out of order will often cause your digestive system to move more slowly, and foods that should be passed quickly end up fermenting in your digestive tract. If you pull nothing else from this article, try to avoid eating fresh fruit after a meal. Fresh fruit only takes 30 minutes to pass from your stomach, where vegetables take at least 90 minutes and starches take 3-4 hours. The quickest way to give yourself gas is to have fresh fruit sit in your stomach too long!

2. Combine your food properly.

Poor food pairing can back up your digestive system and create flatulence (see aforementioned fresh fruit example). Each food type is broken down by a specific set of enzymes that your stomach produces when it recognizes the food you eat. Poor food pairings will cause a back up in waste, leading to blockage and difficult digestion. Proper food combination keeps separate fresh fruits, nuts and seeds, starches and legumes, whole grains, and animal flesh (allowing for some exceptions). Non-starch vegetables can be combined with all foods except fresh fruit. For more information, see the Detoxinista.

3. Choose natural over processed.

If your body does not recognize what you have eaten, it has a very hard time breaking it down. Processed foods are not easily recognized by your digestive system, so they tend to bulk up as pure waste in your lower intestine. This is not only uncomfortable, but it also blocks other waste from escaping, which can lead to toxins being reabsorbed into the body rather than released.

4. Learn your allergies and sensitivities.

Some people know their allergies very well. They have had horrible experiences with nuts or shellfish or have undergone many tests to learn those allergies. Others of us are simply sensitive to certain foods, and we often do not recognize it. If you find yourself with digestive troubles, look back to what you have eaten in the past 24 hours to see if there is a likely culprit.

5. Stay hydrated!

Water is the most essential thing you can put into your body. It helps flush out the system and keeps everything working properly. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and water-packed vegetables like celery and carrots is a sure-fire way to keep your cells hydrated while also getting essential vitamins. But be careful! If your body is not used to consuming fresh fruits, you will need to slowly ease them into your diet. Fresh fruit and vegetable juice is also an excellent way to stay hydrated while receiving your essential nutrients. Try waking u each morning with Green Lemonade instead of coffee.

6. Don’t drink water during a meal.

Eating water-rich fruits and vegetables are your best source for hydration, but drinking water is also essential. However, drinking water during and immediate after a meal will wash away the digestive enzymes that are needed to break down what you’ve eaten. Try to wait at least 15 minutes after you have consumed the last bite before you reach for your water bottle.

7. Exercise regularly.

Sitting is one of the worst positions for your digestive system, yet it is also the one Americans most frequently find themselves doing. We sit in an office. We sit while driving. We sit to watch a movie. Sitting causes waste to build up in our lower intestine, making it more difficult to pass. Walking and other forms of gentle exercise help to break up that bulk, allowing it to pass more readily.

8. Get a step up.

The body’s natural position for passing waste is not sitting, but squatting. Many Asian countries still use the in-ground toilet, which provides foot placement on either side of a basin in the floor. To replicate this position on your Western-style toilet at home, simply find a way to elevate your knees. Try turning the restroom wastebasket on its side to prop your feet up in front of you while you sit.

9. Sip some tea.

Several tea companies provide a relaxing herbal option to help with troubled digestion. Smooth Move by Traditional Medicinals is one of my favorite, and it comes in a variety of flavors including chocolate. Other folk remedies include triphala, and herbal supplement. Please do not start any herbal supplement without consulting your doctor or pharmacist, as they may interfere with your medications.

10. Try daily probiotics.

We’ve all seen the commercials recommending yogurt for a healthier digestive tract. If you’re lactose intolerant, though, dairy products can do more harm than good. And recent research has shown cow’s milk to leech calcium from bones because of the lactic acid that must be created to digest the milk. The real digestive help that yogurt offers is found in the bacterial cultures used to create yogurt from milk. These probiotic bacteria are now packaged separately for their health benefits and can be found in most grocery stores in pill or liquid form. Acidophilus is a popular probiotic, but kefir is a typical entirely non-dairy option.

11. Look into colonics.

While I have not personally undergone a colonic, health gurus and nutritionists like Natalia Rose of the Raw Food Detox Diet rave about their benefits. The idea behind them is that old waste builds up along the walls of the lower intestine, hindering nutrient absorption and blocking waste excretion. A gentle, but more direct cleansing of the intestine can help flush out old waste and rejuvenate the digestive tract. If you are interested in having one performed, the important thing is to go to a trustworthy clinic. An improperly performed colonic can back up waste even more.

12. Keep a digestive journal.

You should think about keeping a food, exercise, and restroom diary for at least two weeks to find patterns between what you eat and what you excrete. You may find a sensitivity to gluten , or you may find you are unable to eat certain combinations of foods without being backed up for days. Certain exercises or food choices may lead to better digestion. Each body works differently, so keeping a journal will help you to see exactly what works for you.

These tips are a compilation of research and experience, but they are not guaranteed to work with every body’s digestive system. Talk over your digestive difficulties with your doctor or nutritionist, explaining that you first want to try lifestyle changes before taking more medications.