A Health Story: Battle for Balance with Food and Fatigue

IMG_7581Today, I wanted to share the health story of my dear friend Emily.  Emily and I have been friends for over 10 years now.  We met through church in college and lived together for a couple years before getting married.  I’ve shared so many memories with this girl (a trip to NYC and countless costume parties stand out best); she was always the friend I could count on and still is today. She’s one of those rare friends who would move mountains to be there when you needed her. Now we have daughters just a few months apart and have been learning how to be moms together- we share natural remedies, healthy recipes and parenting tips with each other.  Emily is also a very talented writer, so I hope you enjoy her story…

Short-term survival vs. long-term survival. Choosing my sanity in the present or my health in the future. Those were my choices when it came to things like food, caffeine, and treatment plans, as well as the way those things affected my marriage and finances. With a large mug of coffee in my hand and thoughts of brewing another, this is what I’m contemplating, and how it all seemed like a lose-lose situation.

My childhood was happy in my giant family of nine  – no we weren’t Catholic or Mormon, yes my parents were crazy. However, I was always the sickly one. I recently found out I had the worst vaccine reactions of all seven of us, and that was after I almost died from pneumonia as a baby – as in my grandmother told my mom to make peace with it. She was very sensitive like that. Later, I had multiple ear infections (read: rounds of antibiotics), and I got stomach bugs so often my favorite “food” for a while was ice chips. We even owned a breathing machine for when I got sick, as I had a form of asthma called reactive airways. It’s a good thing I was homeschooled at the time as I would’ve been “one of those” who failed kindergarten from missing school all the time!

As I got older, I grew out of the constant infections, but inherited my father’s world-shattering allergies. I even got his elephant-like nose blowing – charming, thanks Dad. These allergies followed me into adulthood, and would trap me in bed all day like the flu at the peak of cedar pollination. I couldn’t be outside at all then, or when mold, grass, trees, weeds, or oxygen was too high. (Wait, maybe oxygen was on my safe list…)

Sometime during all of that, perhaps in high school, my energy took a nosedive and never came back up. I slept in between classes, and until noon on Saturdays when my mom let me. A few months after I turned 16 and started driving, I even fell asleep at the wheel.

We all just thought I was a normal, sleepy teenager, particularly after my thyroid panel came back normal. So I just kept sleeping as often as possible, all through college, often snoozing 12-14 hours a day. This was, in part, due to my low grade depression that kicked in towards the end of high school.

These health issues followed me like the bouncing metal cans on the “just married” car, and the “clanging” of those collective problems finally arrested my attention: my body wasn’t functioning quite right. However, all of this was still my normal – it was predictable and liveable, so I did nothing about it. Then, right before I got married, my body really punched me in the gut with random and violent gluten intolerance – literally.

The night of my bachelorette, I was too sick to go out – so all my friends came over in their little black dresses and sexy makeup to watch Tangled with me. The night of my wedding, I kept dragging my sister to the bathroom with me to loosen my corset as I was sick again, until I finally just had to take the whole thing off and hope my dress contained me for the rest of the reception!

I had no idea that gluten was even the issue until a trip to the doctor a few months later. Basically, he gave me a script for antacids, and recommended a gluten free diet. The pills did nothing for me, so after a hysterical breakdown about never eating bread or pasta or cookies or anything good in life again – not even COMMUNION – I gave up the mainstay of my diet.

For a while, I was able to get away with “just a bite” of glutenous (yes, I made that a word) indulgences without the miserable nausea that wouldn’t just end with a simple puke…but that didn’t last long. Soon, I was that annoying girl at the restaurant asking if something contains gluten, then having to explain what it was, and then hearing, “No, I don’t think the fried chickpeas have any of that”… think being the operative word here that drove me CRAZY. So you’re hanging the likelihood of my hanging over a toilet half the night on your desire to avoid checking with the chef? Thanks, I appreciate your ignorance…I mean assurance.

Luckily, Austin became a safe haven for us, the gluten challenged. Eventually everything from gluten free fried chicken to gluten free donuts appeared on store aisles and restaurant menus.

But it did not protect me from the next wave of symptoms. The encircled GF by entrees and products did not mean healthy, so neither was I.

Finally, at some point a few years ago, I couldn’t eat anything without fear of nausea, or the kind of bloating that makes you want to stab your bursting belly with an ice pick. I remember eating a paleo, whole 30, #alltherestrictions meal of chicken, spinach, and sweet potato, then being in so much pain I may have cried. I felt completely defeated.

After researching for hours upon hours, I found the GAPS diet, or Gut And Psychology Syndrome. It was created by a neurologist with a masters in nutrition who created this way of eating for her clients, whose disorders ranged from ADHD to autism, depressed to schizophrenic. She found they all had something in common – unhealthy digestive systems. While my mental state was not my primary issue (despite recurring depression), it was obvious my gut was unhealthy.

The first week was TERRIBLE. Like, can’t get out of bed terrible. But I finally, finally, had relief. It resolved my food intolerances to eggs, chicken, and nightshades, and eventually I could eat anything except gluten without reactions! It was my miracle diet.

These days, my chronic fatigue continues to hang over my life like a dark cloud, but when I’m watching my nutrition, I can celebrate being the healthiest I’ve ever been. I haven’t given up on finding total healing, but now I just focus on generally making healthy choices. I used to be obsessed with which diet is best, which food groups are evil, and which of the thousands of supplements I should take (you should see my collection!). It got to the point where it affected most of my close relationships because of arguments I would get into about drugs versus alternative medicine, whether my current diet was healthy or just a fad, or if it mattered using Tilex to clean the shower versus Mrs. Meyers. It had to end.

Now, I’m a lot better at picking my battles, finding that happy space between short term sanity and long term health. I try to choose 90% whole, unprocessed foods for my family (when my picky toddler lets me!), I work to use natural cleaning products in most areas, and I experiment with various natural and/or homemade beauty products. But! I don’t insist on primarily organic food, I had a hospital birth with an epidural, we give our daughter Motrin when she’s visibly in pain, and yes, I let my husband use Comet to clean the INSIDE of the toilet. That’s not how I wanted any of those things to go, but the stress of trying to control everything just isn’t worth it anymore. At what point is it too costly for my relationships and my sanity when I’m fighting tooth and nail for every health decision in our family? We had to meet in the middle.

That’s where I try to live now, finding what healthy feels like in my own body, and in our home. I let God and my husband help me figure out what that looks like. And praise Jesus, every year I get just a little closer.

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A Health Story: Fatigue, Food Allergies, Inability to Gain Weight

Me and AlyssaToday, I’m sharing the health story of my friend Alyssa. Alyssa is one of my oldest friends… we met nearly twenty years ago at church and we were 2 of just 16 in our graduating high school class. I’m so thankful for Alyssa’s friendship over the years.  She is one of the strongest women I know; her optimism and endurance in the midst of suffering is inspiring and truly displays a joy that only God can give.  

As we have both struggled with different health issues for many years, I’ve been grateful for someone to share ideas & recipes with as we try new diets and attempts at natural healing.  She’s the friend that introduced me to essential oils, which have been so life-changing for me. And, as I’ve become a mom, she is an even more valued resource.  Here’s her story:

Hi, I’m Alyssa. I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we have four kids, ages 9, 6, 5 and 2. When I’m not spending time with my family I enjoy DIY projects at home or working part-time at Board and Brush creative studio.  I’m also passionate about natural health and wellness.

Growing up, my family was close-knit, but my mom struggled with health problems her whole life – depression, gut issues and back problems.  While we did things together as a family, we were limited by her condition  I remember her being in bed a lot. She would try to have a good meal for us on the table every night, but I still ate a lot of junk and processed food when a home cooked meal wasn’t an option.  We weren’t aware of all the short and long-term effects that food has on the body.

In middle school, I started getting made fun of for being so thin, which really affected me.  I had always been slender and unable to put on much weight, but when others started noticing, it made me really insecure.  That continued well into high school.  In high school, I also remember being pretty tired and not having a ton of energy.  My sleep consisted of: going to bed late, getting up early for school, falling asleep on my bed doing homework and going to bed late again.

Fast forward several years after having my first few kids.. just a few sleep deprived nights… my exhaustion and fatigue were much worse.  Not taking care of myself the right way put me in a bad state.  I was having gut issues and I was frequently getting sick and littlest virus would keep me down for a week or two.  

My mom had passed away in 2008 after I had had my first child, from an accidental overdose (the combination of a pain patch on her back and a heating pad).  After that, I began to think about my health in a new light; I knew I needed to figure out what was going on with myself, but I had a bad taste from conventional doctors and medicine after everything that happened with my mom.  

I discovered I had a gluten intolerance via trial and error after a doctor misdiagnosed me with acid re-flux.  I saw a string of natural doctors trying to figure out what was now lack of energy, anxiety, thinning hair, continued inability to gain weight along with some gut issues.  I saw at least 5 different doctors who all saw I had a problem going on with the symptoms and various lab results, but were unable to figure out what it all meant or what the cause was. I started eating healthier, in addition to being gluten-free, and begun researching more about natural remedies.  

When anything came up with our family, from colds and ear infections to strep throat, I tried to find a natural remedy for it. When my oldest was five, she had 5 rounds of strep throat and antibiotics to go with them, but was still sick. I was so frustrated and felt helpless; I came across a remedy of cayenne + honey + garlic and made her try it.  To my surprise, it worked! I had been able to treat her strep naturally without the use of antibiotics and she’s never had strep again. It’s like her body needed just a little natural help to fight it off on it’s own.

I continued seeking out natural remedies for ailments and dabbled in essential oils, not seeing much impact from the ones I had bought from the grocery store.  I didn’t think much of it until I was introduced to Young Living essential oils at a class. I was educated on the difference between store-grade oils vs pure, therapeutic grade oils and how they could help enhance a natural lifestyle. My husband thought I was nuts for being so excited about oils, but he’s now completely on-board and embraced my “crunchy” tendencies of tackling pretty much anything naturally.

As for my health problems, I’m still continuing to sift through the details of understanding what’s going on with my body. I found that following an AIP diet helps with a lot of my gut issues.  When I eat something I shouldn’t, I can recognize it quickly. My blood work still shows off levels and indicates potential thyroid and hormone issues, but the doctor I was seeing was somewhat perplexed by it. I’m currently waiting to see a new functional medicine doctor that a friend with Hashimoto’s recommended. She’s seen drastic improvement with her health over the last 6 months, so I am hopeful for similar results. In the meantime, I take each day as it comes. I am super aware of what I eat, what I use on my body and the products I use in my home. The journey to health and wellness seems to be an ongoing one. It can be so discouraging at times but I know that God has me in this journey for a reason and I’m trusting in His plan.

Like Alyssa, I know that so many of us are still in the thick of it- trying to figure out what’s causing issues and doing all we can to address the symptoms in the meantime.  I hope to someday share the answers Alyssa has discovered and the healing that she’s found.  I’m always comforted to know I’m not the only one still looking for answers, even though it is such a frustrating & discouraging place to be.

If you want to share your story, I would love to feature it on my blog to encourage others- please reach out to me at healthyhopefulblog(at)gmail.com. 

10 Ways I Use Peppermint Essential Oil

Peppermint OilDon’t you just love the smell of peppermint?  So refreshing and invigorating.  Peppermint oil is would probably rank in my top 5 for most-used essential oils.  Here are a few ways that I use peppermint oil and see great results:

  1. Nausea – If I’m ever feeling queasy or nauseous, I either rub some peppermint oil on my stomach or breathe it in.  I’m always amazed at how fast it works and keep applying every 20 minutes or smelling it until I feel better.  This, along with activated charcoal, seriously saved me when I got food poisoning 3 times (why, oh why!?!) last year.
  2. Headaches – Whenever I get a headache, rather than popping not-so-safe aspirin or ibuprofen, I put some peppermint oil on the roof of my mouth, back of my neck and top of my forehead and within minutes, I’m back to normal.  *Warning: be careful to not get it in or close to your eyes or it will sting. If you do, wash out with olive or coconut oil rather than water.
  3. Anti-Itch – Last summer, when I got hives as a result of stress, peppermint oil was the only thing that would relieve the itching.  It’s also a great option for bug bites and sunburn as the oil is very calming for skin inflammation. You may need to dilute peppermint oil with coconut oil before applying directly to your skin as it can irritate sensitive skin in its concentrated form.
  4. Allergies – Peppermint oil is great at helping clear out my nasal passages and reducing sinus inflammation caused by allergies.  I use this in my essential oil allergy blend LLP (Lavender + Lemon + Peppermint) and diffuse all the time during allergy season. Read more about how I fight allergies naturally here.
  5. Energizer – Afternoon slump or just need to focus at work… I diffuse peppermint at my desk at work and it does wonders for getting me through the rest of the day.
  6. Fever Reducer – The couple of times I’ve had a fever in the past few months, I’ve used peppermint oil on the back of my neck and forehead with a cool compress and brought my temperature down to normal without medication.
  7. Decongestant – When I have a cold, I mix peppermint with eucalyptus oil and coconut oil and applied to my neck and chest.  It acts as an expectorant and helps open up airways and clear out sinuses.  This was especially helpful to me when I was coughing a lot.
  8. Muscle Pain Relief – Anytime I have sore muscles, I use peppermint oil to help relax them and relieve the pain.  It’s also a main ingredient in one of my favorite blends of essential oils for pain relief – the Deep Relief Roll On. This was amazing to rub on my feet and legs each night after walking miles a day at Universal Studios & Disney World.
  9. Oral Care – Of course, peppermint is a well-known breath freshener.  I mix it with a bit of water and use as a mouthwash.  It’s also in my beloved brushing blend OraWellness – read more here about why I will never go back to using regular toothpaste!
  10. Bug Repellent – Ticks & mosquitoes apparently hate peppermint, so I use this in a pest-repellent spray for my dog every day.  For some reason, bugs don’t like me, so I don’t have to use anything personally, but you can use it for people too. For my pup, I mix up distilled water with a few drops each of peppermint + eucalyptus + Thieves + citronella + tea tree in a spray bottle; besides protecting her from fleas & other bugs, it makes her smell great.  Here is an actual recipe for homemade bug spray that’s very similar.

I’m so grateful to have added a variety of essential oils to my “medicine cabinet” and to now have a safe, effective way to address symptoms immediately when they arise.  I have chosen to buy the Young Living brand of essential oils because I’ve done my research and I trust the source and the purity of the oils they grow & produce. If you are interested in trying out essential oils, visit this page on my blog for more details or leave a comment and we can chat more.

Have you been looking for a natural way to address any of the symptoms above?  Do you use peppermint oil in other ways that help?  I’d love to hear about it!

Magnesium Maybe?

Low energy, fatigue, headaches, stress, muscle tension and spasms, trouble sleeping, PMS, hormonal imbalances, nervousness, anxiety, irritability – any of these symptoms ring a bell? Or maybe a few?

You just might have a magnesium deficiency… and, you certainly wouldn’t be alone – 70% of women and 80% of men don’t get the daily intake they need, which means that most of us are quite lacking in this essential mineral.  Dr. Mark Hyman sums it up perfectly on his website:

Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff — whether it is a body part or an even a mood — is a sign of magnesium deficiency.

This critical mineral is actually responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues — but mainly in your bones, muscles, and brain. You must have it for your cells to make energy, for many different chemical pumps to work, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax.

Doctors are constantly touting that we all need to drink more milk to get more calcium for strong bones.  But, getting too much calcium without enough magnesium creates a dangerous imbalance that can cause numerous health problems. Plus, if your diet consists of a lot of salt, coffee, sodas, alcohol and sugar, you are draining your body of it even further.  Another problem is that only about 30-40% of the amount we eat is absorbed by our bodies (source).  Why? Our bodies require enough vitamin B6 (eat your veggies), vitamin D (hello, sunshine!) and selenium (meat, poultry, fish & eggs) in order to be able to absorb magnesium.

Luckily, increasing your magnesium intake is a super easy fix.  Here’s what I do to get at least 400 mg per day (up to 1,000 mg can be helpful depending on the severity of your symptoms):

  1. Diet – Eat a lot of leafy green vegetables like spinach & collard greens, avocado, nuts – almonds, cashews and peanuts top the list, legumes and seaweed.
  2. Supplement – Magnesium SupplementFind a whole food supplement with magnesium citrate or glycinate taurate (easiest to absorb).  Avoid the cheap supplements with magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide.  Since I take so many vitamins and minerals each morning, I like to mix it up by taking this one during the day – Natural Vitality Natural Calm Magnesium Supplement.  It’s pure magnesium citrate and comes in lots of flavors; you add it to water and it makes a fizzy Emergen-C type beverage.  This is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up; since magnesium helps the body relax, it diffuses any of the stress I am feeling at work.
  3. Epsom Salt Bath – Epsom Salt BathEpsom Salts are pure magnesium and are recommended for relieving sore muscles. I mix up some lavender essential oil with my epsom salts in a glass jar and keep by the tub to add to my baths.  It’s super relaxing and helps your body absorb magnesium before bed, which leads to falling asleep faster and better rest.

Personally, since realizing that I was deficient in magnesium and increasing my intake, I have seen great results.  My afternoon headaches are gone, my energy has increased, I sleep better and my stress levels are down (though that last one may have a little something to do with this too!).

Are you suffering from any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency? Think you’ll give any of the tips above a try?  I’d love to hear how it helps you!

“You’re Not Sick; You’re Thirsty”

Is it possible that the majority of illness originate from something as simple as dehydration?  Could we be treating ourselves with medicine when we should just be drinking more water?  I recently read Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by F. Batmanghelidj, MD, which explores this possibility.

Water

Our body is made up of 75% water, and in particular, our brain tissue is 85% water. Adequate hydration is essential to our bodies and brains functioning properly to stay healthy.  But many of us are suffering from chronic dehydration because we live in a society where coffee, tea, alcohol and manufactured beverages like soda have become acceptable thirst-quenchers.  While many of these contain water, they also contain dehydrating agents that only make our body’s more thirsty.  And, sodas, in particular, are addictive (both the caffeine and sugar), taking away our natural thirst for water, even when it’s plentiful and available.

We tend to think that we are “thirsty” when our mouths become dry and we crave a drink.  But this is actually the last outward sign of dehydration – if you are feeling this, your body is screaming for water.  And as you age, your body begins to ignore “dry mouth” more and more, making dehydration easier. Our vital organs receive the water, nutrients and hormones they need to work only by enough water existing in the body to deliver those elements, so it’s obviously essential to our basic functioning.  Just in case you need a few more reasons to drink more water, here are some that really stood out to me:

  • Morning sickness during pregnancy is the main indicator of a baby and mother’s dehydration.  Water is essential to cell expansion during a baby’s first stage of life.
  • Chronic pain is a huge indicator of thirst.  For a while, painkillers may work for pain monitored by the central nervous system, but eventually the brain will become so dehydrated that it will register all pain until it gets enough water.  And, until it does, the pain will increase and the body will limit the mobility of those areas in order to “prevent the production of additional toxic waste” that water, if available, would wash out. If you are experiencing consistent back pain, leg pain or headaches, take note.
  • Dyspeptic (gastritis, heartburn, constipation) pain is an emergency thirst signal.  “Digestion of solid foods depends on the presence of copious amounts of water” and “water provides the only natural protection against the acid in the stomach.”  Antacids contain a lot of aluminum (so does your deodorant, by the way), which combined with brain cell dehydration are proven causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Stop popping those antacids and drink a couple glasses of water instead.
  • “Fully 75 percent of the weight of the upper part of the body is supported by the water volume that is stored in the disc core.”  While proper posture is helpful, adequate water is essential if you are experiencing back pain.  Exercises that stretch the back and help “vacuum” water back into the disc space will help both neck and back pain.  I personally find that laying on the bed with my head off the edge for a minute or so helps a great deal.  Of course, my chiropractor adjustments help tremendously as well.
  • Dehydration affects the regulation of body temperature.  Many migraines and headaches are caused by “heat stress” because of dehydration that may occur due to lack of drinking water, drinking alcohol, or an allergic reaction that releases histamines (blocking hydration).
  • Dehydration leads to stress in the body and causes hormones to go into crisis mode.  As a result, dehydration contributes to chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
  • Using caffeine to override your body’s available energy will lower levels of stored energy, meaning that your hormones will not be able to react appropriately later and the brain has less energy to work from, leading to less focus and attention span.  This dehydration effect is exacerbated when elderly people with memory problems or children with learning disorders drink anything other than water, especially soda.
  • Adequate water and salt intake are essential to maintaining blood volume that prevents hypertension.  The body will do all it can to retain water and sodium (helps balance water in and out of cells), yet the current “treatments” for hypertension prescribe diuretics.  Water is the best diuretic – if you are drinking enough water, your body will respond and eventually flush out the toxic edema fluid rather than the water your body desperately needs.
  • Cholesterol is essential to the function of our cells because it helps our cells retain water.  In the state of dehydration, you will develop high cholesterol as its working in overdrive to prevent cell dehydration.
  • “The sensation of thirst and hunger are generated simultaneously to indicate the brain’s needs.” We cannot tell the difference, and thus often overeat when our body’s are really just crying out for water.  Then, dehydration causes our brain to crave more energy, thus causing us to crave sugar.  So, we overeat, eat unhealthy foods and gain weight simply by being dehydrated.
  • Asthma and allergies are indicators that the body has resorted to an increase in production of the neurotransmitter histamine, the sensor regulator of water metabolism and its distribution in the body.”
  • In some cases of chronic dehydration, our brain begins to inhibit insulin so the pancreas can provide water for food digestion – a crucial function to provide energy to the body.  Ultimately, this can cause insulin-independent diabetes, and instead of drinking more water & eating a balanced diet to get the body to behave normally again, people take chemical override medications to force the body to produce more insulin.
  • Salt is crucial to ensuring we have an “ocean” of water outside our cells, but the table salt we eat in most foods is a chemical and not mineral-rich.  Remove sodium preservatives and table salt from your diet and replace with unrefined sea salt to keep your body’s hydration in balance.

The simple way to prevent the damage from chronic dehydration is to drink enough water.  Your body needs a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day, more, especially, if you are drinking alcohol or caffeine.  If your urine is not colorless, you are not hydrated enough.  Drink water slowly, throughout the day.  I typically drink a glass of water before and after each meal, and then at least one in-between each meal as a rule of thumb.  If I am feeling sick, my allergies are flaring or my back pain returns, I immediately drink lots of water, and only water, until the symptoms pass. I have truly noticed a difference.

Are you drinking enough water?  If any of the above dehydration-related illnesses stuck out to you personally, you must read this book. It has very detailed chapters on each of the effects of dehydration and testimonials for how water has healed people.  Go read it (or borrow from me!) – it’s fascinating!