Category Archives: Ulcerative Colitis

5 Tips for Healthier Sleep

5 Tips for Healthier Sleep FB

I believe that sleep is the most valuable commodity of adulthood; because lets face it we are a population of people in need of a nap. Sleeping has always been an issue for me. In high school, I stayed up too late and got up too early and always wound up asleep in my 7th period psychology class (a fact my, high school sweetheart, husband still gives me a hard time about). In college, I would take naps in my car or the student lounge in between classes and then drink 2-3 cups of coffee in order to make it through the day. Then, when I got married and had to share my bed with someone who was on a totally opposite schedule from me I just resigned myself to living life in a constant state of exhaustion. Even after my health tanked and I started the autoimmune protocol I didn’t really think about how much my lack of sleep was affecting my health. Finally, after we moved last year and our lives settled down I decided to really commit to getting more sleep. I started sleeping 8-9 hours every night, but I was still having a hard time falling asleep, tossing and turning at night and waking up tired. It has taken me a few months to figure it all out, but I have learned a few things about how to get healthy, restful sleep.

5 Tips for Healthier Sleep

  1. Limit Blue Light Exposure in the Evening Hours: I think most of us don’t realize just how sensitive our bodies are to the environment. However, amazingly enough, our bodies are designed produce hormones that can either wake us up or make us tired in response to light. Blue light, like the light the comes off of your phone, TV, computer screen or CFL light bulbs, stimulates the body’s production of cortisol and suppresses production of melatonin which results in feeling more awake and alert and less sleepy. Darkness or exposure to dim, amber colored light has the opposite effect. As a result, you want to try and limit your exposure to blue light for at least an hour before bed. Here is what I do: After we eat dinner and talk about our days I usually turn off the lights in the living area and move upstairs to our bedroom. I turn off the overhead light and turn on our bedside lamp, which uses one of THESE very cheap amber light bulbs. In our bathroom, we leave the vanity lights off and use a smaller, dimmer, light as we get ready for bed. I also installed this free software on my computer, which changes the background lighting to an amber color at night. Finally, I use this screen protector on my phone, which minimizes blue light exposure. These were really easy and inexpensive changes to make but I noticed a dramatic difference in being able to fall asleep faster after I implemented them.
  2. Limit Social Interaction Before Sleep: Social interaction is highly stimulating and makes it hard for the body to wind down and prepare for sleep. When possible, I try to give myself an hour of limited social interaction before falling asleep. This means no major discussions with the hubby, no over stimulating movies or TV shows, no phone calls, no checking email.
  3. 5 tips for healthier sleep PinterestCreate a Routine: Routine is super important to me in most areas of my life, but especially when it comes to sleep. I cannot just fall into bed and go to sleep, even if I am exhausted. Personally, my routine involves drinking a cup of tea, taking a bath or a shower, doing something mindless for a while, turning on my sound machine, and then going to sleep. I do this every night, without fail and it allows my brain to recognize that it is bedtime and helps me to wind down.
  4. Limit Sleep Disturbances Like Noise: Speaking of my sound machine, I am a super, super, super light sleeper. I could be sound asleep and if there is any sort of noise I will be completely awake instantaneously. On the one hand, this is a good thing, because as a doula I need to be reachable at night if someone needs me, but the rest of the time it is problematic. I can’t use earplugs because I do need to be able to hear my phone if I am on call and I can’t turn off my phone for that same reason, so I ended up getting this sound machine and I love it. It provides just enough ambient noise that I am not bothered by normal sounds like my husband moving around or using the bathroom, but I can still hear my phone and my alarm.
  5. Invest in a Non-toxic, Supportive Mattress: Using all of the above tips helped me to get to sleep faster and optimize my hormones for a better night sleep, but they don’t have much impact on the actual quality of my sleep. When my hubby and I got married we couldn’t afford a new mattress so we used his older mattress from his childhood home. It was very firm and even after adding a topper to it I would wake up in the middle of the night with back pain and hip pain and if I stayed in the same position for too long my arm and hand would fall asleep. I honestly chalked this up to an annoyance and for three years we just dealt with it. A few months ago, after saving up for about a year, we decided to purchase a king size mattress. I was very nervous about such a large purchase and I wanted to make the best decision possible in regards to long-term durability, comfort, and health. While doing my research, I learned that most mattresses contain toxic chemicals in the form of fire intelligel grpahicretardants and off gassing foam. I will be doing another post soon that covers this topic more in depth, but after looking at this research I knew I had to avoid these chemicals in order to continue decreasing my inflammation and optimizing my health. When I started looking into organic mattress options, I found that most of them had poor warranties and got bad reviews when it came to support and durability. Then I talked to a few other blogger friends who recommended Intellibed. Intellibed has created a mattress that uses no flame retardant chemicals, produces no off gassing effects and utilizes a special type of gel that optimizes spinal alignment and reduces pressure. They also have an in-home trial period, which allows you to try the mattress, with the use of a mattress cover, in your home for 60 days to decide whether or not you like it. If you don’t like it, they will pick it up and give you a refund. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, after doing months worth of research and agonizing over the decision I decided to go for it and give it a try. We purchased their motion dampening model and it has completely revolutionized my sleep. The feel of the mattress is unlike any other bed I have tried. The gel is soft and comfortable around your pressure points like your shoulders and hips, so I no longer wake up with hip pain or shoulder pain from laying on my side, but at the same time the gel actually pushes back against the rest of your body providing a ton of support for the lower back, neck, and legs. It took us about two nights to get used to how different it felt, but after that, I never looked back. I sleep so much deeper than I ever used to. In fact, most nights I feel like I fall asleep and wake up in the same position. I no longer wake up with a stiff neck or pain in between my shoulder blades and I have yet to have my arm, hand or leg fall asleep in the middle of the night. Hands down, investing in this new mattress was the best thing I have done for my overall health since changing my diet. In the coming weeks, I will share more about why I invested in a non-toxic mattress and how I went about choosing the one that works for us. In the mean time, I love my bed so much that I talked with Intellibed and asked them to create a promo code that I could share with any of you, in case you decide to give this mattress a try. They agreed, so if you are interested in learning more about intellibed click HERE and enter the code SWEET10 to get 10% off of your purchase. Also, if you’re not ready for a new mattress yet but you want some of the comfort and pressure relief benefits of the gel they also sell mattress toppers and pillows that work wonderfully!

I honestly wish I hadn’t waited so long to work on my sleep, because now that I have it really has made a huge difference in how I feel and how I live my life. We all know that getting enough sleep is important, but its not always easy to figure out how to achieve good quality sleep. I hope that these tips help you out in your journey for better sleep and better health. Let me know in the comments if you have discovered any good methods for getting a better night’s sleep!

*Affiliate Disclosure: I was not paid to write this post, so the views expressed here are my own and were not influenced by any manufacture or company. However, this post does contain affiliate links. This means that if you click on a link in this post and make a purchase a percentage of the proceeds will come back to me to support myself, my family, and this blog. 

Healing From Ulcerative Colitis- Jesse’s Story

Healing From Ulcerative Colitis with AIP: Jesse's Story

I am beyond excited to share today’s post with you. I have shared some truly inspirational healing stories here in the past, but this story is my favorite. Today’s post is by my sister! Only three years younger than me, she was also diagnosed with ulcerative colitis during her college years. Although our diseases present themselves somewhat differently and our symptoms differ, we have worked together over the past few years to support one another in our quest for healing. I have been waiting a long time to have her share her story so I hope that you enjoy it!

 Healing From Ulcerative Colitis: Jesse’s Story

I am twenty-two years old and have been living with an autoimmune disease for three years. I found physical healing through the Autoimmune Protocol Diet, but it changed my life in so many other ways. These past three years have been a tremendous journey, and I only hope that my story will provide at least one of you with some hope and inspiration…

“Where are my pants?” I yell, still groggy from the anesthesia. The nurse wheels me out of the dimly lit examination room as lyrics to “You’ve Had a Bad Day” still play from the speakers and echo against the walls, foreshadowing the coming moments. The nurse leaves me with my parents while I regain my composure and feebly put my pants back on. Moments later, the door opens, papers fly in my face, and the words, “Congratulations, you have ulcerative colitis,” ring in my ears. As quickly as it had opened, the door closes again, the words are hanging in the dry, sterile air and I sit motionless on the gurney, bearing the weight of a heavy diagnosis.

It was March of 2013; I was nineteen and in my sophomore year of college. I had spent a lifetime dealing with countless doctor visits, unanswered questions, and bogus diagnoses. In one way, it was a relief to finally have an answer. Only, I didn’t like the answer I was given. I was young, I had dreams, and my life was only beginning. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, at least not to me. I visited my doctor once a month and compliantly took the medications I was given. However, the second I walked out of the office, I disowned both the diagnosis as well as my body; it had let me down and I wanted nothing to do with it. I continued to be in denial for another year, living my life as I pleased, eating whatever I wanted to eat. Only, my body had other plans.

In February of 2014 I sat in my doctor’s office on the verge of tears, while my mom reassured me it was all going to be okay. After a year of completing several intense steroid therapy treatments and going up the ladder of medications, nothing was working. I was afraid I would have to drop out of school. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, let alone attend my classes. I was left with two options: go on severe medication that would increase my risk of getting lymphoma or change the way I eat. At this time, I was a full time college student in an intense degree program and only twenty years old. I couldn’t envision myself being on dangerous medications for the rest of my life, but I also couldn’t envision managing a demanding lifestyle while being a full time student. However, with the support of my family and my boyfriend (who is now my fiancé!) and the convincing of my sister, I half-heartedly chose to embark on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP).

Healing From Ulcerative Colitis: Jesse's StoryThis is about the time where I should tell you that AIP instantly changed my life and I never looked back! However, my story is a little bit different. I had just spent the past year being in denial, and once I began AIP, I spent the next three months bargaining. I thought, “I’ll eat this way for a year, and then my life will return to normal. I’ll have my old body and lifestyle back and I can continue along on my merry way.” In May of 2014 I experienced the worst flare I had ever had. I am already a small person to begin with, but during that flare I lost so much weight I was barely tipping the scale at a whopping 84 pounds. I couldn’t move a limb without being in pain, walking down the stairs made me exhausted, and I couldn’t leave the house without fear of soiling myself. All the anger that I had held at bay for the past year finally erupted. Why me? Why now? I was so young; it wasn’t fair. I was infuriated with my body, yelling at it because it had betrayed me. I felt trapped inside something so hopeless and useless.

Then, the depression hit. I stood in the shower weeping as I watched piles of hair swirl down the drain, dragging all of my hopes and dreams with it. I used to dream of traveling and seeing the world or being a missionary overseas; I used to love to run and hike and be active, but my body would no longer allow those things. Having a lot of friends and being involved in many activities used to earn me the title of a social butterfly. Losing those friends was something no one had prepared me for. The people who I thought loved and supported me, suddenly didn’t know what to do with me or how to be with me. I am a musician and my primary instrument is my voice. However, sickness had overtaken it. My voice was so weak, it cracked when I spoke, so singing opera was out of the question. I had been stripped away from almost every identity, hope, and dream I had ever known. I had hit rock bottom and there was only one way up.

Healing From Ulcerative Colitis: Jesse's StorySo, finally, after dipping my toe into AIP like I had been doing up until this point, I plunged in head first, only to discover it is so much more than eating the right food. When I finally began feeding my body what it needed to heal, I understood the importance of also loving and actually listening to what my body needs. Until this point, I had spent my entire life shaming and ignoring my own body, eventually disowning it completely. The day that I whispered, “I want to be your friend,” I felt a physical sigh of relief and a feeling of wholeness that I had never felt before. I began to care for my body with love, compassion, and understanding. I realized that I am fearfully, and wonderfully made and definitely not a mistake. I was created this way for a purpose.

This realization began spilling over into all areas of my life and overall health. I began attending acupuncture on a regular basis, practicing meditation and mindfulness, as well as ridding my self of the harsh chemicals found in so many of my cosmetic products. I soon was fermenting kombucha on the top shelf in my closet, washing my hair once a week, and sporting all natural deodorant, and I had never felt more normal and healthy! My hair has now grown back to the thickness I once loved, my skin is clear, my hormones are balanced, and I haven’t had a single PMS symptom in a year. I am proud to say that I was in remission for a full year and, although I experienced a flare this past May, through AIP and other healing supplements, I was able to overcome it in a matter of weeks rather than months. Loving myself allowed my body to reach remission, because each aspect of our bodies and minds are so intricately interwoven that it is impossible to address one, without affecting the others.

I graduated this past May on time and with a degree in music therapy. While many of my dreams have changed for the better, some of the things I used to enjoy are becoming easier, like hiking and being more active. My autoimmune disease and AIP truly saved my life physically but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It stripped me away to my core only for me to see who I truly am, which is strong, independent and beautiful.

It has also shown me the value of support. It can be really hard to ask for help, but it is your deepest times of need when you discover who your greatest support team is. I truly could not be where I am today with the help of my wonderful family and fiancé, but especially my sister. She is my rock and sounding board, the only one who truly knows what it feels like to be in my shoes. Find support, whatever that looks like for you. For me, it was family. For you it may be different, but whatever you do, don’t walk this journey alone.

Lastly, it taught me what is truly important in life. Before my diagnosis, I kept myself so busy that I barely had time to be present in my own life. Being forced to slow down, caused me to be more present in my daily life and it has brought me so much joy. Things like bills and traffic don’t stress me out anymore, but rather the small things, like the bird singing outside my window, bring me great joy and peace

I am an AIP warrior. I am not fighting against my own body, but rather working with it to overcome the grips of disease and live the life I was meant to live. I only hope that my story has brought you some peace, joy, or hope. Thank you for letting me share it.

Loving Someone With a Chronic Illness: One Husband’s Perspective

Loving Someone with a Chronic Illness: One Husband's Perspective

Earlier this week my hubby and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Over these last three years my health has really become intertwined with our lives and even our relationship at times. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis ten months before we got married, so we have had to learn how to manage my autoimmune disease together. This has been a huge strain at times, but it has also taught us a lot of valuable lessons and drawn us closer together. Those of us with autoimmune diseases don’t and can’t operate on an island. We need community and support and our family tends to be the front line of support through the especially hard times and the day-to day.

While I’m sure many of our loved ones wouldn’t have it any other way, living with, loving and caring for someone with a chronic illness impacts their lives in ways many people probably don’t understand. That is why I decided to sit down with my hubby this week and ask him some questions about being the husband of an autoimmune sufferer and he agreed to share his answers with you all so that he could potentially be a help to others in the same situation.

I am so thankful for my husband and all of his support I honestly don’t know how I would have made it through this healing journey without him.

 

Loving Someone With a Chronic Illness:One Husband’s Perspective

Loving Someone with a Chronic Illness: One Husband's Perspective

How do you think living with a spouse who has a chronic autoimmune condition makes life different in the day to day?

That’s a tough question. With some of the day-to-day stuff, it becomes part of the routine, and while others may think that something is odd, to us it seems normal. If we eat together we eat AIP, but it’s part of the normal routine. Conversations about your gastrointestinal health become normal. Requests to heat up a cup of bone broth or bring you essential oils become normal. There are a lot of small changes from the routine of someone with out an autoimmune condition but you find a new norm. I also have never had a spouse without a chronic autoimmune condition so I’m not sure how life would be much different. We probably wouldn’t eat as healthy and doing stuff spontaneously may be easier but we’ve never lived that way.

What moments or issues have been the most challenging for you?

It can be tough when you’re not feeling well or having a down day, to hear how sad you to feel about having to constantly focus your life around your health. It is hard when we have conversations about our future and you express doubts of being able to accomplish some of your goals or live your life the way you want to because you feel limited by your disease.

What was your initial reaction to my decision to follow the autoimmune protocol?

You had been flaring for 6 months so I think my reaction was something like, “If you think it will help, have at it.”

What are your thoughts now that I have been following the protocol for about a year and half?

I’m amazed at how you’ve been able to keep it up. When you started I thought it would be a short elimination diet with things to be added back in fairly quickly, but as it turns out you haven’t been able to add much back in so far. It’s frustrating sometimes when we need to eat something quick or when we are trying to go out to eat but for the most part I think it forces us to eat more real food.

Has watching me deal with my health and the way I eat changed the way you think about your health and the way you eat?

It has taken a while but I think I’m slowly becoming more aware of my own health. I notice the biggest difference when I have eaten more AIP food with you and then I go out and eat a standard American meal and I don’t feel great afterwards.

How would you say that this process of learning how to manage my autoimmune condition has impacted our relationship?

I think it has honestly allowed us to become more of a team in our marriage. I’m not always perfect at it, but it I have to think more about how things with my schedule or my job obligations may impact you and your health and it has taught me how to help advocate for you in difficult situations.

Do you have any tips for other family members who have loved ones with an autoimmune disease?

Find people who can help you be a support system. No one can do it all on their own, and we’ve been lucky to have family that is supportive of you and your efforts to manage your health. They have been able to help be a support system for you so I don’t feel like I have to do it on my own.

How Parasites Affect Your Health

 How Parasites Affect Your Health - Sweet potatoes and social Change

How Parasites Affect Your Health

So, if you follow my blog pretty closely chances are that you have seen me briefly mention my recent experience with parasites a few times.

For the past few months I had been battling some vague digestive ailments, I would have random bouts of abdominal bloating, changes in my stool that would come and go and indigestion even after eating AIP friendly foods that I don’t usually have a problem with. Basically, my health felt kind of tedious, and I felt like my healing progress had plateaued. None of these symptoms fully lined up with an ulcerative colitis flare but they were concerning me, none the less. Thankfully, during this time period, I had finally gotten established with a wonderful integrative health doctor who I trusted to help me get back on track. She recommended that we do some comprehensive stool testing. She ordered one comprehensive test through Doctor’s Data, which is a great lab, and another separate parasite test through a local lab.

I did them, feeling confident that the majority of my information would come from the comprehensive test and that the parasite test would come back clean. I hadn’t had any severe diarrhea, no weight loss (much to my annoyance, actually), and no severe abdominal pain. That’s what happens when you have a parasite right?

Well, about a week passed and low and behold I get an email from my doctor telling me that my parasite test had come back positive for fairly severe giardia, a parasitic infection, as well as a tapeworm called dipylidium. She recommended that I start medication immediately to resolve it and I agreed.

I was truly shocked at this diagnosis. I still have no idea where or when or how I picked up either of these infections, but given the severity of it, my doctor feels that both infections have been present for a long time. So, obviously me next question was what effect have these infections had on my health and my symptoms? This led me to do some research on the effects of parasitic and helminth (tapeworm) infections and the information I found was quite interesting. Research into the long term effects of parasitic and helminth infections is still in its infancy but I was able to find a couple of reputable, peer reviewed studies that helped shed some initial light on the topic.

Giardia is an incredibly common parasitic infection that can be spread through contaminated water, food or even person to person through microscopic amounts of infected fecal matter. Because it is very common, the body of research surrounding it was much larger than the research relating to tapeworms so I will start there.

A review on the topic published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2013 (1) showed that giardia can lead to:

  • intestinal barrier dysfunction (i.e. Leaky gut) through damage to the epithelial cells of the intestinal lining and a halt of the enterocyte cell cycle progression
  • nutrient malabsorption
  • changes in microbiotia composition- an increased potential for pathenogenic bacteria in the gut
  • an increased likelihood of food allergies- especially to dairy
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • IBS

In fact, this review stated that these effects can even be felt for 2-3 years following infection and treatment.

In regards to helminth infections, my limited review of the research showed that one common characteristic of helminth infections is a TH2 dominated immune response. This is interesting because many autoimmune diseases result from a Th2 dominant immune response, ulcerative colitis included, (for more info see this article) Interestingly enough, I also found a small study looking at how helminth infections alter the barrier function of the epithelial lining of the colon and it found that the th2 dominant response caused by the particular infection they were studying seems to compromise the mucosal barrier function in colon and lead to increased intestinal permeability (i.e. leaky gut) . (2)

So what does all of this mean?

It means that parasitic and helminth infections have the potential to contribute to leaky gut and an elevated immune response both of which can be precursors to autoimmune disease or make it extremely difficult to heal from or regulate an autoimmune disease. So, if you haven’t been tested for parasites recently and you are working to heal from an autoimmune disease it may be in your best interest to get tested. That being said, many standard test for parasitic infections only look for active parasites in the stool. This is a problem, because parasites have a life cycle that keeps them dormant for days at a time so standard tests have a high rate of false negative results. So, to get a more comprehensive look I recommend using a lab that looks for traces of parasite DNA (a PRC test) or that tests you stool over a period of 3 days rather than looking at a single sample. You can request this through your doctor or order your own tests online through a lab like Doctor’s Data.

 

  • I will note that there is a growing body of research addressing the idea that doe parasitic or helminth infections can actually be beneficial to overall and immune health. However, that is dependent on the type of infection and is not always the case.

How Parasites Affect Your Health - Sweet potatoes and social Change

 

Resources:

  1. Halliez, M. C., & Buret, A. G. (2013). Extra-intestinal and long term consequences of Giardia duodenalis infections. World Journal of Gastroenterology: WJG, 19(47), 8974–8985. doi:10.3748/wjg.v19.i47.8974

 

  1. Su, C.W., Cao, Y., Kaplan, J. Zhang, M., Li, W. , Conroy, M., Walker, A. W., & Shi, H. N. (2011). Duodenal Helminth Infection Alters Barrier Functions of the Colonic Epitheium via Adaptive Immune Activation. Infection and Immunity: 79(6), 2285-2294

Why I Am Proud To Be An Autoimmune Warrior

Why I am Proud to be an Autoimmune Warrior

Not long ago, I stumbled across an article addressing people who are facing chronic illness and autoimmune disease. The article made an appeal to its audience that the process of healing or managing illness didn’t need to be a fight, they didn’t need to be warriors. It went on to state that the warrior rhetoric present in the AIP community has the potential to make people feel like they are likely to fail and discourages them from accepting themselves for who they are. The overall message of the article was that in order to TRULY heal one must correct their thinking and accept themselves and their disease, rather then fight for a physical change.

Before I give my response to this, let me first say that I appreciate the varied views present in the world of healing and I fully respect each person’s right to have their own opinion. It is not my role to tell anyone how they should or should not feel about their own experience. As always, the role of my writing is to express my feelings about my own experience.

Why I Am Proud To Be An Autoimmune Warrior

I am proud to be an autoimmune warrior.

An autoimmune warrior is not someone who fears trying and failing but rather fears never being given chance. I fight against the fate handed down to me by doctors who said my life would be sub par, marred by illness and ending in my body inevitably failing me.

An autoimmune warrior doesn’t fight against their body but rather fights FOR it. I fight for the idea that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that my body is a creation of many parts, designed to work together rather than attack each other. I fight for the idea that my body didn’t start to fail until outside forces triggered it to do so.

An autoimmune warrior doesn’t accept the pain-filled status quo but rather fights for a brighter future, not only for themselves but for the world-wide community of autoimmune sufferers and for those who may avoid autoimmune disease through education and intervention. I fight for more research, more evidenced based practice, more integrative health models and more empowerment of patients, because I do not believe that we have learned all there is to know.

An autoimmune warrior finds joy in the journey, in their community, and in the knowledge that they are loved.

An autoimmune warrior is strong in spirit, even when their body is weak.

An autoimmune warrior greets each day with a renewed sense of purpose by forgiving the past and resolving to fight on.

An autoimmune warrior will always win the war, even if they lose a battle.

That is why I am proud to be an autoimmune warrior.

3 Tips For Dealing With a New Diagnosis

3 Tips for Dealing with a New Diagnosis

Diagnoses are tricky for those of us with chronic illness. We all know the emotional cocktail that comes from waiting for test results. Part of us waits in anticipation hoping that they will find something, anything, that will allow us to move forward and feel better. The rest of us waits is fear of the unknown scared of what those tests could or could not say.

Then when the news comes and we get that news we are stopped in our tracks. I remember going in for an exploratory surgery that was meant to find the endometriosis that I had been told I had for over 3 years only to wake up and hear that they had found nothing. Then, four years later I went in for a colonoscopy after experiencing some blood in my stool. I was assured that it was probably hemorrhoids, but when I woke up I was told that it was ulcerative colitis and shown pictures of the inside of my bleeding colon. This week I was waiting on results from a comprehensive stool analysis and out of nowhere I got an email from my doctor informing me that I had tested positive for a parasitic infection and a tapeworm… (WTF?) The emotions of these events always hit me in stages. At first I take it in stride because it is honestly overwhelming to take it all in. Then I go into the laugh it off stage where I just say something along the lines of, ”Oh whatever, this would happen to me” Then I go into the questioning and shocked phase where I just think back over past events trying to figure out how this could have happened, then anxiety about the future and ramifications of the diagnosis, then finally some level of acceptance.

Everyone has a different reaction to this type of event, but we can all agree that it is an emotional experience.

Here are 3 things that I have found make the experience a little bit easier:

 

1. Find A Doctor Who You Actually Want to Work With: 

With my past diagnoses I was working with doctors who I already felt had failed me before I even received my diagnosis. The OB/GYN who handled my suspected endometriosis had ignored my symptoms and stuck me on birth control for years. The gastroenterologist who gave me my UC diagnosis had ignored inflammatory markers in my stool test and insisted that I just had IBS for over a year until my symptoms got so bad I called the office begging for a colonoscopy. This time around though I m working with a doctor that I want to be working with. I feel confident that she has my best interest at heart and I agree with her methods. This takes a tremendous amount of the pressure off of me.

2. Be Honest With The People Around You:

If you’re like me and your issues and diagnoses tend to be of a sensitive nature your first inclination is to keep them a secret. I mean who really wants to tell their other 25 year old friends about their colonoscopy and their stool testing? However after years of doing that I finally realized that keeping secrets was only hurting me. When I was feeling ok it was fine, but when I was sick and I needed help no one knew how to help me. Now I am just honest and even though some people may be kind of grossed out when I tell them that I have a tapeworm at least two days later when I don’t feel well from the medicine and I need to stay in bed, they know why.

3. Confront The Diagnosis Head On:

Being in denial or feeling resigned to your fate is another very common coping mechanism, but it isn’t going to do any good. This is how I handled my UC diagnosis initially. I was in my lest semester of college I was engaged, planning a wedding, and the last thing I wanted to deal with was the thought of having a chronic disease. So, I didn’t. I just did what the doctor told me and carried on. The only problem with that was that a year and half later my life came tumbling down when the medicine stopped working and I couldn’t get out of bed. My new husband didn’t know what he had just signed up for and neither did I. We learned and we adjusted, but it was not easy. Sooner or later you will be forced to deal and it is much easier to start earlier.

3 Tips for Dealing with a new diagnosis

Hormonal Birth Control and Autoimmune Disease

Hormonal Birth Control and Autoimmune Disease

My Story: 

As many of you know, my specific interest and quasi expertise within the natural health realm lies in the world of women’s health. I am a childbirth doula and that has led me to become well versed in the issues that affect women, especially young women, on a daily basis. A doula is not a medical professional or someone who can make medical recommendations, but rather someone who is well versed in current research, evidenced based practice, and can point people in the direction of research and resources that they may find useful and helpful in making personal decisions. It is this mindset, combined with my own personal health journey and experiences that has led me to write this post on hormonal birth control (HBC) and autoimmune disease.

My journey with HBC began in eighth grade when I began to experience severe and unexplained abdominal pain on a daily basis. Many times each day I would be overcome by a contraction-like pain that would originate in my sides and back and would wrap around to my front and build to an excruciating level before dissipating about 2 minutes later. The pain would cause me to turn completely white and feel nauseated and light headed. However, it happened so frequently that I learned to just work through it so that no one would notice. This, partnered with frequent dull pain localized in the lower right quadrant of my abdomen became a regular and concerning experience. I went to the ER for an appendicitis more times than I can count and each time they would send me home without a diagnosis but the assumption that the pain was gynecological in nature. Shortly after the pain began, my mom took me to a friendly female OB/GYN who diagnosed me with suspected endometriosis. I was put on a birth control bill that suppressed all but four cycles a year and told that they would monitor it. The pain never really went away, but I kind of liked only having four periods a year and I was not in a place in life where I ever thought to question a diagnosis or a doctor’s advice. This went on for about 3 years when, in my junior year of high school, I agreed to an exploratory laparoscopy to have the long suspected endometriosis fully diagnosed and hopefully removed. I went to the hospital, went to sleep and fully expected to wake up to a full endometrial report. Instead, I woke up to my mom’s voice telling me that they hadn’t found anything. For three years I had lived with a completely unfounded diagnosis and now I was lying in a hospital bed for absolutely no reason. I was understandably frustrated but after three years it was fairly easy to just pick up and carry on. At this point, I was so used to being on HBC that I decided to just stay on it after the surgery. That was until about 6 months later.

Seemingly out of nowhere I started experiencing severe insomnia, anxiety, upsetting dreams, and feelings of emotional detachment. For a few months I kept these symptoms to myself hoping that they would just go away, but before long I began feeling increasingly depressed and detached and I told my mother how I was feeling. As someone who had never tolerated HBC well, she immediately identified my symptoms as HBC side effects and within days of stopping the pill I was feeling normal again.

After that experience, I stayed off of HBC for about a year and half but because my health was so poor that my hormones remained unbalanced and I dealt with terrible PMS symptoms, ovulation symptoms, and miserable periods. I felt like I was constantly at the mercy of my hormones. Hopeless, I decided to go back on the pill but unlike my early days of HBC use I reacted negatively to every single brand I tried. Some brought back my negative emotional symptoms, one brand made my hands shake constantly, others made me feel physically ill… the list went on and on.

Now through college and with my UC diagnosis, my abdominal pain had resolved and I was preparing to get married and needed to start looking at HBC for its intended purpose rather than just as the hormonal support supplement I had used it for up to that point. I had given up on the pill at this point, but I was still very young and unprepared to have children so I decided to try the Mirena IUD. I liked its reported high level effectiveness and I hoped that having the hormones secreted locally in the uterus rather than having to be digested and absorbed systemically would minimize the side effects.

For about a year I was happy. I had no visible side effects, I wasn’t getting pregnant, and my cycle was super light and short. However, after about a year I started to get painful ovarian cysts almost every month, then I started getting severe breast pain for two weeks out of every month and finally my hair started to fall out. Around that same time I kept running across horror stories of people experiencing seizures, tanking progesterone levels and infertility as a result of the Mirena. I have no idea if any of those stories were true or not, but I had begun AIP at the time and I knew that I would forever live with guilt if I experienced a life changing side effect from the Mirena that I could have prevented. I was still not in a place of being able to support a child so I wanted something that was still highly effective, my husband and I were still in the midst of graduate school craziness so NFP (Natural family planning) was not something that either of us could handle learning about or investing in. After doing my research, I decided to get a non-hormonal copper IUD. I have had it for almost a year now and I love it. It works perfectly for my life, I have had no side effects, and in fact through my diet and lifestyle changes my hormones have been able to balance out naturally. I was recently told by my integrative health doctor after a hormone panel that my levels are “perfect”. I am very happy with my decision, but it is just that MY decision. I know that this is a very personal decision so, here are some points about HBC and autoimmune disease pulled from recent research as well as a list of non-hormonal birth control options to consider.

Hormonal Birth Control and Autoimmune Disease

 

Research Points:

  • Sex hormones play a large role in regulating the immune system, which make them an important part of managing autoimmune disease (Dr. Sarah Ballantyne)
  • Using HBC and artificially altering sex hormones can make it more difficult to manage autoimmune disease (Dr. Sarah Ballantyne)
  • HBC depletes many vital nutrients including zinc and many of the B vitamins, which in turn weakens the immune system. (Chris Kresser)
  • HBC alters that state of the gut microflora increasing the likelihood of leaky gut, inflammation, gut dysbosis, and can even effect the gut microflora of future children. (Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride and Chris Kresser)

 

For information on recovering from long term HBC use check out this source

 

Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options:

Copper Paragard IUD: more than 99% effective, not dependent on correct use. Lasts for 10 years or more. Works by disrupting sperm and secreting copper into the uterus which affects implantation. Best for women who want to avoid pregnancy for an extended period of time. Must be put in by a health care provider. Does not protect against STIs.

NFP (Natural Family Planning): 80-98% effective depending on correct use. This is a great options for couples in a long term, monogamous relationship who are comfortable with the efficacy rate and are willing to work together to communicate and plan ahead. It is also best used when a woman has a predictable 28 day cycle. Does not protect against STIs.

Male Condoms: 85-95% effective depending on correct use. Easy to access, does not require a health care provider. Does protect against STIs.

Diaphragm: 86-94% effective depending on use. Does not protect against STIs. Good for a woman who does not want to rely on condoms and is comfortable with the efficacy rate. Must be fitted by a doctor.