A change in my diet was certainly the most important step I took to heal (which is why it's #1 in my list). But after an immune/neurological reaction to a flu shot in 2011, I needed more help than just eating gluten-free. The following are what I would rate as the top 10 methods that I discovered to help me slowly recover and get more quality of life back.
10. Improving sleep:
Getting good sleep with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. This is a chicken vs. egg issue. My sleep improved as a result of my diet and health improving, but I also took steps to improve my chances to sleep well.
- I try to shower or take a warm bath before bed.
- I have to strictly avoid laptop and phone use for at least 2 hours or more before bed
- I have blue light blocking glasses that I use to watch TV before bed (cheap on Amazon)
- I keep the lights lower and use candles and yellow bulbs for late evening lighting.
- I try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
- I don't use an alarm unless absolutely necessary. If my body needs extra sleep (always around periods, extra stress, and viruses), then I let it do its thing.
- Currently trying out a "brown noise" mp3 at night (lower frequency than white noise).
9. Filtered water and herbal tea:
I used to rely on our fridge filter to clean our tap water. Then I learned that it only removed chlorine *odor,* not chlorine itself. That was enough for me to desire some extra filtration since chlorine in the water can hamper the intestines recovering normal bacterial balance. We use a hand-held filter from Grayl. I fill with water, slowly press the filter down (bicep workout), and pour. All the water I drink and cook with daily goes through the Grayl.
I drink plain water regularly throughout the day. Using this water to make organic herbal tea (no additives or flavorings) has helped my liver and digestion significantly:
- milk thistle, liver support
- ginger and licorice, stomach/nausea aid and adrenal support
- Numi Green Rooibos, overall antioxidant benefit - increased by adding lemon juice
- Gaia Gas and Bloating or peppermint, gas/bloating
- Tulsi or ashwagandha - Adaptogenic teas like these can help manage stress. They usually give me funny side effects like drowziness or being extremely wired or diarrhea. If you make it in weak tea form, you can experiment with how you may react with as little fallout as possible.
If I'm being careful about what I put in my mouth, I need to be careful about what I put on my skin. Since I didn't want to absorb all the chemicals in soaps and deodorants, I gradually switched to products with ingredients that wouldn't put an added strain on my body.
Some favorite brands I found:
- Organic Excellence shampoo and conditioner (free shipping through EarthTurns.com)
- Just So soaps by Andrea Fabry
- Salubritas deodorant (alternatively, plain coconut oil works fine in winter)
- Recently decided to order a non-baking soda deodorant from "Meow Meow Tweet" to try based on rash/irritation from the high pH of baking soda. This product is incredible!
- Ecco Bella and RMS Beauty makeup
- Nature's Gate toothpaste
- Ancient Minerals magnesium lotion or gel (instead of supplements that gave me cramping and diarrhea)
7. Natural probiotics:
Nothing on this list has caused me more difficulty than finding probiotics I can tolerate. I have been through tons of "probiotic phases." There was the water kefir phase, the store-bought almond yogurt and lactose-free yogurt phase, homemade almond yogurt, soy yogurt, and coconut yogurt phase, homemade dairy kefir and coconut kefir, Phillips colon health capsules, wrapping up with local fermented pickles, and grass-fed Maple Hill Creamery yogurt (dairy). I could probably create an entirely new blog about failed attempts at eating probiotics.
The ones I like right now:
- Maple Hill Creamery yogurt requires no homemade hassle, but it is grass-fed dairy and can give me some digestive problems if I eat too much of it, especially in the winter when the diet of the cows changes. I can't promote dairy consumption unless it's fermented dairy to get probiotics. If kefir works for you, I'd recommend that over yogurt.
- Fermented pickles offer a dairy alternative. You can make these in a mason jar or find a local company/farmer's market that offers a line of fermented foods.
- Redwood Hill Farm Plain Goat Yogurt - Currently under trial and loving it.
6. Natural antifungals:
I could not have healed without regular dosing of antifungals. Looking back, I went at the dosing too aggressively and wish I would have been more patient. However, it was a good learning experience. I initially took supplements of olive leaf and oregano oil. I still use Gaia olive leaf periodically when I get a virus which greatly reduces my symptoms. I would not ever recommend long-term use of olive leaf or oregano oil like I did. Topical use of oregano oil has recently helped heal an infection under my eye.
Harmless ways to fight bacterial, parasitic, and fungal problems:
- Cold pressed, unprocessed organic coconut oil (I cook with this and eat it daily.)
- Garlic (crushed raw garlic in guacamole or on gluten-free toast is incredibly effective)
- Crushed papaya seeds (taken with honey or in a smoothie can be an effective anti-parasitic)
- Peppermint (capsules can treat bacterial overgrowth)
- Olive leaf extract (I relied on this completely to treat my unresolved viral symptoms)
- Oregano oil (took for a short time (a couple weeks) to take a break from olive leaf)
- Candicid-Forte (recommended by integrative health MD - no harmful effects from it)
- Turmeric (eventually raised my liver enzymes with daily use for about a year, so obviously would not recommend long-term)
5. Soaking in detox baths:
Oh the relief! I cannot imagine healing without detox baths. It would be intolerable to bear with all the symptoms as my body struggled to remove the toxins building up during treatment. When I took too much of an antifungal or overdid it on the probiotics, I got such relief from soaking in a bath of:
- Epsom salts
- Bentonite clay
4. Whole food organic multivitamin:
The number of failed attempts at finding a tolerable multivitamin approached the level of my probiotic hunt. I even took a break and decided I should juice vegetables to get vitamins instead. I had so many opened and unusable vitamin bottles at one point that I had to do a mass email to my female friends to find new homes for them. Most people can take a normal vitamin and be ok. I had strange side effects, even on the most premium brands - feeling wired, diarrhea, abnormal spotting from added herbs, and sometimes I just didn't see the point of trying anymore pills. Finally, after I'd given up, my mom found THE one.
The brand that agreed with me and gave me a natural feeling of energy and well-being...
3. Stretching with easy yoga and basic Tai chi/qi gong:
Undoubtedly the best maintenance for my health and mood is my stretching routine. This helps clear my lymph system, increase circulation, helps me sleep, and makes me feel all-around better than any pill or supplement. I do DVDs at home that I tried first for free through the library:
- Easy Yoga with Suzanne Deason - I started with this DVD because I could lie down for most of it. Here is a preview of the first 5 minutes.
- Discover Tai chi with Scott Cole - I prefer his Fitness and Back Care DVDs. I would recommended starting with his Beginners DVD to see if you like his teaching style. Special note: I could not do these Tai chi DVDs until my diet changes allowed me to stand up.
2. Gut healing with bone broth:
The main point of all of this treatment is to heal the gut. For a long time, I didn't think I needed to do anything other than maintain my diet and wait for the antifungals to work. This was a big mistake. My healing really accelerated when I got on the bone broth and gelatin wagon. I had taken L-glutamine powder prior to this, and it did help the lining of my gut heal (a good start), but it was nothing compared to supplemental gelatin (Great Lakes brand is grass-fed - green can/hydrolysate dissolves in smoothies and red can/gelatin makes actual jello, which is what I prefer) and homemade bone broth (natural gelatin). Eating grass-fed gelatin/jello daily finally gave me relief from unbearable period cramping and PMS. Over time, I have gravitated toward the bone broth for my gelatin source because of its additional nutritional and healing benefits.
[I have also added in a whole-food zinc supplement which I have read can work to heal the intestine from ulcerative colitis as well as correct deficiencies common with digestive problems like leaky gut.]
Easy bone broth recipe:
- Enjoy a roasted organic "Smart Chicken" for dinner.
- Wrap the remaining bones, fat, meat, and joints to put in the fridge.
- The next morning, put the entire carcass and skin in a pot with 8-10 cups of filtered water.
- In large chunks, chop up about 3-4 medium organic carrots and 3-4 stalks of organic celery.
- Add 1 tsp salt.
- Add 1 Tablespoon raw organic apple cider vinegar. (this extracts minerals from bones)
- In large chunks, chop up 1 medium organic onion.
- Peel and crush a few cloves of garlic.
- Optional: fresh leaves of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
1. Complete dedication to an anti-inflammatory diet:
There is a lot I can say about an anti-inflammatory diet that I have learned since the last time I wrote about diet here. I plan to make the next post entirely about how my diet changed and how I stuck with it without feeling completely deprived.
The most important changes I made to my diet are:
- Cut out all added sugar
- Cut out ALL gluten
- Avoid dairy (other than small amounts of fermented dairy for probiotics)
- Avoid grains (small amounts of organic rice/rice pasta or gluten-free Udi bread are ok for me)
- Avoid ALL junk processed foods, additives, dyes, sugar substitutes
- Increased healthy fats (avocado, organic olive oil, organic coconut oil, soaked organic nuts)
- Increased organic vegetable intake
- Increased the quality of meat when possible - grass-fed organic beef, organic poultry, wild fish
This is a lot of information to take in. If you have any questions about my experiences, please post in the comments! Many of these lifestyle changes occurred gradually through trial and (much) error over the course of years. If you feel overwhelmed and want to make one change right away, I would encourage all people with dysautonimia or autoimmune symptoms to talk with their doctor about going off gluten (all grains if possible), dairy, and sugar/processed white carbs right away and staying off of them. These are not groups of food necessary for our health, and they are widely known to increase inflammation in the body, worsening whatever health issues already exist.
Please be encouraged that progress can be slow but possible; it takes years to recover. Some days I felt worse when I was healing than before I started, but then I would suddenly get a burst of functioning better than I had in months, and it would help me to keep going.
Next blog will be about diet...