Saturday, July 05, 2008

I found a way to beat my eczema

I never did make myself start the UltraSimple Diet that I mentioned two posts ago. It requires quite a bit of planning and discipline... more effort that I've been willing to give. My primary reason for wanting to start this cleanse diet isn't for weight control, it's to find out exactly what I might be allergic to.

I've had eczema for as long as I can remember. It's been an itchy, life-long battle, and one I've never come close to winning... until now! One of the ideas behind this period of dietary restriction is that some foods cause mild allergies that manifest in the form of a delayed reaction. For some it's asthma, for others it's sinus congestion, for me it's eczema, mostly on my hands.

What I did instead was to cut out some of the food items listed as possible allergens for many people. What I found out was I'm allergic to wheat, milk and possibly chocolate. I was really hoping wheat wouldn't be a problem for me, because it's in so many foods that I love. Unfortunately this wasn't the case. For a week I refrained from eating bread, pasta, cookies, crackers, pizza, and cereal containing wheat. The irritating rash on my hands gradually began to clear up!

I was both thrilled and dismayed at the same time. I had some lasagna one day, and the next two days new itchy blisters appeared on my hands. No more wheat for me. I was sad, but at least now I know one of my problems!

After banning wheat from my diet, I would sometimes experience new rash breakouts... meaning there were one or more other items I might be allergic to. A friend had brought over a gallon of milk and I had been having that for breakfast with my corn-based cereal. (I normally drink soy milk.) I stopped using the milk and my eczema again began to clear. Yogurt and cheese don't seem to be as big a problem for me as milk, but I still have to be careful about my dairy intake.

Why couldn't it have been peanuts? That's easy to avoid. I wouldn't have been quite so affected if it had been something not quite so ubiquitous as wheat and dairy. It makes it increasingly difficult to be a vegetarian.

As for chocolate, I have suspicions about it. I've been abstaining for a couple weeks now, so I'll have myself a dark chocolate candy bar soon and see if anything happens a few days afterward.

If you'd like to try this strategy of identifing possible allergens in your diet, be sure to carefully read ingredient lists on the foods you buy. Also, research what foods are wheat-based that might be called something else. For example, cous-cous, grahm crackers, and semolina are all made from wheat. When you do start cutting foods from your diet, give at least a week to see results. Patience is key. Good luck!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to get rid of cold sores (aka fever blisters)

Cold sores are one of those annoying and embarrassing things that people hate to deal with, and seem to pop up when you least want them. Let's face it, when do we ever want those damn things? It's a simple virus infection, but they can be persistent.

I never used to get cold sores much, and can't remember when it ever started. However, ever since I became vegetarian my the recurrence of blisters has more than quadrupled. I couldn't figure out why until I researched the virus a little more. Now that I know more, I'd like to share my knowledge and what has worked for me.

First of all, several things can trigger an outbreak:
  • Sun exposure
  • Excessive wind exposure
  • Stressed immune system (like when you're sick)
  • Foods high in arganine (like chocolate, nuts, and oatmeal)
The first two are easy enough to deal with. Just limit your exposure to wind and sun (my apologies if you're an avid skier, cyclist, whatever). That last item is what caused my more frequent blister outbreaks. When my diet changed, the nutrients I was getting changed as well, more than I realized.

Viruses seem to thrive on arganine, so naturally foods high in that amino acid will be feeding your virus infections. On the other hand, lysine seems to impede the virus' ability to absorb arganine. Therefore, foods high in lysine and low in arganine are ideal for keeping your cold sores at bay.

The reason my outbreaks became more frequent after I cut meat out of my diet is because meats naturally contain high amounts of lysine. Couple that with the fact that I relied more on nuts for protein than in the past, and you can see how I developed a bit of an imbalance.

It's not just about avoiding foods high in arganine. You also want food high in lysine. This chart will help you identify the foods with the highest and lowest lysine to arganine ratio.

Additionally, I have been taking Lysine supplements. I take one 500 mg pill a day, unless I feel that familiar tingling in my lip, then I increase it to two a day. If the area starts to feel slightly rough, like the blister is about to form, then I increase to three pills a day (over the course of the day, not all at once). I've found that this usually prevents the outbreak and the blister site smooths out and becomes normal again.

I'm so relieved that I've found this solution to my problems. I was starting to feel like some kind of leper with cold sore outbreaks every two months. I always thought I was eating healthy, and I hardly ever got sick. Turns out my diet was too low in lysine to stop the virus from flaring up.

As a final note, bear in mind that I am not a doctor or nutrionist. Please don't down a bottle of lysine in one day and then wonder why you have diarrhea. If you have doubts or experience anything unexpected or worrisome, do talk to a doctor about it. I'm just a regular person sharing her experiences in the hopes of helping someone else.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Trying out the UltraSimple Diet

I've been reading this book called The UltraSimple Diet, by Mark Hyman, M.D. I've been reading it not because I'm interested in losing weight, but because it's more about detoxifying and clearing up allergies. I've been a lifetime sufferer of hand eczema as well as mild asthma. Traditional Western medicine is all about treating the symptoms, and have only given me creams and inhalers. Eastern medicine attempted to treat me with herbs, but the dedication required to continually brew and quaff that nasty, bitter stuff is more than I have in me.

The main goal of this book is a 7-day detoxifying diet, where accumulated pesticides, PCBs, trans fats and other toxins are flushed from your system. The other effect that it claims is to clear up skin conditions, allergies, fatigue, sleeplessness, and numerous other maladies that a lot of people suffer from and doctors only dole out pills for. The author asserts that all these afflictions are caused by toxin buildup and delayed reactions to certain foods.

Traditionally most people and doctors think of allergies as an immediate reaction to an allergen. But this book says that there's another kind of allergy that could take up to 72 hours to manifest reactions. If this is true, then it's no wonder I can never figure out what is causing my problems. Cutting out a food item for a day or two just isn't enough.

My main goal for trying out this 7-day diet is to find out exactly which food is causing my problems. I really hope it isn't eggs. Or corn. Or wheat. Or dairy. Shoot, I just listed the top 4 food allergens listed in the book. Can you see me pouting? Well anyway, one step at a time. Assuming my problems clear up after this diet, I can then slowly reintroduce the foods one at a time and see which one causes a reaction.

The book says part of this process includes journaling, so I'll probably use this blog to do that. Hopefully I don't get lazy.

Update - May 15 - Sorry, as you probably guessed, I never did get around to trying out this cleansing diet. It's a radical change in eating habits that requires quite a bit of planning, preparation and dedication. If I ever do get around to it, I'll be sure to post my results.