Medicine is supposed to be a precise science. One set of symptoms means one disease, usually with one treatment. At least in the text books. In the real world, all bets are off. Just because a patient has one disease does not mean they couldn’t have another, and another. When patients complain of fatigue, general achy-ness, stomach cramps, headaches, and lack of focus, Doctors are often baffled. They are basically flipping through one chapter after another in their mental database, trying to find one disease that will explain all. A hundred years ago, we just made up a word, and called it “liverish-ness”. Nice way of ducking the question. Now, with patients quick onto Google, that bluff answer won’t work for long.
So what can we do about these multi-system complaints? After a routine physical examination, and tests to rule out hidden dangers, I often consider a therapeutic trial of diets. The patient needs a pencil and paper, to record daily diet intake, as well as symptoms.
We now turn our attention to the most common offenders in today’s diet: The Big Three in the Devil’s Kitchen:
1. “White Death”
Otherwise known as white sugar. White flour also turns to sugar in minutes.
Because neither comes with its original equipment of whole fibers, then both are instantly absorbed and cause inflammatory results right away. As inflammation is the basis of all disease, this means that virtually all symptoms can be flared up, from hyperactivity and depression to muscle aches and colitis. In their whole form, sugars and starches that are still encased in their fruit or grain bodies are fine. They come with lots of fiber to fill the stomach, and slow the rate of absorption. Once all the fiber is “refined” away, then the body is vulnerable. As a simple illustration, our stomach can probably only hold three apples and a glass of water. But if we remove the fiber from the apples, and boil off the liquid from the juice, we get a sugar-filled concentrate, or eventually a powder. Now we could fill up the stomach with the sugar of fifty apples, and still have room for more!
Action Item: Because “white death” is junk food, it doesn’t need replacement in our grocery carts. Just removal.
Brilliantly marketed as “Nature’s Perfect Food”, milk is only perfect if you are a three-hundred pound heifer. One should note that even cattle are smart enough to quit milk once they grow up; it is only humans who persist after they become adults. And we drink the milk of a different species. Dairy products taste great, and in many cases cause no immediate or obvious side effects. But in the case of “liverishness” symptoms, it is one of the likely offenders, causing unnatural challenges to the human imune system. Remember, there is twelve pounds of milk in a pound of cheese, so that means trying your pizza with “extra-no cheese”. Also note that singers never drink milk between songs, as the mucous thickens immediately in the throat; so avoid all dairy the next time you have a cold, cough, or earache.
Action Item: If you are having vague symptoms, try excluding all dairy for four weeks. Then try and introduce it for an occasional meal; take a look at your records to see if there is a connection. If your symptoms are connected, then leave the dairy alone; otherwise bon apetit!
Now this one is tricky, as it is found in lots of excellent foods, like whole grain pastas and breads. But there is a significant number of people (quoted as high as 40%) that can have some reaction to it. It may be as simple as a bit of gassy bloating after a meal, but for many it can mean abdominal pains, muscle aches, headaches, and insomnia just for a start.
Action Item: Once you have spent a month on your “dairy diary”, you may already have your answer. If your symptoms are still present, however, you can elect to go back to the milk products, and move on to the exclusion of gluten for the next month. This requires some persistence, but you can find “gluten-free” labels on pizza crusts, sandwich wraps, breads, pastas and even pastries. When in doubt, just stick to fish, eggs and green vegetables as a mainstay. At the end of the month, see if your record shows any improvements. If not, then you can return to full diet. For more info on gluten, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten
Note that the above is simply an adjunct to the process of investigation. If symptoms persist, and your record shows food intake is irrelevant, then your doctor can escalate the investigations as needed. Better to solve your symptoms back at the grocery store, before needing to involve the hospital!