I’m not sure how many of you tune into The Dr. Oz Show, but he is one M.D. who seems very supportive of alternative medicine. Since he has a famous TV show, I decided to submit my story to him for a “show idea” last week. To my knowledge, he has not covered this topic on his show, yet, so….fingers crossed!!
Here is my submission in its entirety for those of you who are interested….
How the American Lifestyle is Destroying Our Health & What We Can Do About it: My Journey from Fibromyalgia to Food
This is my personal “tragedy to triumph” story about how chronic illness led me to my life’s purpose. Because of what I’ve gone through, I’m on a mission to educate others about the hidden dangers lurking in most processed foods, and I sincerely hope that you’ll take the time to read the information I’m submitting here and agree that for the benefit of all of your viewers, this topic must appear on your show!
Although my particular health effects were diagnosed as “Fibromyalgia,” you could insert countless other health conditions and get this same story (and solution). For example, my sister suffered for years from excruciating abdominal pain. The doctors were ready to perform a hysterectomy. She decided to try dietary changes, instead, and her pain was gone in less than a week.
I’m hoping that The Dr. Oz Show will be just the right platform for getting this information out to the public!
Here’s my story….
“Fibromyalgia” stole several years of my life. In retrospect, it appears that I am one of the lucky ones. At the time, however, I wasn’t sure how I’d make it through another day – or what the point would be even if I did. I was in pure misery, suffering from an “invisible illness” for which there was no treatment and no cure – and, really, no clear cause. These were the worst years of my life by a long shot! I was 25 years old and was just finishing up my final year of graduate school. I was just getting started with my “adult life” when the rug was pulled out from under me. Life, as I had known it, was over!
Good health was something that I’d always taken for granted, I suppose. I lived the first 25 years of my life without any real medical problems – never a broken bone; no major surgeries; never a hospital stay; no chronic conditions; and no need for regular prescription medications. However, in August 2002, all of that changed. And, now, I am finally sitting down to tell my story to anyone who will listen. If just one person finds this useful, then it is well worth the time it takes to do so.
In preparation for this writing, I spent several hours reviewing my medical records at my doctor’s office and taking detailed notes. I am also blessed to have kept a “health journal” at various times throughout my years of illness, so I have compiled many of those details here, as well.
Before I get to the point about the dangers lurking in food, I’d like to provide you with a brief overview of what I experienced during the years of my illness from 2002-2007 so you can fully appreciate the incredible nature of my recovery.
Throughout that time period, I suffered horribly from the following symptoms at various times, which doctors ultimately labeled as “Fibromyalgia”…
• It all began with me feeling ill with what appeared to be “flu-like” symptoms. My throat was sore, and I was extremely fatigued; I couldn’t work more than half of the day because I would get so exhausted that I’d have to go home early. My muscles were very weak; it felt as though weights were tied to my arms. My neck was stiff and painful from the shoulder line to the base of my skull; it felt like someone had beaten me with a bat. I also had pain in my upper arms; this was more like a burning sensation that’s difficult to describe. Additionally, the glands in my neck and under my arms were sore and tender, and there was a similar soreness that spread across my chest, from underarm to underarm. I had intermittent chills, but never a fever.
As my illness progressed, the following symptoms affected me…
• Shooting pains in my left shoulder
• Neck stiffness and pain was one of my most unbearable symptoms. There was nothing I could do to get comfortable; and it was painful and exhausting just to hold my head upright. The part of the day that I most looked forward to was bedtime – I just longed to fall asleep because that’s the only time I wasn’t suffering.
• It felt like I had an awful case of the flu with horrible body aches, except it would NOT go away.
• The pain, tenderness and weakness in my neck, shoulders, arms and chest caused me to grow weary with daily life because the simplest of tasks had become a struggle. It was becoming impossible to lift things or to do things that required raising my arms above my head – I couldn’t even dry my hair without taking “rest breaks.” It was exhausting just to get up and get dressed and ready – let alone to go anywhere or to do anything!
• Tingling/numbness almost constantly in my upper arms and, intermittently, across my chest.
• A difficult-to-describe pain in my lungs. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like someone was scraping out the inner lining of my lungs with a razor blade. This is the symptom that basically robbed me of my personality and devastated me to the core. I had always been that “bubbly” person who loved to socialize and clown around. As this symptom progressed, I became less and less able to do so. I loved to sing along to music, especially while I was driving…but I just couldn’t do it anymore! in fact, this quickly became my gauge for whether or not I was having a “good day” – I’d rush into the house after work and tell my hubby, “Guess what, guess what….I was SINGING in the car on the way home today!” and we’d fill with joy at the thought that I’d had some relief, as temporary as it may be. Gosh, it sounds so silly and miniscule looking back on it now, but those little “glimmers of hope” really made a difference at the time!
• Another one of my most challenging symptoms was a “ripping pain” in my chest that felt like my ribs were tearing away from my sternum. Doctors often mistook this for Costochondritis.
• I would also have lots of “burning sensations,” especially from the base of my neck down my upper arms.
• I suffered for a while with IBS, as well. During that time, I lived on plain boiled chicken breasts and rice – just to avoid abdominal pain.
• Fatigue was also a major issue, so I originally thought I might have had Mono.
• I didn’t sleep well; I would awaken many times each night and often had much difficulty getting back to sleep – I would just wake up and feel wide awake in the middle of the night.
• I was hyper-sensitive to touch – I couldn’t wear a bra because it felt too constricting, like I couldn’t breathe well. I also couldn’t bear the pain if I would lie down and my shirt was folded over causing it to bunch up underneath me – just that much of a bulge in fabric could send me through the roof. I couldn’t lean against a wall because even that much pressure was too painful. Even to rest my elbows on my upper legs, as I’d like to do when sitting, was out of the question. And I couldn’t wear a seatbelt, either, because that pressure was way too painful.
• Driving was by far the worst task for me because just holding my arms up to the steering wheel was excruciating and exhausting for my neck, shoulders, arms and chest.
• Possibly one of my strangest symptoms, though, was that loud noises caused me pain. And I don’t mean that the noises hurt my ears or gave me a headache; I mean the pain I was feeling anywhere in my body was greatly exacerbated by loud noises such as the bass in loud music or children screaming in a phone caller’s background.
• It was also very painful for me to be startled. I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, but if someone startled me, it was like pain shot through my entire body somehow.
• Also, my heart would often race, and I could feel my pulse pounding throughout my entire body. Doctors treated me for “anxiety,” but I KNEW that was NOT me at all. I knew that my BODY was just exhibiting symptoms; I couldn’t figure out why it was happening, but I knew I wasn’t anxious.
• Extreme pain on the side of my face and a shooting pain in my right ear (diagnosed as TMJ)
• Stiffness in my knee joints. Particularly when bending or kneeling, it would feel like I needed to “oil” my joints in order to straighten them. Gradually, I began exercising less and less because of my knee pain and stiffness. Unfortunately, my PT could see no mechanical reason for this pain and wasn’t really sure what to do about it.
• Pain in my chest if I roll over, twist, cough or bend; and it is especially painful to strain or lift heavy things. It generally hurts way more if touched.
• Breathing became QUITE painful and often made me cry
• Crushing pain in chest
• Weird sensation in chest/lungs – like I was breathing a chemical
• Awakened in the night by a “ripping” pain in my chest – like my ribs are tearing away from my sternum. Somewhat similar to a shin splint feeling, but no one has been able to figure out what this is. I know what it is – EXCRUTIATING!
• Frequent nausea
• Intermittent abdominal pain – like a pole being pushed through my navel
• Feels like I am bruised all over (but no bruises are visible). Like someone beat me with a bat, especially at the base of the back of my neck and across my shoulders. Whole body is tender. Hurts to lean against objects – like leaning against a wall makes me want to cry.
• Squeezing pain in my chest is almost constant and often accompanied by shortness of breath. Especially painful when I walk quickly or try to talk while I’m walking. “Bouncy” car rides are painful for my chest, and the pain is worse if I bend over. It even hurts to sniffle.
• My rib cage hurts all over, especially when I have to lay down on it.
• Upper and lower jaw are stiff and painful. My forehead also hurts, so it’s painful to make any sort of facial expression or to lie on my face. It’s like my facial muscles are sore??
• Buttocks are very tender to the touch. I take a chair cushion with me to work, etc. and can no longer sit on our wooden kitchen chairs without one.
• My inner knees are so tender that it even hurts to lay on my side with one leg resting on the other. I absolutely cannot!
• Quadriceps are also especially tender. If I were to sit in a chair and rest my elbows on my thighs, the pain would send me through the roof!
• Burning pain, especially in my upper arms. Often at the base of the back of my neck and across my shoulders, too.
• Pain that feels like “swollen glands.” Feels this way in my armpits and all the way across my chest in between. Docs say my glands are fine, though.
• I cannot put my chin to my chest without a sharp “pulling” pain traveling down my spine. Feels like my spine will snap.
• Overall: On “good” days, I feel like an old lady; on bad days, it feels like I should be in the hospital.
• Strep tests
• Mono test
• x-rays of my chest and cervical spine
• complete neurological exam
• several rounds of blood work
• MRI of my cervical spine
• Tender Points exam
• Upper GI scope
• Abdominal ultrasound (gallbladder, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, aorta)
• H. Pylori test
• CT Scan
• Countless visits to primary physician
• Urgent Care clinic
• Physical Therapist
• Sports Medicine Clinic
• 2 Rheumatologists
• Pain Clinic
• Pain Psychologist
• 3 back-to-back rounds of Amoxicillin (for initial symptoms)
• Protonix (“in case I had Acid Reflux’)
By December 2004, it was becoming nearly impossible for me to fulfill my duties at work. I was running an after-school program for 125 inner-city youth and managing a part-time staff of nearly 20 people. I began to accept that, perhaps, I was destined to a life of “Fibromyalgia” as the doctors had been telling me. I was so run down from trying to find other answers that, eventually, the only “answer” I’d ever been given started to look better and better. For the first time, I started letting people know that I had Fibromyalgia. I must admit that it was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders to accept that that’s what was wrong with me – even though it meant that there was no cure, no known cause, and really no viable treatment options. It just felt good to have a “diagnosis” – a simple way to tell people about what was wrong with me – because, by this point, the not knowing and the trying to convince others that something was “legitimately” wrong with me were almost worse than the symptoms themselves sometimes.
Although it had been more than a year since my original diagnosis, it wasn’t until this point that I decided to accept it and to dig in to learning what, if anything, could be done for me. I returned to the Rheumatologist who had originally diagnosed me in hopes that he would have some recommendations. He was not of the opinion that drugs would do me any good, which I was relieved to hear since I had already started taking myself off of my meds because I felt like I couldn’t think straight anymore – I couldn’t think of the simplest words, I would proofread emails 3+ times before sending them out (and each time, I would find more silly mistakes). I just started thinking about how so many of the doctors would start me on 2 or 3 new meds at a time, and I began wondering, “even if I do improve, how the heck do they know which one is helping?” Plus, most of the drugs had side effects that were the very SYMPTOMS for which I was taking other drugs…it just didn’t add up…and NONE of the drugs had completely resolved ANY of my symptoms, anyway, so I felt I was just on the wrong path. The Rheumatologist sent me to a Pain Psychologist because he felt that the best thing for Fibro patients to do is to learn how to cope with the pain and fatigue that would always be part of their lives. I spent a few sessions there, and it was helpful.
By this time, it was taking everything in me to go to work each day and pretend that I felt good. I used to be able to “get through” the work day, “recover” all evening or weekend, and “bounce” back the next day. But now I felt crummy almost ALL day, so all of my “good energy” and “not so painful” time was spent at work. Then I was laid up in bed during my “free” time. My life at this point pretty much consisted of going to work and lying in bed. I didn’t do many “optional” things because I was BARELY able to do the things that were required (including my job at work). So I resigned my position and took a part-time job working just Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays.
I maintained that same part-time work situation for a couple years. I’m not sure my symptoms actually improved much after leaving my full-time stressful position, but I was able to cope with them much more easily because my work schedule was more bearable and I had every other day off to “recover.” I was still in pain most of the time, but I was functioning much better. I still wasn’t wearing a bra or a seatbelt, etc., but I wasn’t laid up in bed during all of my free time, either.
Then, while visiting my mother in-law for a long weekend in May 2007, I picked up a book she had laying around the house. It was called Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau. The major take-home message for me from this book was that, if you want to feel well, you must pay attention to what’s in the INGREDIENTS list on everything you put in your mouth. WOW! I had never, ever thought about it that way. Until this time, the only information I paid attention to on labels were the nutrition facts – I tried to minimize calories/fats/carbs to control my weight. I was totally the Lean Cuisine meals, diet pop and protein bars type of person until that day – I could NOT believe what I was reading. It was the hugest wake-up call I’ve ever had!
I borrowed the book from her, and the hubby and I read it all the way home on the airplane. For whatever reason, the book just REALLY struck us both to the core. The strange thing is that we never even thought about the information in terms of it possibly relieving my Fibromyalgia. Why would we, though? After all, every doctor we spoke to and everything we read stated the “fact” that this was a chronic condition which had no cure.
On the flight home, we decided that from then on, we would only eat foods if we understood every bit of what was in the ingredients list – no more mysterious, health-depleting ingredients for us! We arrived home that night to the harsh reality that there was really nothing in our kitchen that we could eat -literally. It was late Sunday night, and we had to work the next day. To save money, we were always the type to pack our own lunches, but suddenly we had nothing to pack. Our kitchen full of frozen Lean Cuisine entrees, Slim Fast bars and diet soda was no longer of any use to us. Luckily we had some apples in the fridge. So that became lunch. Literally, we each took just an apple because that was the only acceptable, REAL food that we had in our kitchen! The rest was processed junk that had been created in a lab somewhere for all we knew.
The next night, we started purging our kitchen of all of the junk and headed to our local health food store in search of some grass-fed meats and organic produce. We had NO idea what we were doing, and we even thought the place smelled funny. We were definitely in a foreign land! But we learned as we went. Heck, we’re still learning all these years later!
As part of our kitchen purge, we literally gave food away to our neighbors, sold non-perishables at our garage sale (and no one even asked why we were selling ketchup and chewing gum!). We were convinced that we had been eating poison, and it’s kind of difficult to tell yourself, “Well, let’s just finish eating up this toxin-filled, lab-created garbage and then start over”! Geez, we even felt guilty giving it away – it seemed unethical to do anything other than burn it, really.
That was that. We switched “cold turkey” away from the Standard American Diet that we’d been eating for so many years without ever giving it a thought. And, yes, that meant no more soda!!! For 4 days, my hubby had the most awful headache (his pop of choice had been Diet Mt. Dew – – full of caffeine and Aspartame), and it took a few days for his body to adjust!
A couple weeks later, my hubby realized that he hadn’t had a headache since we changed our diet (well, except for that 4-day withdrawal, of course!). Prior to our dietary overhaul, he had headaches every day, which we had assumed were “sinus problems” – he took sinus meds and pain pills every 4 hours every day before we changed our diet. Crazy, huh? He has never needed them since!
Three months after changing our diet, I realized that I was kind of bored with only working 3 days per week. I decided to take on a second part-time job. Then, it dawned on me…wait a minute….I’m working five days per week again, and I’m doing fine! I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT! I asked my husband, “When is the last time you can recall me saying that I didn’t feel well or staying home on the weekends, etc.?” Well, it had been so long that neither of us could think of any examples. It was like I had gotten my life back bit by bit -kind of like when you have a headache and then later you realize “Oh hey, I don’t have a headache anymore…wonder when that went away.”
It sounds crazy, I know, but that’s how things went down. My symptoms just disappeared so gradually, that we took it for granted. Of course, with Fibromyalgia, symptoms can often “come and go” and vary frequently, so we were kind of used to me feeling better or worse at different times and in different ways. In other words, Fibro symptoms often wax and wane. Well, my symptoms waned….and waned…and never came back. And it was the best day of my life when we came to that realization!
Did I ever have “Fibromyalgia” or is that a label I was tagged with because no one could figure out another explanation? Do I still have an “illness” but it’s just under control through dietary changes? Are some people just more sensitive to food additives than others? From what I’ve read, we all have individual biochemistries, so perhaps I’m low on Vitamin E….or Magnesium…or any number of other things that causes me to react in more severe ways than some other folks? These are all questions to which I may never have answers, but there’s one thing I know for sure – as long as I avoid hidden additives and fake foods, I feel perfectly fine. And all the doctors could offer me through all those years was drug after drug in an attempt to patch me up with band-aids for each new ailment….and it didn’t work! Unfortunately, most docs are not trained in nutrition, let alone in the sneaky tactics of the food industry, so I’m sure they were doing the best they could with the knowledge they had. But this is why this information MUST get out there in the mainstream!
After living without symptoms for more than a year, I was working as a nanny. I did most of the grocery shopping for the family because they had seen my recovery and also gotten interested in avoiding food additives, so I’d go to the store for them to ensure that their food was “clean.”
Much to my horror, I came home from work one day crying and had to lay in bed because, as I thought at the time, “my Fibromyalgia was back” – My chest/lung symptoms were back in full force! Arrggg!! I was so devastated. My hubby reassured me, telling me I’d be fine and that it had to have been something I ate. I scoffed at him because I pack my own lunch for work, and I had eaten everything that was “safe;” nothing out of the ordinary.
Later that night he pleaded, “Are you SURE you didn’t eat ANYTHING at work?” I gave it some thought and said, “Well sure, I ate some peanuts, but I bought those MYSELF for their family earlier this week and the ingredients were totally safe – just peanuts!” He insisted that I double-check the next day at work. And there it was on the ingredients list….”monosodium glutamate.” I couldn’t BELIEVE it! Even though I was thoroughly convinced that my Fibromyalgia had been resolved through clean eating, it was VERY hard to swallow that just inadvertently eating a handful of additive-filled peanuts could make me suffer so much! Needless to say, I was MAD. I pretty much started on a “crusade” to inform as many people as I could about monosodium glutamate (which is hidden under dozens of names on food labels) and aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.
So, how did this happen to me? When I inquired about the peanuts, I found out that the family had eaten through all of the peanuts that I had originally purchase, so the mother grabbed some at the same store. She bought the same BRAND, but a different VERSION. She bought the “low sodium” version, but I didn’t even check the label when I ate them because I assumed it was the same jar I had purchased. When food companies reduce the amount of sodium in a product, they usually replace it with SOMETHING to flavor it. And that something is almost always BAD NEWS (i.e., MSG disguised in one way or another).
Through the years, I’ve had a couple more experiences like the one above. Once from attempting to go out to eat and once from over-dosing on cream cheese….which I hadn’t yet learned was a glutamate risk due to the guar gum it contains. Other than that, I’m completely FINE. In fact, I feel better/healthier/stronger than most people I know! Because Aspartame affects our nervous system in similar ways as glutamate (MSG), I’m sure that ingredient didn’t do me any favors back in my “Fibromyalgia” days, either, since I was living on fake, “sugar-free,” Aspartame-laden versions of just about everything. But I’ve never “re-tested” with or accidentally ingested artificial sweeteners to find out, and you couldn’t pay me to do so!
After reading that initial book that prompted us to change our diet, I read every book I could get my hands on. I started with the books that were referenced in Kevin Trudeau’s book. Then I moved on to the books referenced in those books, and so on. If our public library owns it, and it’s about food, then I can assure you I’ve read it cover to cover! The more I read about Aspartame (an artificial sweetener), the more I wondered if THAT is what had caused Chad’s “sinus” headaches because that was in much of what we had been eating (Diet Mt. Dew, chewing gum, protein bars, and other sugar-free items, etc.). Conveniently, a friend of mine always had headaches every afternoon and she, too, drank diet soda every day. I recommended that she try giving up just her diet sodas – and change nothing else in her diet. Her headaches disappeared, too – and her soda didn’t have caffeine, so we could more easily attribute her pain to the artificial sweetener. She couldn’t believe it and neither could we!
Every book I read was more and more shocking. Then, I found the work of Dr. Russell Blaylock, M.D. (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2141666279271222294#), and I REALLY got fired up. It would be a dream come true to see HIM as a guest on your show, too!!! He’s a board certified neurosurgeon who practiced for more than 24 years. He was also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, but then he retired and ran a private nutritional practice. He’s written several research-based books about the health effects of excitotoxins (e.g., glutamate and aspartate) in our food; and he’s lectured on the topic extensively, as well.
After reading books by him and others, I really started to get mad because I learned how well this garbage is hidden in our food. After working with clients over the past couple years, I’ve really gotten fired up because even folks who THINK they are eating well and who are putting tons of time, effort and money into lifestyle changes are STILL being hit with these excitotoxins because they are often hidden on ingredients labels under the most benign sounding names (e.g., “natural flavor,” “spices”) or added to foods that you would assume are just ONE ingredient pure “whole” foods like peanuts and sour cream! After reading Blaylock’s books I realized how lucky I am to have happened upon this information because these excitotoxins can cause and/or aggravate a wide array of health conditions (e.g., headaches, migraines, low energy, insomnia, fertility issues, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, endocrine disorders, cancer, stroke, digestive disorders, eye diseases, degenerative brain disease – the list goes on and on!). From what I’ve read, some folks are even diagnosed with things like Lupus, MS, etc. and then their symptoms resolve when they successfully eliminate these excitotoxins from their diets.
My passion in life is to educate others and help as many people to regain their health as I can. Folks have such a hard time believing that these lifestyle changes can make such a difference, and they are so resistant to giving up their old ways, but I’ve never met a person who tried the dietary changes and didn’t feel better. There is garbage in our food that is making us sick, tired and overweight. And it is so great to have someone as well respected as YOU on national television telling people the TRUTH.
A couple years ago, I founded a non-profit organization called Completely Nourished through which I operate an online community (CompletelyNourished.org) to educate folks about natural food, natural health and natural living and to give them a place to interact with each other. I also recently started my own business at GroceryGeek.com through which I blog and also offer personalized consultations (in home and at the grocery store) for folks in my hometown to help them reduce their reliance on health-depleting processed foods. Last year, I also put together my own cookbook to help folks take a step away from the standard American (i.e., processed) diet. None of these are goals that I ever had in life. Back when I was ill, I had no idea how to even cook! My mom still shakes her head in awe every time she comes to dinner these days! It’s all just evolved out of my need to save others from enduring what I went through. I knew nothing about running websites or non-profits, and I knew nothing about creating recipes. I just knew that I HAD to do SOMETHING!
I know that my story has inspired many people, and I would love the opportunity to really get the word out on your show. I’ve been waiting for years to send my story to a TV show, and it just never seemed like the right opportunity. However, I have discovered from tuning into your show, especially this season, that you are an advocate for folks eating REAL foods; and that is just what I’m trying to inspire folks to do. After viewing such controversial episodes of yours as when you hosted Jeffrey Smith and aired a story about GMO foods and also the other day when you suggested that “drug companies may be creating illness to sell us more drugs,” I knew the time was right to send you my story and that you’d be open to listening to what I have to say.
I am not some freak who’s out to get doctors or the drug companies. I believe firmly that the medical community has a very important role in the case of emergency medicine. If I’m in a car accident or I cut my finger off while cooking all of my healthy food, I’ll be the first one to run to the hospital. But people have GOT to take their day-to-day health into their OWN hands and adopt a lifestyle that doesn’t create illness.
It tears me up to think about all of the people who are needlessly suffering (as I was) because of chemical-laden diets and lifestyles – not to mention the time and money that is wasted on medical diagnostics, drugs and procedures when simple lifestyle changes would suffice. I am fired up about this and I have no choice – I am morally obligated to do as much as I can to change the way folks approach their health! And there is truly nothing more fulfilling for me than to help people make these changes!
I’m writing to you because I truly believe that your show could provide the much needed tipping point on this topic. I greatly appreciate the sincerity that you display on a regular basis when pleading with your audience to make lifestyle changes, and the credibility of M.D.s behind this topic is desperately needed. Because your show is so fun (and full of props and hands-on demonstrations), I know you are just the right guy to “break down” this complicated topic for the American people and help me spread this information and save other lives like mine! I would love for you to explain (or have a guest like Dr. Blaylock to explain) exactly how excessive amounts of excitotoxins like glutamate and aspartate overload our nervous systems leading to a variety of ailments and diseases. And I would love to help you teach America how these dangerous ingredients are disguised in most processed foods and what we can choose to eat instead. Knowledge is power, and sooner or later this information is going to hit the mainstream. I hope it’s on YOUR show!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your time and consideration in reading my story. I hope to partner with you soon on this extremely important crusade!