About 6 months ago I decided to do the Autoimmune Protocol version of the Paleo diet because I felt like my immune system was constantly over-reacting, I had eczema on my legs and hands, and sore inflamed skin and severe acne on my face. I was extremely tired most of the time, hungry all the time despite eating A LOT of whole foods and my blood sugar would regularly drop so low I felt so dizzy I could hardly stand.
When I stopped having dairy my skin improved dramatically. My eczema cleared as did my acne and I felt great – for a few weeks, until it all started to come back again. And it got worse, and worse. By the end of March the skin on my face was pretty much constantly sore and inflamed with multiple acne lesions. It looked ‘angry’ and was so sensitive I didn’t even want to touch it to wash my face. I had also been quite ill with nausea and flu-like symptoms three times whereas before I had very rarely gotten sick, and was having on and off mild constipation whereas before I had ‘gone’ freely once or twice a day. I had started having difficulty falling and staying asleep (even when my son didn’t wake me) and my formally very strong nails were starting to weaken and come away from the nailbed. I needed to urinate quite frequently and my urine was smelling very strong. My eyesight was also deteriorating and I often felt like I couldn’t see clearly either with or without my glasses.
At first I thought the flu symptoms and skin problems might be a detox type reaction. Sometimes as your body heals you get worse before you get better as your body releases toxins. Unfortunately though, I never got better.
In the glow of getting better from stopping eating dairy, I asked my husband to see if a gluten and dairy free diet would help our daughter’s skin and behaviour issues. She too got itchy skin (mild eczema) on her legs and also on her arms. Behaviourally she was sensitive and anxious. She also had huge tantrums on a regular basis and was contrary about just about everything – even obvious things like for example once when we were driving in the country I pointed out some horses to our son but my daughter insisted they were cows – she is eight, she was not confused, it’s just like she throws up walls in defiance of whatever people say. Some of it may just be personality or kids being kids but I have always felt that it was more than that. I previously worked as a teacher and youth worker for over 10 years and to me our daughter’s behaviour is more extreme than normal.
My husband agreed to join us trialling a dairy and gluten-free Paleo diet for a month and then he liked the results and wanted to continue to eat that way. I was so happy that he and I were finally on the same page in terms of dietary health. It was so nice to be able to do it together.
However, like me, my daughter’s health did not improve, it got worse. Her behaviour did also not improve dramatically although I did observe some improvement when I started giving her an iron supplement. My daughter developed a rash on her inner elbow that has not responded to any treatment we have tried. She had also been complaining more frequently of sore stomachs and nausea, and often had difficulty getting to sleep and was waking during the night.
My husband was doing really well. He had lost weight and was feeling good. He hardly snored any more and seemed more positive, but it felt like the healthier my daughter and I ate, the sicker we got.
So, at the end of March I accepted something was wrong. I had identified a number of foods and environmental factors which seemed to trigger the inflammation and acne in my skin, but even if I avoided these my skin didn’t substantially clear. The list also seemed quite random. I couldn’t see a link between the triggers. Then I read that salicylate sensitivity is often a cause of eczema and when I looked up what foods and items contain salicylates, amost all of the foods I had identified that I was sensitive to were high in salicylates. Moreover, many of the foods that I had started eating a lot of on the Paleo diet like olive oil, coconut oil, almond meal, avocados, cucumber and zucchini were all high in salicylates. Lights started to go on and as I read through the symptoms of salicylate intolerance it began to make more and more sense that this could be the problem not just for me but also for my daughter.
So, at the beginning of April I started on an elimination diet to identify if salicylates, and also another compound called amines, were an issue for me. When I started on a low salicylate diet my skin began to clear almost immediately. It got better, but I was still having problems. One day it was particularly bad after I had a meal high in garlic, onions and leeks and someone suggested that sulphites might be a problem for me too. Avoiding those did result in an improvement in my skin, but one of the biggest challenges is not only identifying what I am reacting to but also what those compounds are in as it is not always obvious.
It has been an intense month of research and trial and error. It has felt like a lot of error and little success. I have had to go back to eating grains because pretty much all vegies seem to cause problems for me. This has taken a bit to get my head around mentally as well as the practicality of diet changes because all the foods that I have come to regard as the most nutrient dense and digestible ie best to eat for optimum health such as sprouted foods, fermented foods, organ meats, fruits and vegetablesseem to contain compounds that make me sick.
On Tuesday I am going to see a dietitian who specialises in food intolerances of this sort to see if I do intend have an intolerance to these compounds and to try and come up with a way to manage them because there seem to be very few foods I can eat without problems.
This is proving to be quite a stressful time and I am not sure where to go in terms of this website because my daughter and I will struggle to eat a Paleo diet if our food intolerances are confirmed.
At the moment I’m just breathing, trying to take one day at a time and be gentle with myself. I am working on making some lifestyle changes to incorporate more ‘me’ time into each week too because I know that reducing my stress levels and upping my personal happiness is critical to my regaining better health. It will also make for a happier family too I think.
So, that’s where I’m at currently and not sure where to from here, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do : )