I realized all by my little self this week that the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that I have been experiencing, as well as all of my other health problems over the past 2+ years all stem from my intestinal problems. Two years and four months ago, while I was deep in the Sierra Mountains and hiking at altitudes of 11,000-14,500 feet with giardia, I accepted two antibiotic pills from a fellow thruhiker. He was a nurse and carrying the pills in case he got infected, himself. I was very surprised that he said it was a single dose, but took his word for it. Those two pills (and the two more he gave me two days later) ended up obliterating my gut. Because most of the “good”, necessary bacteria in my system was killed off, I got infected by an even worse bacterial infection that I had never heard of before (C. Dif). I continued hiking on the belief that my body would be able to overcome this infection on its own. (Additionally, I had no health insurance, have had a very poor history with doctors, did not want anything more to do with any type of antibiotic, and didn’t believe I had time to get off the trail, find a doctor, get this all taken care of, and still make it to Canada). On a biological and rational level, it made no sense that I was able to hike well over twenty miles per day when I could not eat enough calories due to the extreme pain eating caused me, as well as the constant loss of nutrients from my body. But for the next four months, I did.
I thought that resting at home would finally help me heal. It did not. Neither did taking every probiotic imaginable. For more than a year after returning home, I suffered from crippling stomach pain and several other symptoms that I don’t particularly care to write about. By the fall of 2014, I did some research on my own and discovered that I had “Leaky Gut Syndrome” which means that, due to the imbalance of bacteria in my gut, which I was not able to correct, my intestines were full of large tears. Every toxin that entered my body in the form of sugar, dairy, or gluten, (as well as large food particles in general) was now leaking into my bloodstream and affecting the organs of my body. It first attacked my skin. For the past two years, there hasn’t been a day where I felt comfortable being seen in public or in which I would be okay with having my picture taken. From the articles I read, I learned that I both needed to stop ingesting any of these types of foods, and instead eating such things as bone broth, kimchi, and kefir. I tried finding bone broth at Whole Foods, but they did not sell it. The other foods sounded too disgusting to even try. I was not ready for them at that time. I did manage to eliminate gluten (for the most part) in my diet. I also started taking L-Glutamine and Quercetin supplements to help my intestines seal back up. (When I learned that both eggs and nuts were off the list for those suffering with an autoimmune disorder, I wanted to give up. How can I only eat meat and vegetables? I personally can not). At the same time, I was dealing with the pain of my torn meniscus and subsequent surgery. I did notice that my stomach pain became less frequent over the course of the next year (down to a few days per month) and I detected other signs that my intestines were starting to heal, but I knew they had a long way to go.
In April, my next big health problem began, which terrified me. I went to see a doctor with a very open mind. I knew I needed help. Unfortunately, my experiences over the next 5 months only reinforced my opinion of doctors. I was not met with a sense of understanding and was given no help at all. Several times, I was flat out refused when I asked for a simple (and very cheap) blood test.
Starting in May and solidifying in July, I have been experiencing the most profound and prolonged type of fatigue I have ever experienced in my life. I have been essentially bed-ridden and not functional on any level and any time I exert any energy at all, I get a backlash from it in the following days. Normal laws of “exercise is good for you” do not apply to people suffering from this syndrome. Exercise for those who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is actually harmful. It depletes your body even further. I somehow managed to give my talk two times in the last two months. Both times, I did not think I could do it. Each of them required over four hours of driving. The following day, I was in a near black-out state in which I could do nothing. The following several days, I remained extremely weak.
This week, I realized that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is one of the conditions that can stem from Leaky Gut, along with a host of other autoimmune diseases. The body begins to attack itself. Thyroid problems and adrenal depletion are also common. Over time, I have been getting more and more sick. Now, I realize that I MUST seal my intestines in order to have a chance at regaining any of my health. The source of all of my sicknesses over the past two years is my gut. (My second GYN didn’t know what was causing the prolonged heavy bleeding. I now think it was related to my gut, which was affecting my thyroid). The most essential food that I need is bone broth. I finally found a company that I can buy from that will ship it on dry ice. Two weeks ago, I started including kimchi and kefir in my diet. I now have a bit of hope that my health can return to at least a semi-functional state in the coming months- years. If I am strict about my food intake (which seems impossible for a girl who could live off chocolate alone), I might see improvement in 6 months.
I think that it is INSANE that despite telling EVERY doctor I saw my health history over the past two years and four months (I always start with the giardia, then C. Dif and always say that I am still not healed), they don’t even THINK about the possibility of Leaky Gut and all of its ramifications. Instead, they break down every symptom (you have bad skin, you need to see a dermatologist, you need to see a breast surgeon, you need to see a GI specialist for a colonoscopy (because cancer is the ONLY thing we can detect in your intestines), you need to see a GYN, you need to see a cognitive behavioral therapist for depression….). It is 2015 and they STILL somehow do not understand that everything in the body is connected!! Good lord!! Who has the time and energy to go to all those different types of doctors? (Certainly not a person with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I can tell you that!) And for what? You can’t try to treat each symptom alone, or perform a blood test for a specific antigen that tells them “I’m fine” (when I am clearly not!) and expect to fix the actual problem! And how is it possible that that they don’t know the connection between the gut and the brain (and mood), or the gut and the skin? I knew that my skin problems were a direct result of my intestinal issues and have told the doctors that. That connection is what lead me to discover my own Leaky Gut diagnosis. And a simple google search lists article after article that confirm the relationship between Leaky Gut and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Had I know about the severity of what I was infected with and the near impossibility of restoring the diversity and numbers of gut bacteria back in June of 2013, I would have gotten this treatment:
I don’t know if it was available back then (or in the area of the country I was in), but now I understand that this is what I needed at the time. I have spent far more money in these past two years on numerous probiotics, vitamins, acupuncture appointments, a visit to a homeopath (who actually took the time to listen to me and take into account my lifetime history, but still ended up giving me pills for specific symptoms, which had no effect at all in the end).
Instead, I am on the slow path to recovery in which progress will be measured in years. I do feel a bit of relief that I have found the source of all of my maladies as well as confirmation that what I have been feeling is real. I knew the source of my fatigue was coming from a physical level, and now I know that the source is my hole-filled intestines.