Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Year, New Challenges, Part 1

On January 2nd of this year, I woke up with vertigo.

As a older than average dancer and a person with multiple food issues, it's not unusual for me to wake up with odd stuff going on in my body - headaches, stomach aches, stiffness, or sore muscles. I've accepted all of that.  But vertigo was a new one for me.

In case you haven't read earlier posts, my top three food allergies include gluten, dairy and eggs.  (BTW - I call them allergies rather than intolerances because allergies are more widely understood. In reality, for allergies, the reactions are visible, outward and life threatening. What I have are more like severe intolerances - invisible, internal, and not immediately life-threatening, but they can wreak daily havoc on your system and over time, cause all kinds of internal damage.)

 On New Year's Day my spouse's family traditionally celebrates with Japanese food - sushi, monjus, teriyaki chicken wings, gyosas - yummy stuff.  But because of my allergies, for the last several years, I've had to be very careful - bringing my own food, putting it in a separate place to avoid cross-contamination, avoiding wheat based noodles and regular soy sauce (which contains wheat).  I did that again this year, but the next day I still got sick.

I laid low for a few days and eventually got better, but over the next few weeks I had several odd and seemingly unrelated symptoms. Fatigue. Brain fog - not disoriented, but hard to concentrate.  Previous pain in my right foot (plantar fasciitis) became minor as the pain crawled up to my knee and took residence in my lower back. Then came the day when my right arm and leg went numb and I had shortness of breath. A few healthcare people, when I told them my symptoms, told me to go to the ER.

So, long story short, I went to the doc, had some tests done, and they found I was low on Vitamin D and had a slight thyroid issue.  An x-ray to my knee revealed a bone spur which I knew about, but now I also had some arthritis.  Doctor's advice:  Take 1000 IUs of Vitamin D everyday, get PT for the knee, and if the thyroid is still a problem down the road, he'd prescribe medication.

Really?  I was already taking 1000 IUs of D, I've already had PT for that knee and I'm too tired to think about doing it again, and I don't want to take meds - for anything. The symptoms from any medications have always been worse than the symptoms from the problem itself.

Yes, I am a child of my mother and my father, and because of this, I don't take anything at face value.  My mother always questioned traditional medicine and antibiotics, and would often turn to vitamins, home remedies or nutrition in response to her health issues.  My father had a very critical eye; he usually questioned people like repairmen and car mechanics, and in general, would question anyone, even his own children, regarding the underlying motives of their actions. My parents knew how to question authorities long before the idea became popular in the 1960s.

Anyway, I decided to do my own research.

I figured - my thyroid levels from the previous year were normal; if it only took a year to get them out of whack, then what was I doing that was different and why couldn't I get them back to normal?  And I also had prayers and praying friends involved in the process, asking God for help, because this is what I do.

So, I looked up causes for low vitamin D and talked to other people. Besides the obvious fact that I live in Minnesota where the sun can be elusive, I needed to take more vitamin D.  Don't ask me how much; every answer was different, anywhere from 1000 - 10,000 IUs.  I've settled on somewhere in between depending on if the sun is out or not that day.

For hypo-thyroid (and worn out adrenals) - more exercise (i.e. keep walking, dancing, stretching), avoid stress, get rest, avoid foods like brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, etc.  (Really? Wow.)

And then a few epiphanies: Both Vitamin D deficiency and hypo thyroid pointed to soy.  Another clue: I had a gluten free waffle one day and felt fine; a few hours later I had a second waffle with soy cream cheese and afterwards I wanted to take a nap!  

Ok, so let's see what happens when I eliminate soy. No tofu, no soy milk, no soy/tamari sauce or liquid amino acids.

In just two days I felt better.  My headaches went away, pain in my knee and low back was gone, and I could think more clearly.

Initially, I was relieved.  I was glad it wasn't something more serious or life-threatening. Years ago when I figured out my gluten allergy, it was a blessing in disguise.  Since I was already being vigilant about eating healthy and avoiding cross contamination, how hard would it be to eliminate one more thing?  My new mission:  Destroy the Soy!

Well, then, reality crashed in.  I had forgotten about those early days of panic when you first discover a food allergy and you're standing in the middle of your kitchen surrounded by food, and you have no idea what's safe anymore.

I thought avoiding gluten was hard.  In fact, I thought a gluten, dairy, egg-free diet was difficult. But soy is insidious. Previously seen as a health food, it's been put into a lot of different foods, including some of my favorite allergy-free go-to items.  And there are different multi-syllable words on ingredient lists that may or may not contain soy:  mono and diglycerides, tocopherols, lecithin, natural flavors, guar gum.

Here are some links:

Maya's Happy Place:

Prevention Magazine:

Besides tofu, soy sauce, and soy milk, I gathered a whole box of items that contained soy - gluten free pasta, cereals, crackers, Mojo bars (!! @,@ !!), bread, vitamins. These are on hold until I can confirm that I truly do have a soy issue.

Imported olive oils, unless they are certified USDA organic, can often contain soybean oil in the mix.  I've always used olive oil for cooking, which meant, I had to get some new pans and utensils because I was getting ill from the residual oils in my old equipment.

Meat - If cows, pigs, or chickens have been fed soy, that can come through in the meat that you buy.  I've done some research into grass-fed beef and organic farm practices and found some viable solutions.

Fruits and veggies - Sometimes they can be covered with a soy-based wax. I had been trying to save money by buying cheaper produce at the big box stores, but I've gone back to mostly organic.  It costs more, but I've noticed a difference.

Fish - Canned fish can sometimes use soy in the preservation process. (I was wondering why I was having problems with canned tuna and sardines.)  I've been told that fresh, farm raised fish can be questionable. It's best to go with wild caught.

I haven't even looked at household products and fabrics yet:  soaps, shampoos, cleaning products, lotions, clothing.

It's been a rough couple of months, to say the least. Too tired. Too overwhelmed. I had to drop out of a show that I was in.  I had to cancel a tutoring client whose lessons required too much prep time. I've had to skip out on some of my more challenging dance classes because I had fog brain which affected my balance and concentration. And obviously, I haven't been writing my blog very much.

This post is getting long-winded, so I'll take a break here. In future posts I hope to cover some of my favorite discoveries and solutions. Thankfully, life is bigger than these new challenges, and I look forward to writing about some the more pleasant slices of this Minneapple. Stay tuned!


  1. Praying for endurance! That sure is tough to eliminate! And I had no idea about the wax on fruit or that it is in olive oil, too, sometimes. I try to not have too much soy, as I guess I and all of my siblings were intolerant of soy formula as infants. But I am sure I eat more of it than I realize.

  2. Thanks for your concern! I've been amazed at how much soy is found in the American diet. I have a new appreciation for my friends and family members who have to avoid soy.

  3. Thanks for sharing your resources! It can be so empowering to discover things we can do that DO help our health.

  4. Thanks! Hopefully I can help a few people answer some questions about their own health issues - that maybe they a food allergy that's causing some of their odd symptoms.