Monday, February 4, 2013

E. Coli Part 2

If you missed the first part of this story, you can read it here.

During the time I was in the hospital and after involved a lot of research and a tough learning curve. I didn't even really know what e. coli was until I was diagnosed with it. Even more troubling, I didn't know how I had contracted the bacteria. My husband and I had shared all the same food and we only buy organic meats and veggies. We learned that it only takes roughly 10 colony forming unit (CFU) cells to infect you, compared to over 1 million CFU for other strains of e. coli.  This means that you could have an entire head of lettuce for salad for 8 people, and only one minuscule spot on one leaf can get one person sick and the rest could be fine. 

Another thing that we learned is that this particular strain of e. coli is a relatively new strain, and exists only because we now feed cattle corn. Cows are naturally fed on grass, but feeding them corn gets them fatter faster. It also changes the pH in their stomachs. Because of the changes in their stomachs, this bacteria is able to transform and change, as well as become immune to human stomach acid. This video excerpt from the documentary Food, Inc. explains it pretty well:

So now that I know roughly that it came from a cow somewhere and I was sick and now home from the hospital, my thought process was just to try to eat only grass-fed beef, cook and wash everything very, very well, and I would be fine. Oh if only it were actually that easy.

The problem with just resuming my previous diet was that my stomach was now completely different that it was before. 80% of your immune system is in your gut, and there are both good and bad bacteria. The good bacteria helps you to digest your food properly, as well as attack any foreign bacteria and fight it off. When the doctors put me on antibiotics before they knew I had e. coli, that wiped out any good bacteria in my gut as well that may have had a chance of fighting off the e. coli, as well as helping me digest food. So with my stomach flourishing in e. coli then dying off, I pretty much had a clean slate in there. This means that whatever I consume afterwards has a fairly free reign to take over.

I soon found that I couldn't eat pasta, pizza, drink wine or coffee, bread, even something as simple as chicken soup was too much. I was sick all the time, and just assumed that I was still recovering and it would take a while. A year passed and I was still sick all of the time. My GI doctor then diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). To make matters worse, almost every time I got sick, I would have a severe panic attack. I learned that 60% of people with a serious infections illness, such as e. coli, develop IBS and anxiety disorders. I could be sitting on the couch happy and in a great mood, when all of a sudden my body would start to respond as if I were fighting a bear and would kick into full adrenaline.

They mostly happened at night, so I would be shaking, hyperventilating, heart beating out of my chest,  and unable to slow my brain until 4am some nights. Those have been some of my lowest points. Jon had no idea how to calm me down and the only thing that seemed to work was taking Xanax, which I wasn't entirely comfortable with. My doctors have determined that this is a form of post-traumatic stress since my gut faced a severe incident. When my body is unable to process a food, it views it as foreign. Regardless of what it is, attacks it the food and forces it out. It begins ringing all the alarm bells and telling my brain that this is a serious issue and I need to panic and fight. Silly stomach, that was just a banana... is this really worth all the fuss?

I tried cutting out gluten, dairy, alcohol, coffee, pasta sauce, orange juice, or anything else I thought might make me sick. After a year of this and finally realizing that I was not, in fact, getting better, I decided to try a new approach.  Rather than going bonkers trying to figure out which foods to cut out and which are safe, (which didn't prove to be consistently successful,) I am addressing the main issue and not the symptom. My gut no longer has the things it needs to process the food I eat.  I need to refresh the ecosystem in my gut so I can effectively digest food and nutrients again.

I have started taking probiotics, as well as incorporating probiotics into my diet. Probiotics are the good bacteria that you should have in your stomach to keep you healthy and help digest food. So far, I've actually seen some improvement. I'm not getting sick as frequently, my panic attacks are more manageable, and I'm not getting every sickness that someone passes by with. It's a slow process that I'm still learning. I've had to incorporate foods I've never heard of into my diet like kombucha, whey, keifer, homemade bone broths, and fermented foods. I've had to realize that just because they are new and not just bought off a shelf doesn't mean they are "weird" or too "out there" to try. In fact, they taste way better than most things I've had before. I plan on writing more about these food items as I try them and documenting any results.

This whole process overall has been really difficult. It blessed me immensely to see how many people were supporting and praying for me along the way. It's easy to feel alone and overwhelmed when dealing with poor health.  It's easy to be afraid of ever eating for fear of getting sick again. It's especially confusing when doctors don't know what you have, or tell you there's no cure, or only have pills to prescribe you. Don't give up. It will not be easy, but there is hope and healing. I'm slowly getting there, by the grace of God, and am not going to let this define me for the rest of my days. 

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