How Eastern Medicine Changed My Life in Ten Minutes Around the summer of 2007 I began noticing a change in my body and the way I felt on a day to day basis. At first I thought I was just getting older. I was approaching thirty and I had always heard people talk about how your thirties are the time when you begin to develop real health issues and things start to decline a bit. Joints, metabolism, energy levels, etc. So I brushed off the symptoms as being a normal part of the aging process and continued on. Unfortunately over the next few months I became increasingly tired to the point of lethargy. I would spend my days off lying in bed till the late afternoon only to forcibly drag myself up and out of the house in order to accomplish whatever things I simply couldn't justify putting off. I lived on a second story and I began to dread going up and down the stairs because my feet were so tender. I was constantly on the search for new shoes thinking I just needed to find the right, comfortable pair. God forbid I had to put on a pair of heels. When the pain and tenderness started presenting in just about every other joint in my body and my hands became unclenchable I knew it was time to see a doctor. If I couldn't hold a razor to shave my legs on certain days or put a pair of earrings in there must be something wrong, right?
I had done a bit of self-diagnosing on the internet and was prepared for the worst when I finally got an appointment with a rheumatologist. She didn't say it right away, but I knew what she was thinking, I told myself; Rheumatoid Arthritis. The debilitating, degenerative autoimmune disorder that could basically destroy my life. Dramatic, yes, but you know how your head gets away with you when you spend too much time on Web-MD.
I was tested and had been ruled out for RA (THANK GOD!) but over the next three years I saw several different doctors, had numerous blood panels and had been prescribed more prescription NSAID's that I can remember trying to manage the pain and inflammation. By that time I had a perpetual low grade fever, chronic joint pain, gastro-intestinal disorders that I didn't even realize until later were abnormal because I had become so accustomed to them and this bloated feeling that no matter how much water I drank or how much dieting I did never seemed to go away. I looked pregnant on my worst days and just plain round on a good one. I was tested for everything that could possibly cause one or more of my symptoms: Lupus, Lyme's Disease, Fibromyalgia, RA, Crohn's Disease, Grave's Disease and a host of other autoimmune disorders that I'm sure I'm forgetting. They all came up negative and there was nothing to do but treat the pain.
The only problem was that none of these medicines ever worked for more than a few weeks. Which resulted in my rotating through as many of the drugs as I could until I just settled into the cheap regiment of a high dose of naproxen sodium (Aleve) every day. It was the only thing that seemed to work longer than a month. The only problem was that with longterm use of naproxen comes stomach and/or esophageal ulcers, possible kidney damage, possible hearing loss, dizziness, excessive sweating. I managed almost two years on it before I began to develop the esophageal ulcer and realized it was absolutely imperative that I find out what was going on once and for all.
I had known Marisa throughout her acupuncture schooling and she had encouraged me several times to use acupuncture as a means of pain relief. I did, off and on, and it always helped alleviate some of the discomfort and seemed to balance things out for a while. Inevitably the issues returned but it was more effective than anything else and seemed to center and calm me enough to make it a little easier to deal with the frustration of feeling like an eighty year old, day in and day out. I also had a friend who swore by his practitioner in helping with his chronic neck pain. So I booked an appointment to start treatment thinking I would just go a few times a week to deal with the pain since I could no longer take any drugs.
On my first visit I sat down in Dr. Axman's office and filled out the intake form. He came in, took a quick glance at it and told me it looked to him like my problem was probably diet related. He consented to treat me for the pain as long as I needed but suggested I try an elimination diet. Two weeks of cutting out a certain food to clear out your system and then adding it back to see how your body reacts to it. He wanted me to try the most common culprits first; wheat gluten, dairy, eggs and soy. On a lark I started with wheat. Within three days I had lost 7 pounds, bloating--check. By day five my stool was normal and the gas and abdominal pain was gone, gastro--check. A week in and my joints were 100% normal and I had NO pain or inflammation. My energy levels were through the roof. And more, my depression, which I had struggled with for years seemed to be waning and just not really an issue anymore. Could it be possible that gluten was causing not just my physical problems but my psychological ones as well? You fucking bet it was.
I had been stuck in this spiral that reminded me of an Albert Einstein quote, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results". With the Western Medicine Protocol I was surely doing the same thing over and over again and the outcome was always the same. Nobody knew. No one could help and I felt I was on the verge of insanity. My acupuncturist had figured out inside of ten minutes what was going on with my body using an Eastern approach by looking for a cause instead of simply shrugging and treating the symptoms. Not to mention the amount of money I had spent on the specialists and medications over that time and now here was someone who was willingly putting himself in a position where if he were right, I wouldn't even have a need to see him and he wouldn't be making any money off me at all. Quite the opposite from our Western Medical ideology that really seems to serve to ensnare a patient into a lifetime of doctor's visits and expensive prescriptions. It's been over a year since I was diagnosed Gluten Intolerant and I will admit sometimes I flub and give into the craving for a sandwich or a slice of pizza or birthday cake. When I do, I pay for it, but at least I know what the cause is.
As a food professional I am pretty consumed nowadays with what we have done to our food suppy to create such rampant food allergies. I suspect it has mostly to do with things like preservatives, pesticides, genetically modfied foods and the monocultures of soy, corn and wheat that we have turned our farmlands into. These allergies, intolerants and new diseases are not normal and I expect that over time it will be an eastern approach that will help identify not just the specific problems but the solutions to the epidemic our current food industry has created. Much in the same way my western doctors could not see the possible origin of my sickness and simply treated me with more medicine, western scientists seem to ignore the almost obvious reality that our nation’s health is being compromised by the way we are running our food system and the only response they offer, if any, is to use more preservatives and increasing amounts of harmful and systemic pesticides. Were these scientist and doctors to ask the advice of a farmer from a culture that bases diagnosis on the health of the whole package, who acknowledge that if there is an imbalance in one place the entire body (or industry) must be treated we might find that the life of American agriculture could be changed in ten minutes. Just a thought.
-Leigh Ann Stewart