Jan 21, 2008

Final Problems

What I have learned over the last few years is that the symptoms of my inflammation problems disappear when I follow my anti-itis diet, making no exceptions whatsoever.

I eat only fruit, vegetables, roots, and gourds. I exclude from my diet (1) all animal products and (2) all plant foods made from seeds (beans, peas, nuts, grains, and conventional seeds such sunflower).

1. Causes? What I don't understand is what those two groups have in common, if anything.

a. Thanks in part to DianeR in the McDougall Discussion forums, I have uncovered one possibility, but remember that I have no scientific training, so I am flying blind here. Apparently, what the two groups of foods have in common, that might also be a cause of leaky-gut symptoms, is that they both contain a high level of either of two amino acids: cysteine and methioline. Both of these amino acids apparently are high in sulfur. I do not know if the problem is the sulfur as an element or the particular sulfur-laden amino acid molecules as a whole.

b. Further, if my problem is truly a "leaky-gut," then does that mean that these two amino acids appear to my immune system to be an invading virus, which my immune system then attacks, thereby setting off a chain-reaction of effects leading to inflammation symptoms? I do not know.

c. Last, seemingly many of the foods I can eat (such as fruits, vegetables, roots, and gourds) are generally low in fiber compared to plant foods I cannot eat (such as grains, legumes, and nuts). Is that general (but not invariable) pattern a coincidence? Or does the fiber in acid-producing plant foods (grains, legumes, nuts) add to or accompany other elements that cause an immune system reaction? The fiber discussed here is, I understand, technically called "dietary fiber," a misnomer that actually names fiber which normally passes all the way through the gut and is not digested. Could it, in my case, be partly passing through the holes in my intestine and triggering a reaction? I do not know.

2. Cure? The second major question I have not been able to answer is whether leaky-gut syndrome can be cured. I know that careful diet management can practically eliminate symptoms. What I would love to do is solve the problem. Can that be done? I do not know.

Specifically, do the holes in the intestine gradually close up by themselves as time passes? I do not know.

When my budget allows, my next step will be to hire a physician, physiologist, or other researcher to help me find answers (if there are any).

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, www.reasonversusmysticism.com/


Monica said...

Wow, this whole thing is truly fascinating. I am committing to a healthier diet, myself, and though I am only 33 I do suffer from bursitis now and then, and my knees are really not in great condition! I wonder if a greater adherence to this type of diet could be of help.

My guess is that it is not the sulfur itself that is the problem but the sulfur atom in the amino acids, which is probably causing a lower pH for that particular amino acid than for others. (I don't have my biochemistry textbook available to check the acidity of various amino acids).

It seems very unlikely to me that amino acids or fiber would be recognized by the immune system. However, this is just conventional, basic, immunological "wisdom." Scientists regularly prove conventional wisdom wrong. In any case, their effect on the immune system could be some other mechanism that is triggering inflammation, even if your immune system is not recognizing these specific amino acids or the fiber as antigens.

I find it odd that your eczema has cleared up under this diet. Here's why. Increased skin pH is associated with more severe eczema because it increases the activity of certain proteins that break down the skin barrier. It's been shown that people with a lower skin pH (not doing too much washing with alkaline soaps) do better with their eczema. HOWEVER -- just because the foods you are eating are generally produced into something basically alkaline in the body does not mean the skin is alkaline, too. Who knows, it could even have an opposite effect in the skin.

Some people hypothesize that many diseases on the rise today are a result of either diet or vaccine damage due to excessive vaccination. Although it sounds like kooky conspiratorialist stuff, some of it does seem quite reasonable to me. There are some pretty nasty reagents in vaccines, and injecting your body with three different killed organisms at one time is just not the way our immune systems were meant to be exposed to antigens.

M Hughes

Doug said...

How did the original inflammation occur, Burgess?

Burgess Laughlin said...

[Note that the rules of etiquette require a first name and initial for last name or vice versa, if you are not using a full name. The question asked is appropriate and benevolently expressed, so I will let it pass.]

The short answer is that I don't know what caused the leaky gut (which I assume is the cause of the whole series of inflammation problems).

The dermatitis (the first in the series of inflammation problems) started when I was 18, a few weeks after I had my first lung surgery. I was given a large dose of tetracycline as an antibiotic for the surgery. I developed a rash within a few days; and a physician told me to stop taking the tablets. I did. Perhaps the amount of tetracycline I took was enough to damage my intestine. I don't know.

Another possible factor was that I started drinking alcohol in that same year, but I do not recall the sequence of events. I can't remember whether I began drinking before or after the surgery.

So, my answer is: I don't know, though I suspect the tetracycline. If the dose was strong enough to cause a temporary rash, it might have damaged my intestine.

The good news is that, thanks to this diet, I no longer have inflammation problems. I still have hope too that the leaky gut might actually heal. I have some evidence to back up that hope, but it is still too early to report on that.

Best wishes to all those suffering from inflammation problems.

Monica said...


I'm curious -- did soaking the rice or grains every help to make those "non-inflammatory" foods for you? Also, you've said you've tested foods in the past. How sudden do you notice inflammatory symptoms?

Did you ever have any rheumatic symptoms?

Monica H.

Burgess Laughlin said...

I did in fact try soaking white rice overnight, and then steaming it in my rice cooker. I tried the standard test: 1 serving per meal for six meals in a row. I got no reaction. (In all the other foods I tested and that turned out to be problems, I got a reaction within 48 hours, with a flare-up in eczema.)

So, I wondered, soaking solves the problem? I couldn't logically reach that conclusion without removing the variable (soaking) and retesting. I did. I got no reaction in the standard test. I then did an endurance test (thinking that the problem might be a long-term accumulation rather than a short burst). I still got no reaction.

I am now on the third stage of testing: I am eating two official servings (total 1/2 c dry) of rice at each of two meals a day, every day for a month (so far). Still no reaction.

I conclude that either rice is so low on the PRAL scale that even in large quantities it alone wouldn't cause a reaction--OR my gut might actually have healed up.

I plan to test that last hypothesis by adding beans (which are quite high on the acid-producing scale) in the standard test. I will do this after July 1. If I get no reaction, I might conclude that I am cured.

What that would mean would be small modifications of my diet: continuing the rice (for a variety of reasons such as low cost); adding 2 T of clams, chicken liver, oysters, or beef liver daily (for B12, the only nutrient now missing from my very limited diet); and adding beans (for the fiber more than anything else).

I am trying not to get prematurely excited about this, but to take it one step at a time.

I have been told by several people that they have "heard" that a leaky gut can heal, but they never could cite a public source.

BTW, I have also been taking probiotics and I wonder if they might have crowded out and supplanted any lifeforms that were damaging my intestine. I don't know. More puzzles, but the results are good--so far!

Burgess Laughlin said...

I do not know what rheumatic symptoms are. How would they differ from the symptoms of arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis?

Doug said...

(Sorry Burgess, but I tried using my email address as a url, but the comment system doesn't like the format. When I try using my gmail address as a login blogger gives me an error. Sorry for submitting this again against protocols, I will try to find out what is wrong.)

Although you can never know conclusively, it probably was the tetracycline. As you know, while antibiotics can help us with infection they are indiscriminate in their destruction of bacteria. Hypothetically, enough of that tetra would kill off the "good" bacteria, so to speak, that aids digestion in both intestines.

Probiotics are the right choice. I don't see any reason to believe you couldn't heal. The amount of time that has passed since you were "normal", shouldn't affect the ability of the good bacteria to survive inside you either.

I've had my own health problem when I was younger, and some of them have returned in the past two years. Tho they are dissimilar to yours, I sympathize with your situation.

I actually had one summer where I was plagued by stomach pangs. I had hmm, what's the name of that test where you swallow liquid barium and they x-ray your chest and abdomen? Anyway, it tasted AWFUL. Barely held the stuff down. After a barrage of tests after that one, the doctors say what they have always said to me: "You are in excellent health."

I never did figure out what was wrong, but I did continuously remove processed foods and add more elemental foods (especially greens) to my diet until I was well again. I was only 19 at the time, so the depth of my knowledge in that area was not what it is today.

This also happened when I had unexplained headaches. Barrage of tests for that and: "you are in excellent health". I NEVER had headaches except with a small amount of pressure when I had colds. I didn't really know what they felt like. Anyway, again I started altering my environment, finally replacing my old PC monitor. When I did that, the headaches stopped.I haven't had one in five years. ("ice-cream" headaches not included, lol)

Monica said...

Gosh, it would be pretty darn exciting even if you could only add rice, no?

Perhaps you should try soaking some other grains as well, such as oatmeal overnight, and see how you do -- then try to include them without soaking. I don't know the precise mechanisms for how this works, Burgess (I'm not sure anyone does, fully), but soaking is supposed to reduce phytic acid content that bothers some people. Perhaps these phytic acids have a high amount of the amino acids that cause problems for you (I forget their names, exactly, but I remember reading this in relation to your problem -- I believe they are amino acids containing sulfur). Who knows -- soaking may be causing any other number of biochemical changes as well. In any case, most societies with a long history of grain use soak their grains.

Check out these pages on soaking. The second one contains information about beans. I hope you can eat these things without soaking. However, I believe many of the allergies we are seeing in our modern times are due to alternate processing techniques which cannot be tolerated in sensitive individuals.

I'm glad you're doing better, and that probiotics are helping. I suggest the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. There is a whole section of the cookbook devoted to lactofermentation of vegetables. You can make all sorts of lactofermented veggies at home using the whey from yogurt -- that's basically what you're eating when you eat probiotics: lactobaccili. I suspect that if there are vegetables you cannot manage raw or cooked, you might not have a problem if they were lactofermented. It's very easy. I've made homemade sauerkraut by just mixing whey and cabbage for 3 days and it's delicious.

Oh, I asked about rheumatism before because that's an immune mediated disease, like your eczema.

To good health!

Burgess Laughlin said...

To make sure no one reading this weblog goes off in the wrong direction because of what I have said about rice in this comments thread, I want to make a special point now of saying that, as of today, I have stopped the long rice experiment.

I have indeed had a reaction that began with greater "sensitivity" in my skin a few days ago and has now blossomed as an apparent outbreak of eczema on my forehead. I attribute this tentatively to a very long-term cumulative effect of eating rice (the least acid-producing of all the grains and the only acid-producing food I have been eating).

I will return to my fruit, vegs, and roots diet. If the eczema flare-up recedes, then that will be a sort of confirmation.

So, if you are suffering from -itis symptoms, and if the fruit, vegs, and roots diet helps you, my suggestion is: Do not start eating white rice. Stick to what works and learn to make fruit, vegs, and roots (and a vitamin B12 tablet!) as tasteful as possible while your tastes adjust. (And they will adjust: I can even baked potatoes now without salt and enjoy it.)

Paul said...

Well I'm glad I've read this about the white rice, as I've long suspected it aggravating my Rheumatoid arthritis.I've been trying to follow the McDougall style of eating as well, I'm quite a long way into it but have not achieved as much a change as I would have liked.My knees are still inflamed, so I will keep the diet diary going until things improve, hopefully. How are you by the way? I do like your blog. Thanks

Burgess Laughlin said...

If I had pains in my knees and not much anywhere else, I would suspect that improper posture is the main cause or at least an additional cause. See here: