Eastern Medicine to the Rescue – a remedy for true and deep healing. By Janella Purcell
As many of you know, my digestion is hyper- sensitive and lets me know if anything at all is slightly off in my life. It’s like having a noisy guard dog. Over the years western medical practitioners have gone from saying there’s no such thing as IBS – it’s all in your head (at least that part isn’t far off as we now know that there is the same tissue in both the brain and gut, so what goes on in one will affect the other).
[private]So, in an attempt to explain gut complaints to patients, western health practitioners put a name on symptoms to diagnose. This is as much to do with patients needing one as it has practitioners need to put things into a neat box. ‘There diagnosed’, now let’s make a drug for it. Eastern practitioners, and many good alternative practitioners don’t do this; instead they go deeper, looking for the underlying cause. They’ll class your condition as damp/dry, hot/cold or yin/yang or windy, and then either deficient or in excess. They looks at what is actually going on in your body and in many cases spiritually.
First up in the long line of names for an unhappy gut was IBS, then Leaky Gut and so on. Then there were food intolerances and allergies to explain the problem, but none of these get to the underlying problem. What on earth is going wrong with our guts? Why is the gut ‘leaking’ or ‘irritable’? Or past- irritable and onto ‘mighty angry’? Yes we now experiment with our food until its’ almost recognizable, and yes the synthetic form of folate – folic acid – added to our wheat (unless organic and/or spelt) is causing many of us grief, and yes we probably eat too many processed grains, processed dairy and sugar, and we eat too much in general, and at the wrong time of the day – but assuming you don’t do any of these things, and most of my clients and many others I know don’t, then why, why, why are some of us having trouble digesting pretty much anything?
Yes you can take out fructose, and yes that will help reduce the symptoms, avoiding grains will also help as they tend to ferment in a ‘stagnant and damp’ gut causing myriad of problems; Alcohol? Go head and get rid of it, if it’s negatively affecting you. Paleo? Not really, but it might help reduce symptoms because you’re cutting out grains and dairy, but want I want to know is why even after doing all of this some people guts still aren’t happy. Parasite? Maybe, so treat that and if it’s not that then naturally symptoms will hang around.
As I’ve Blogged about recently, a variation in the MTHFR gene (see my November, 2014) is responsible for a lot of issues, especially gut, heart and mood related. It’ll stop our liver detoxing properly, and decrease digestion – this will tend to make one gain weight and loose patience. The there’s Pyrrole Disorder – when we can’t hold onto zinc and B6 – this causes mood disorders, and all of the close to 200 actions that zinc is needed for – good hair, skin, nails, immunity, plus digestive and reproductive health are 2 of the biggies.
Personally I have both of these variations in my genes (MTFHR and Pyrrole) so last year I decided to look further into things and get tested for everything. I was deficient in a few things despite my great diet, and only since the MTFHR gene mutation was ‘turned on’. My blood results have always been perfectly consistent throughout my life, until now. So now I was taking over 10 supplements a couple of times a day, all whole food or from a compounding chemist, but still no real change. Boring! After 3 months of taking double strength zinc for example, my zinc levels had halved. Yes that’s right folks. (Insert tears of frustration here.) Whyyyyyyy?
Next I had my stools tested by a functional pathology lab’ in Melbourne. They go through everything in this test. All was great apart from candida (no surprise,) and being a bit low in the good bacteria ‘bifidus’. Naturally I got myself a bottle. (11 supplements now, twice a day. Note to selves – taking any old probiotic won’t always help. You need to know which strand you’re lacking.)
Next step – I had every single one of my bloody genes tested, via a place in America called ‘23amdMe’. Warning – you almost need to hold a PhD in genetics to decipher it. It told me that yes, I had a variation in the MTHFR gene, but it also showed me that I can’t handle sulphur (no surprise there, so many of us can’t) nor can my body deal with MSG (again no surprise), and it also had a hard time with any preservatives, chemicals, anything at all artificial. (It certainly explains my disdain for perfume and aftershave, toxic cleaning product or body care, or even the smell of clothes that have been washed in OMO.) So I know all of this, but seeing it on paper is werrrrriiidddd. Ones life explained by ones genes? I do believe ‘we are ore than a sum of our parts’, and this is where epi-genetics comes into play. Check out Prof. Bruce Lipton’s work if you want to know more about this.)
I also have a variation on the gene that detoxes alcohol. Borrrrring! I know this as I’ve always gotten serious, and I felt undeserving hangovers, which is why I drink only sulphur-free red wine and clean vodka with fresh lime and mineral water made using my Soda Stream and alkaline water. But if occasionally I throw caution to the wind, forget who I am and think I am ‘normal’ for a moment, then my liver punishes my – for a day or two, by ACHING. Plus I’m starving. A bad combo’. So, the reckless abandon doesn’t happen often.
I find it fascinating that a quote I came across whilst studying Naturopathy some 20 years ago rings very true – ‘anatomy is destiny’. My life has ben shaped by the variations in my genetic structure. Those little genes of mine (all of ours) had plans for me all along.
Next, in February, as those who follow me on social media will know, I shipped myself off to Bali for my annual 10 day cleanse. Nothing but coconut water and veggie juice, loads of colonics and massages. Bed by 8pm and waking at 4pm ish – for 10 days. I love cleansing as my digestion gets a break and so do I. I experience no negative effects on an intense detox’ like this; no headaches, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, nausea – I just feel great. But this time was different; this time my liver ached sooo much I was almost doubled over the whole time. This particular loud shouting from the noisy guard dog started on day 2 or 3. By day 7 I realized it wasn’t going away so I found an acupuncturist and off I walked through Ubud. And didn’t I get lucky – my practitioner was/is Russian/Dutch and an experienced TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner as well as an Ayurvedic doctor who has written a book or two on Food as Medicine. Hello my new best friend. (I imagine a few of you are wondering why I don’t treat myself. I do self- diagnose and treat, to the point where healing ceases. It’s not a great idea to treat oneself; there are blocks and shadows everywhere. All that stuff we’ve shoved down nice and deep tends to hide from us. As that old saying goes – the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.)
My new best friend ‘got’ me in a few minutes, if not seconds – as a good healer will do. ‘Earth mother, caretaker, spleen, liver, adrenal, fluid retention, ‘over-achiever’ – basically. The weight I put on last year is all fluid, and doesn’t it feel that way? Grose! And it’s mostly on my torso. Lovely. Her advise to me was to take some time off, and take some ‘drying’ herbs to clean up the fluid. Oh btw, the liver pain – our organs don’t just work on the physical, they also deal with many levels of our being. So the liver pain came after it had no work to do with toxins, fats or alcohol, so it went deeper and looked around for any other crap in there that needed to be detoxed out. That my friends, was anger and resentment being let go of. No wonder it was so painful.
It’s a good idea to get some acupuncture whilst fasting, to help the liver do its work. Why had it never happened before? I think for a couple of reasons. 1. The MTHFR gene variation has now been turned on and giving my liver a punishing, 2. I have been fasting for many years and finally now we’re getting to the good stuff – the emotional body.
As it were, since Xmas I have been trying to get my head around taking some time off, but something in me (habit?) was making it very hard to do so. I guess this disguises self-worth issues, letting people down, fear, and control. It can’t be because I don’t know how to fill my days without a computer or iPhone attached to my being. There’s swimming/floating in crystal clear water holes with rapids and rope swings, lighthouse runs and ocean swims, lunch at gorgeous, organic restaurants in and around Byron, meditation, yoga, family, friends, reading, love, sewing, pickling, fermenting, sprouting, gardening – and that’s in one day. Ha.
Side note – at the same time I was trying to slow down, I enrolled in a course to study MTHFR and become a registered practitioner, with the expert in this field, Dr. Ben Lynch, in America. I wrote about this in a previous Blog, and as I started learning more and more and more about this gene and its affects, my mind was doing gymnastics – again, and I knew I probably shouldn’t be stuffing more info’ into my brain without first giving it a little holiday. Making peace with my desire to learn and share information – particularly about the MTHFR gene at this time, as I really do believe it is causing many of us so much grief – and slowing down, was really difficult.
I’d set the intention for my daily meditations to help me release whatever it was preventing me from saying ‘no’, or at least ‘perhaps later’ a bit more of the time, just until my body is completely happy again. On a practical level, I really resent (liver) having all of those beautiful clothes in my cupboard and still having nothing to wear coz none of it fits. It’s just annoying and a waste of time trying on outfits that once looked great, now not go anywhere near that. Horrible, as many of you I’m sure have experienced so would understand. It’s also embarrassing on an ego level as I’m the whole- foods- health- girl and I should definitely be perfectly well, apparently. As I’ve written about before – those of us who feel the need to save the world, to be of service to others, aren’t usually in the best of health, despite every attempt. That whole fight or flight thing messes us up.
Then something shifted. Recently many of you would remember I did some cooking classes on a cruise, (I took My Mother with me), and then I went straight onto Bali for the 10 day cleanse. I came back home and didn’t really want to do anything more than I had to. My mojo was going through a change of life. OMG! I kept feeling as if I’d lost something. Well, I had, and I needed that to happen actually; in fact, I’d been praying for it to happen – for a while. Now that this change in pace had arrived, the hardest thing was accepting that it was only going to be for a while and that I wasn’t going to drop out of society and my wonderful life altogether, forever. What was I afraid of, becoming irrelevant? My respected elders and other kin asked me what I like doing the most, or what I needed to do. Keep that going and drop the rest, but the problem is that I LOVE everything I do – the writing, social media, seeing clients in my clinic, touring, consulting, etc. So that wasn’t going to help. This is the whole issue – ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’.
So I swung, like someone with so much Libran in them tends to do. Some of you may have noticed this by the lack of Facebook-ing, and the lateness of these Blogs. Some days (maybe 1) I didn’t even look at my computer, really. I needed to get a bit of discipline around this anyway. Other days I looked only once, and never after 8pm. It was really hard at first, (habit again), but then I had swung so far left (yin) that the thought of extending my energy out at all (yang) wasn’t pleasing me. I examined whether or not this could be a symptom of adrenal exhaustion, but came to the conclusion that no it wasn’t, as I was feeling really gooooooood. ‘Trust the vibes you get, energy doesn’t lie’. The best I’d felt in a year, maybe 18 months. No gut pain, no symptoms – just a very happy body and mind. Everything was flowing nicely, my health thus everything were great again.
I feel like something took over me, my higher self perhaps, or was it my maternal grandma, my guardian angel – because it was as if it happened overnight. (Clearly it didn’t though.) I was now saying ‘yes’ to offers of going for a swim in the morning. I was saying ‘yes’ a lot more to social things, and ‘no’ to anything not serving me, and the guilt of not ‘working’ was subsiding. (At the same time, along came an opportunity for a pretty big TV gig. In fact, I received the email just as I was telling my 13 year-old God-daughter that I was planning on slowing down a bit. She made the comment that I obviously wasn’t going to consider it then. Hmmm? ‘You’ll say no, won’t you’, she said? After a nightmare or two (literally) about the gig, I decided that it was either the gig, or my health and happiness.)
Then one day a few weeks ago, I received an email from one of the editors of a magazine I write for asking me to write about SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth). I’d never heard of it before this, and I do admit that a little part of me thought – ‘Oh here we go again, another shallow diagnosis. On I went to research SIBO. Well, well, well. (If you haven’t heard about it yet, the article will be published next month in Nourish magazine and as usual I‘ll post it on my websites ARTICLE’s page.) As I was researching, I was ticking all the boxes – both for myself, and so many of my clients. All gut stuff. Here’s an excerpt from my article –
SIBO is a chronic bacterial infection of the small intestine (SI). The SI, which connects the stomach to the large intestine (LI), is approximately 7 meters long. Although bacteria are normally present in the entire gastrointestinal tract, relatively few bacteria live in the SI, and the types of bacteria present in the small bowel are different from those in the LI. These bacteria that have moved out of their usual place interfere with how well we absorb and digest food, then go onto damaging the lining of our SI, which leads to ‘leaky gut’. (More specifically ‘leaky SI’.) This happens because the intestinal barrier becomes permeable – allowing large protein molecules to escape into the bloodstream – which is known to have a number of potential complications including immune reactions that cause food allergies or sensitivities, generalized inflammation, and autoimmune diseases.
These displaced pathogenic bacteria can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as causing poor digestion and absorption. For example, the bacteria will take up certain nutrients such as vitamin B12 and iron, before our own cells have a chance to absorb them. They may also gobble up some of the amino acids, or protein, that we’ve ingested. These wayward bacteria may also decrease fat absorption through their effect on bile acids, leading to deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins like A and D, and fatty stools. They consume food unable to be absorbed due to damage to the SI lining, which creates more bacterial overgrowth – a vicious cycle.
Bacterial overgrowth produces excess quantities of hydrogen and/or methane gas. These gases are not produced by humans but are the metabolic byproducts of fermented carbohydrates by intestinal bacteria. After the bacteria eat our food, they produce gas within our SI, causing flatulence, belching and pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or both.
The suggested treatment is a harsh – a very restricted diet, following 2 weeks of living on a shake for two weeks, and not a wholefood shake at that. Basically you need to starve the bacteria. It most likely works but oh dear, what stress we’re puting our bodies under. More stress. How about some kindness for a change?
As enlightening as this all was, I still was asking why? WHY? Did our ancestors have SIBO? This is another set of symptoms, not the cause. I discussed the article I was writing with Phil, the acupuncturist I had started seeing in Byron, and he said SIBO was a ‘damp’ condition which made sense, – so we continued treating the ‘damp’ with needles and herbs, but I KNOW I have to change my thinking to stop creating the internal damp in the first place.
This is where I get to the relevance of my Blog heading – ‘Eastern Medicine’. After the wonderful acupuncture session I had in Bali, after she confirmed that my gut stuff was all about over-doing it for the last 40 years or so, I decided that I needed to find a good Eastern healer close to home. For years my mentor Steve Li had treated me, (see Blog titled Births, Deaths and Beginnings, Jan 2013) until he tragically and suddenly passed a couple of years ago. I believed there was likely to be no one that could take his place and understand the complexity that is my body. (And I still believe this, but I believe he remains with me, directing me from a different place.) I decided to Google, as I hadn’t found the right practitioner for me. At my first session with Phil, a few weeks back now, I quickly realised that whom I had booked my session with was a friend I studied with 20 years ago. Phil was studying TCM whilst I was doing Naturopathy. Relief! Understood! Happiness!
He is working on me in a deeply energetic way – helping me release old beliefs and patterning that I have stored in my body, even though I no longer believe them to be true, or working for me, on any level. He is using visceral manipulation to gently separate my internal organs. (Possibly being stuck together by years of Endometriosis in the past, and inflammation from being in the fight or flight mode for wayyyy toooo long.) And WOW does this type of organ manipulation feel weirdddddd, and incredible, and I feel very vulnerable having someone/ anyone moving the wobbly bits on my tummy around, and gently digging their hands in and making contact with different organs. Whoaaaaa. He’s needling my neck to help release the fluid by working on my lymphatic glands, and also on an old, stagnant, lower back pain I get from time to time. ‘There’s a lot going on in there’ he says. He’s working on a very deep level, and I like it. We’re working on me together.
Basically I am ‘damp’, and this comes from a funky spleen (worry, obsessive thoughts) and my liver is enlarged and overworked (a bit like me). I lie on my left side and literally he manipulates my liver and stomach, moving it to release it. They are very subtle movements, but whoa you can feel things moving on a very deep level. The ‘stuff’ that comes up and then out is fascinating (to me). Things, events, people and feelings I haven’t consciously thought about for years are appearing, and leaving. Good. Get it all out, I don’t want to be storing that stuff anymore. He has also given me very ‘drying’ herbs to help encourage the damp (wobbly bits) to dry up.
On physical level damp may be caused by eating too much fatty food or sugar, eating late at night or just eating too much. It’ll cause sugar and/or carb’ craving, and as we know, spleen-types are over thinkers.
Spleen types such as myself should be eating grains, but many of us get a lot of gas and a feeling of ‘stagnation’ (feeling stuck) when we do – which is somewhat confusing when you’re trying to figure it all out. The Russian healer said I must eat grains, and avoid all raw food. I know this or course, and mostly I don’t. I can eat spelt Mountain Bread occasionally, but a slice of that divine, organic, spelt or kamut sourdough from the Mullum’ Farmers Market gives me sooo much gas that it just isn’t worth it. Damn it.
I have been back from Bali for almost a month now and I have done relatively little for me. I have been swimming, exercising, loving, cooking, going to parties, hanging with my kin, and all the other stuff I mentioned above. My internal speed has gone from 5th gear to 2nd, and guess what – not one bit of pain or discomfort, and the fluid/weight are dropping off. That’s what I meant when I said that Phil and I were working on me together. There is really not a lot of point in changing your diet, taking supplements and herbs, if something is still out of balance. In my case it was the work/play balance, but in yours it may be a dysfunctional relationship, an unhappy or sick child, a nasty boss, living in Gaza or trying to deal with the death of a loved one. Whatever it is, if you’re denying it, (or cant really do anything about it) then rest assured it will show itself sooner or later, and not in a very pretty way.
The moral of this story – stress makes you fat, sad, cranky and sick. Yes, I know we all know this, but do we really ‘know’ this. We complain about feeling bloated, constipated, or nauseous, about our skin, headaches, insomnia, hair, that our jeans don’t fit or about that little extra roll on our tummies or butts, but guess what? More time than not this is because our guts are very unhappy with us, and the only thing to do is, well, stop writing lists, stop multi- tasking, stop being super woman, man or child. It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it. I’m not in any way suggesting becoming a couch potato, but merely changing your attitude towards your schedule.
Society today praises ‘busy’ doesn’t it? When I get asked if I’m as busy as usual, I now reply – I’m trying not to be. People are shocked! I guess many people aren’t as nuts as me, and many of you also, in feeling there’s not enough time in the day. I realise that some people even get bored. Usually men say this as they tend to concentrate on one thing at a time, and if they haven’t quite found that next thing to do, so they’re in between projects, then yes I can see how they’d get bored. But for most women with our endless lists and jobs – never. (A generalization I know.)
I have struggled with my weight all of my life, but especially since puberty – I now know it was when the estrogen kicked in and couldn’t get out of my liver when it needed to. I have given my adrenal glands a hammering by doing too much, even when I’m relaxing my head is writing lists. I really do believe that my emotional disposition is the sole reason for my health issues. That’s it. It can’t be my enviable, organic diet, exercise regime, lack of peace or sleep as I meditate and sleep well, or happiness levels. I run my own day and do as I please, so I can’t blame my boss, Mother, husband or children, so what’s left? Me, that’s it. It’s me that needs to recognize what I’m doing to myself and do something about it because my ‘symptoms’ are just that – ‘symptoms’ of something that is out of balance underlying it all.
I thank symptoms; we all should, as what would happen if we didn’t get them? We’d likely just drop dead one day, as some people do. I often hear people with serious, life threatening diseases say they had no warning of cancer, MS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s or whatever it is they’re dealing with – but then tell me about their 30 years of battling candida, or that huge fungal infection on their leg, or sudden hair loss, chronic constipation, out- of-control sugar cravings, back or period pain etc – all the while thinking this is normal. It’s not. Any symptom, and I mean any symptom is trying to tell you something. You have the option of a) ignoring it, b) going to a doctor to get diagnosed, then taking a synthetic drug to cover up the symptoms, then ignoring it, (kind of like bleaching mould instead of actually getting rid of it. The bleached mould will just keep growing back bigger and stronger as the bleach is a mask, not a cure), or c) you can decide to look at the real reason for your symptoms and work your way through the layers until you get to the bottom of it. It really is detective work, putting together the pieces of a puzzle, peeling off the layers of that ol’ onion. None of us are perfect although from the outside some of us look as if we are. But everyone has a cross to bear, and from what I can see, it’s usually a blessing – particularly if we learn the lesson at ‘symptom stage’ and not wait until it turns into something far more insidious which has gotten used to your body and taken up residence, hesitant to leave as it’s just so comfy.
The only health issue I have is my gut – nothing else. Imagine if I could actually get through this? It will take a complete shedding of the stuff I don’t need (ego) – it’s clearly not working for me anymore, if it ever was. My body has an intelligence that far outweighs my own conscious brain, so yeah I’m gonna listen to it, and yeah I’m going to listen also for the remedy. I always listened in fact, but this latter part I wasn’t so good at, and that’s probably because I knew I was over-doing it. No way was my body going to stop me from my mission to teach the world about ‘food as medicine’ and the relationship between the mind, body and spirit, even if it killed me. (Ha. Not funny.) I feel as though I have achieved what I set out to do, so now it’s time for a little sabbatical whilst my body regains its equilibrium and I make some space in the library that I call my brain. The future ‘books’ and info’ I no doubt will add to my library aren’t going anywhere, I know they’ll wait for me. And my goodness won’t I be ready for them that?
I really am looking forward to this slowing down, and to see what my next mission is. I’ve always had a clear path forward – lists of what I want to achieve for the next year or 30, but now I don’t, (apart from studying genetics and the MTHFR gene, and writing my next book. Gawd, it’s hopeless.). And you know, the funny thing is that however productive I’ve always been, lately I’m even more so. I thought I ‘worked smart’ before, but now – well, it’s amazing what one can do with a goal. Oh dear – there I go again – setting goals, but this time it’s a goal to slow down – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Still…
What a journey, what an amazing trip. What I’ve learnt about human health over the past year blows me away. The more we know, the more we realize how little we know – rings very true.
Thank you, my thoughtful gut. You’ve taught me so much. Things don’t change overnight, for better or worse – it takes repetition of thought and practice. I know which thought I’ll be choosing in future – ‘I am worthy just as I am’.
Watch this space. I’m as curious as you to see what pot of gold is waiting for me at the other end of this.
In Love and true wellbeing,
March 19, 2015[/private]