Growing up in an artistic family, I never quite associate myself as a rational or scientifically minded person. But strange enough, today I find an equal affiliation to what stimulates my left brain as what inspires its right half. Perhaps it’s not so strange after all. In high school, I had enjoyed biology more than any other subject, except for art and English literature. But getting a lower score in it than all my other subjects in the high school exam was enough to deter me from pursuing science any further. I consciously avoided all hard core science subjects at college and chose courses the likes of “Physics for Poets” to wing my way through graduation.
Well, that was a long-winded introduction to what I’m going to write about today. Actually, the theme is simple. It’s about putting two and two together. It seems to be a predominant occupation of my mind in the past two years, ever since my body started to give me signs that it is falling apart one way or another. In fact, the more I think, the further along in my life I can trace the sources of my woes. It’s like playing detective to find the culprits for your bad health. It’s not been easy, but believe it or not, I am actually grateful for having been diagnosed with two large fibroids and an ovarian cyst the summer of 2009, when I came back from visiting my cancer-ridden father in New York.
I was in total shock upon the diagnoses. One fibroid was about 15cm and another was 5cm. The cyst measured 5cm and was later on deemed to be benign. Whew, no cancer–my worst fear after having been on the battle field with my dad when he struggled with his acute leukemia. At that time the ultrasound scans also showed that I had very fibrocystic breasts.
After the initial shock, I went to see a few specialists to get their opinions. All of them suggested surgery. One of them promised he would do a good job using minimally invasive technique. Another one said that due to the fact that the larger of the two tumors is stuck to the back of my uterine wall, there could be a lot of blood loss during the abdominal surgery. He recommended a few shots of lupron, a synthetic female hormone that would put my body into sudden menopause and make me very depressed. The reason for this shot is to shrink the fibroids somewhat so as to minimize the possibility of blood loss. Now, this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Having been clinically depressed in my 20′s, the prospect of an artificially induced menopause and depression was absolutely frightening! No way, José!
Since then, I started researching alternative ways of treating fibroids. There turned out to be tons of materials on the Web. I started learning all about the possible causes such as estrogen dominance due to a number of factors, including eating estrogenic food and being exposed to environmental toxins that are known as “xenoestrogens,” i.e. chemicals and substances that mimick estrogen once they enter the body. When there is too much estrogen in the female body, the estrogen/progesterone ratio is out of balance, leading to all kinds of gynecological problems like fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cysts and fibrocystic breast and breast cancer.
Further research led me to the book “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause” by Dr. John Lee, who specializes in female hormones throughout premenopausal and menopause years. It was another shock to me when I found that that women can be in premenopause around 10 years prior to the onset of menopause. Judging from the severe PMS I had prior to my fibroid diagnosis, I definitely have been in premenopause since my early 30s! In fact, I realized that I was diagnosed with a “myom” in Sweden when I was around 33 years old. The doctor said it was only 3cm and nothing to worry about. Just monitor it every year. She made it such a small deal that I very quickly forgot about it. Two years ago, I put the first “two and two” together. “Myom” is the Swedish word for myoma, the medical name for uterine fibroids. So the small myom had developed into two huge fibroids! How come all these yearly gynecological exams didn’t alert me (or the doctor) of their existence?
More and more “2+2″ popped up, as I read about how dairy products, simple carbs, especially wheat flour and sugar, the lack of Vitamin D/sunshine, all contributed to my condition. Sure enough, my diet in Sweden was mainly made up of these foods (especially that whole year eating instant noodles every day due to being jobless and broke), and I sorely lacked sunshine all year round.
The connection between fibroids and nutrition (or the lack thereof) reminded me of a book that I got as a gift from a classmate some time ago. It is a book about acid/alkaline diet, “The pH Miracle,” which I never read. Suddenly I got interested and devoured it in one setting. Boy oh boy, I was in another round of shock! The content made me so depressed, as it seemed like everything I ate up until then was highly acidic. How would I be able to make sure I get the perfect acid-alkaline balance? After that book I read at least two more books on the subject and looked up numerous sources online, only to find countless conflicts in whether a food is considered acid or alkaline-forming. The only way, of course, was to find out by eating the food and see how each type made me feel. I was told that white cheeses are alkaline, so I tried a different type of white cheese every week. But it made me sicker. I was also told that yogurt is alkaline-forming. So I ate that together with some oat granola for breakfast. I got a stomach ache afterwards but somehow I kept this “wholesome” habit for months!
After the acid-alkaline episode, which got me into a dead end, I started reading other books on food and health.
My best friend gave me a Chinese book written by a Taiwanese author, Dr. Tom Wu, who wrote about phytonutrients from fruits and veggies and how all kinds of diseases, including cancer, can be cured by blending juices and drinking several glasses all day long. In fact, he tells the story of how he cured himself of lung cancer using this method. I followed his instructions closely and spent at least an hour every morning preparing vegetables and fruits for blending. I also added psyllium husk to help “sweep toxins down the colon.” My bowel movements were not a pretty sight, I can tell you that!
But after some half a year I read about the scam that surrounded this so-called doctor, revealed by his own son. Apparently this doctor has a very small practice in California and has faked all his naturopathic qualifications. All he has been trying to sell, besides his book, is the Vitamix blender!
Oh well, so much for medical integrity! This story gives me a lesson: not all people with the “Dr.” title can be trusted.
At about the same time, I also read the infamous “China Study” by Colin Campbell, who proposes a vegetable-based diet as the panacea of all ills. This was some months after I got myself into the raw food and vegan diet, having read a whole bunch of online material on the raw food movement. It was not easy at first, having been an omnivore my whole life. Besides, as a Chinese person, I naturally prefer warm and cooked food. Initially the raw food vegan diet made me feel light. I gained tremendous energy from it. Eating out was a pain as nothing raw and vegan was available in any restaurants. I had to abstain from eating during social occasions. I remember feeling cold all the time. That winter was especially tough, as we had unusually cold temperatures. I was shaking all the time. Then I remember coming home from work totally exhausted, so much so that I hardly had any energy to walk up the stairs.
Worse still, I even learned about the “Master Cleanse” and decided to go fasting on my own. It was in November, not a good time to fast due to the cold weather. I went ahead anyway, and spent 10 days without “real food.” I drank copious amounts of water mixed with cayenne pepper, lemon juice and maple syrup. Sometimes I really could not stand the hunger, so I munched on things that were totally junk, like potato chips and nuts that turned out to be very hard on my digestion, e.g. cashew and Brazil nuts, because they gave me some fat, which my body was craving. Anyway, despite the initial weak feeling, I managed to eat less and less toward the end of my fast and felt “energized” and cleansed. My skin cleared up and seemed to glow. I lost some pounds and looked slimmer than ever. I loved the new flat tummy, which I had lost since my 20′s. I had a record number of bowel movements, up to seven a day on some days. And I believe I even expelled some parasites! I was so proud of the “detox” that I had accomplished.
Two months later, I had a dizzy spell. It lasted for two hours straight. I had to take a sick leave from work because it was so bad I couldn’t do a thing! This happened one more time before I realized something very wrong was going on in my body. It was not until later that I realize I had anemia.
Later on when reading “50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People“, I came across the Blood Type Diet by Dr. Peter D’Adamo. I was instantly intrigued. Wait a minute, I thought, hadn’t I heard about the connection between food and blood type before? Sure, it was in that book by the Taiwanese “doctor” where I first read about the connection. That “doctor” probably stole the information from Dr. D’Adamo. In any case, I got curious. “Perhaps there is something to it,” I thought. Reading half way through the “50 Secrets,” I was ready to give up, as each culture the book mentions seems to thrive on different kinds of food. To me, the book simply presented too many food choices, so many that it made me feel like I had to eat all those foods suggested in order to achieve longevity. It didn’t quite make sense to me. I didn’t want to spend all my waking hours looking for these power foods!
The concept of a diet based on different blood types, on the other hand, really “clicked” with me. It sounded more “selective.” I immediately purchased “Eat Right 4 Your Type” and finished it in one “gulp”! How interesting to read about the anthropological background of the four blood types and to find out that I, being a Type O, have hunters and gatherers as ancestors, whereas my husband, a Type A, has farmers as ancestors!
The part about the right kind of diet for my blood type was right on, as I recognized how the foods in the “Avoid” category affected me physically, making me feel ill one way or another. For example, I’m not supposed to have dairy products–no wonder the yogurt in my breakfast, which my then naturopathic doctor said was “excellent”–gave me stomach aches. And the book made me realize that my severe pollen and later dust allergy in the past was a result of having consumed dairy products–a habit I picked up after moving to the States and living in Wisconsin, the “Dairy State,” of all places!
Later on I also found out that I’m not supposed to have oat. The combination of oat granola and yogurt was therefore a big no-no! There are a number of other details, such as alfalfa, cashew and brazil nuts being “Avoids.” These were new food in my diet during the raw-vegan period, but I was eating quite a lot of them and spending much time in sprouting! Sure, I was eating all organic, raw and vegan, and paid a ton of money for what was supposed to be good for me. But it became clear that what sounds good in principle is not necessarily practical for each individual. The raw-vegan movements are so hyped among a certain population in pursuit of maximum health and longevity, but it turns out that only a certain percentage of the population could actually benefit from it (mostly Type A’s, whose health would benefit greatly from cutting out red meat and eating mainly a vegetable-based diet, supplemented with some fish, poultry and eggs).
The lesson here is that I have to learn to listen to my body. Somehow, Dr. D’s work takes the guesswork out of the equation. And the more I learn how to eat according to my blood type, the more in tune I become with what my body really needs. In other words, the more this diet cleanses my body in a slow and steady fashion, the more I can connect a particular ailment or reaction to a particular kind of food. It is really fun to be able to put two and two together this way!
One important aspect of the diet for Type O individuals is that lean red meat, such as grass-fed beef and lamb, can actually aid digestion, burn fat and improve metabolism. They also provide a lot of important nutrients such as B12, which I sorely lacked during my vegan trial period, and which caused my anemia. I remember distinctly just how much better I felt the first week I introduced organic beef into my diet. Prior to that, I had terrible acid reflux for more than half a year–the worst ever in my life! But beef made that go away! Isn’t that amazing? The acid/alkaline diet would have said “No” to this as red meat is highly acidic! But, according to the Blood Type Diet, O’s have a high level of stomach acid, and red meat paradoxically helps control that. It also turned my anemia around completely.
I’m an all-or-nothing-kind of gal. So when I choose to adopt a principle in my everyday life, I tend to go full out without any reservations. Soon I realized that to benefit more from the diet, I had to find out about my secretor status. Within each blood type, the majority (about 80%) are secretors, meaning, their blood type characteristics are found in their bodily secretions such as saliva, sweat, semen or vaginal fluid; the rest are non-secretors, whose blood type characteristics are not expressed this way. I sent in a saliva sample to a lab in America and got back the results in about a week. Turned out I am a non-secretor. This further helps me to hone in on the types of food I should focus on and avoid.
So I checked the most updated online database of food values on Dr. D’s Website and found that there were a couple of food items that secretors can have but I can’t, including soy products, corn, sugar, oat, spelt flour, etc. For these losses I gained avocado, a favorite fruit mine–great! Well, there are quite a few more differences. Though not a lot, knowing them for sure helps me fine-tune my diet, especially since soy is a staple in the Chinese diet, oat was my favorite grain for breakfast and corn and corn-derived products are in almost all processed food and even “non-gluten” products. After cutting out soy products, I noticed that the excessive mucous in my throat and nose disappeared. Cutting out oat obviously made my tummy feel much better.
I also introduced many beneficial items like ghee (clarified butter), a couple of times of lean red meat a week and almost daily consumption of organic eggs as well as deep sea fatty fish like salmon, sardine and tuna. The increase in animal protein really made a big difference in how I felt. I was finally able to feel more “solid” on my feet, no more lightheadedness and constant hunger, my muscle tones improved a great deal and I didn’t gain weight from “all that meat”!
The best about this diet is that my tummy feels great, no more bloating, no more drowsiness after meals, everything seems to be digested properly and I have so much more energy than before–solid energy that lasts throughout the whole day. My metabolism has never worked this well since I was a little kid! Having suffered from digestive problems since the age of 13, can you imagine the relief that I got?
Was it a difficult transition from eating everything that was wrong for my type to everything that is compliant? Well, yes and no. As I had already cut out sugar, coffee, wheat and dairy prior to adopting the Blood Type Diet, or BTD (at the time when I started the acid/alkaline diet), it was not too difficult for me to add and subtract all the other foods that are less physically addictive. I also cut out most processed food and was by then also quite well trained in preparing food from scratch. I have always loved cooking, so it was not too bad of a transition, although I found myself spending more time in the kitchen.
The challenge with the BTD is that, I had to go very far in food sourcing as a lot of substitutes for the “Avoids” cannot be found in my country. The food bill increased, especially with all those high-quality meats and fish, but I truly believe in investing in health and spending the money on disease prevention and natural healing, rather than on doctor visits!
(to be continued….)