Step 2: Digestive supplements

My intolerance test in October 2015 showed up some real problems with foods and lacking vitamins and minerals. My intolerance tester was one of the first people to really talk me through the link between gut health and autoimmunity. There are plenty of books on the matter but a basic, child-language explanation is that powerful and unnatural things in your digestive system (like antibiotics for example) can punch little holes in your gut lining. This allows things like undigested foods to seep through into your blood system. Your immune system doesn’t recognise these invaders and starts attacking them, just as it should do. And then, as in my case with the RA, the immune system then gets confused between the proteins in this undigested invader and the proteins in your joints, so it starts attacking the joints too. If you can reduce the invaders getting through into your system, then you can reduce the anger of your immune system and thus its attacking nature.

My intolerance tester advised some supplements for helping to ‘heal the gut’ and some digestive supplements to help make sure the food was being digested properly. Now, I’m not a ‘health food shop nut’. I don’t like all of these way-out methods and am not going to waste my money on expensive, latest-things. So I was a bit overwhelmed with the list of things she wanted me to try. I decided to forget the ‘heal the gut’ idea (which just sounded a bit weird at that time) but the idea of aiding digestion sounded good. I know I eat too fast and don’t chew properly, so this was action I was willing to take.

So from that time, I started taking a digestive enzyme with every meal (I don’t necessarily now but for the first 6-8 months, I took them all the time). I use Quest Enzyme Digest with peppermint oil, which gives you 90 tablets for about £8 from Holland & Barrett. The idea of this is that it just gives your stomach extra enzymes to what it’s already producing, in order to help break down the food properly. I have the idea in my head that we don’t all produce the same amount of digestive enzymes as everyone else, so we autoimmuners may well be lacking here. I can’t remember if I read that somewhere or came up with it as my own theory, so don’t quote me on that one.

The other supplement she recommended was Acidophilus (20 billion – ultra maximum). This is just a ‘friendly bacteria’ tablet. Admittedly, it was sold to me as an ‘improve your gut health’ tablet but since I’d heard of pro-biotic yoghurts and such-like that boast ‘friendly bacteria’, I didn’t think it was too way-out! In a bottle you get 60 tablets (one a day) for about £18 from Holland & Barrett. Expensive, yes. But I do think this one’s worth it. These days I take it maybe 5 days a week.

I would ultimately come back to the ‘heal the gut supplements’ and they are important. I wonder if I’d started them at this point, in October 2015 rather than February 2016, my journey may have been a little quicker…?

Step 1: Food intolerance

The first thing I did was come off my medication. I did this gradually over the summer, as it was making me feel worse and worse. By the end of September I was off it, in pain and aware my RA condition was getting worse. My RA nurse was well aware of what I was doing and was hoping that my condition would become so bad in the coming 4-6 weeks that I would qualify for the next level of treatment, which I didn’t want as it was more severe for me and more expensive for the NHS (I was told £10,000 per patient per year).

I then went for an food intolerance test. I went to Penny Livingstone in Birmingham. She uses a Vega-test machine to work out which foods your body doesn’t like. It’s not scary at all. It looks like a sewing machine on the table but has a wire coming out with a cylindrical metal thing on the end which you hold in one hand. Then she holds something that looks like a pen (which is also connected to the machine) and gently prods your other hand. As the circuit is completed, the machine makes a buzzing sound. A high-pitched, steady sound is a good noise. If it dips low, then that shows a potential intolerance. The food she is testing is contained in a mini-test-tube, which is slotted into the machine. She takes it out to replace it with the next food.

There is *much* debate over the validity of the results from these machines. Some say they are totally unreliable and money wasters. I am not completely free of skepticism myself but, having been through this process three or four times now, I have to admit there is something in it. If you avoid the foods it highlights for 2 or 3 weeks, you generally do notice an improvement. If you really needed to cut out all of those foods or just some of them, you never can tell, but I definitely think this machine gives you a good indication of what to try.

I did go to the doctor’s and ask what intolerance tests they could do via blood tests. She tested me on dairy and gluten but with no problems arising. The Vega-test machine would contradict this numerous times over my various visits, so make of that what you will.

My first intolerance test highlighted a lot of problem foods: dairy, rice, eggs, caffeine, random vegetables, preservatives, alcohol and apples. It also brought up problems such as diesel, animal hair and pollens. Worst of all was the vitamins and minerals test, which showed how low I was in so many areas. This was put down to the mess and the state my body was in from all of the heavy drugs I had been on. I wanted to take drastic action.

The day after the test, I cut out all the problem foods and drink – I haven’t had an English breakfast tea since! I don’t remember noticing an instant change in my pain and mobility levels this first time (especially as they were so bad at this point) but it was definitely the start and a step in the right direction. It helped me to be aware of my problem foods for when I started the elimination diet 2 or 3 weeks later.

However, clearly I needed to sort out the vitamins and minerals too. See Step 2: Digestive supplements.

Supporting autoimmune conditions through diet

In September 2015, I came off medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis, determined to find another way of easing my condition. I have not been on medication since then. The more people I talk to about my current diet and lifestyle, the more I realise there are lots of people out there struggling with autoimmune conditions and medications; people who want to try a natural approach but are not sure where to begin. An increasing number of people are showing an interest in the route I have taken and are asking for my advice. So I have decided to put it all down on this blog in the hope of helping them and others who might stumble across this site. I am no expert and can only tell you what I’ve learnt, what I’ve tried and what works for me. However, I honestly believe there is something in what I am doing and, while it hasn’t sorted out my condition completely, I certainly think it is worth you reading on if you are worried about your autoimmune condition.

At some point, I will write a post with my whole story but I am keen now to start people off down the road I began in September 2015. You can take and leave as much as you want from my experiences but I certainly believe that my desperate situation in 2015 made me make radical changes, all of which I believe were necessary. Tinkering with this and that, and half-heartedly attempting some of changes would not have brought me to the place I am now. I am convinced of this.

I was blessed enough to know someone with RA who had been through all of this change a year ahead of me. Her mother was my mentor and guided me on the first steps of what I needed to do and I sure this saved me a lot of time wasting. It is these steps that I will guide you through first.

So please take a look at Step 1: Food intolerance.

Calmer

When the world comes crashing in
and my head’s all in a spin
I turn to you, I turn to you
Calmer

I’m wrestling with my failures
Trying to sort out my problems
But then I look and see you
Calmer, calmer

Emotions feel muddled and confused
I breathe, I slow down
Focusing more on you
Calmer
Calmer
Calmer

My brain begins to empty
My eyes start to grow heavy
My breathing sounds louder than my fears
Resting, resting in you

Lifting up my thoughts
Letting you come in
Letting the hands that hold the universe hold everything
Trying to trust
Striving to surrender
Giving it all to God

You are in control
You can have control
Help me, heal me
Save me from myself
Love me, lead me
Draw me to yourself

Resting, resting
Calmer, calmer
You can have control
Hallelujah, you are in control

Advice on sewing machine storage

Before Christmas I bought myself a new computerised sewing machine. It arrived on the Tuesday and, after taking a quick look at it, I put it away in my room until the weekend. When I tried using it again on the Saturday afternoon, it would not work, making a horrible noise as soon as I descended the needle into the bobbin section with the foot pedal. While the needle was not jammed and could still move freely, the angry noise continued until I turned the machine off. I tried the machine at intervals for 5 hours before giving up. I left it on the dining room table overnight and next morning it was working fine. It worked fine for the next week, when I was using it pretty much daily. Then I put it away over Christmas, back in my room at the foot of the bed. The next time I came to use it, the same problem occurred. I decided not to worry about it but just leave the machine on the dining table for a few hours. Guess what? It worked fine again.

My theory is this: sewing machines don’t like being stored in cold rooms! My bedroom has no heating and is north facing; it’s pretty cold in there. The dining room is one of the warmest rooms in the house. If I keep the machine in there between sewing sessions, there is no problem but, if I return it to storage in my cold room, I have a problem the next time I use it.

Why does this happen? A bit of research on the internet has taught me that modern, computerised sewing machines do not need oiling because they have this grease stuff put in them when they are manufactured. However, this grease can go thick at cold temperatures and so not lubricate the machine properly. This is most likely the cause of the problem when the needle entered the bobbin area of the cold machine. So the lesson I have learnt is to keep my sewing machine in a warm place because it can be pretty temperamental in colder climates!

It is worth mentioning that my research on the internet also reminded me that since it is a COMPUTERISED sewing machine, the computer function can also play up at extreme temperatures too, just like mobiles, cameras and laptops. So there are two reasons to keep them in the warm!

Alternative to Mince Pies

I’m not too keen on pastry – certainly not lots of it in one bowl – and yet my family have always baked thick pastry mince pies at Christmas. This year I decided to try making Mary Berry’s Mincemeat Streusel after seeing it on the Great British Bake Off Christmas Masterclass. It has made its way into my permanent recipe book!

It is quick and easy to do compared with conventional mince pies because, in effect, it is more like a traybake and so avoids the cutting out of individual circles of pastry. The base is a flat, thin layer of pastry. The middle layer is a generous helping of mincemeat and the top is the semolina ‘streusel’, which means ‘sprinkle’ in German and tastes lovely.

The recipe is found here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/mincemeatstreusel_73426. The only thing I would advise to do differently is to bake the pastry blind before adding the mincemeat. Because of the high juice and sugar content, my first streusel had a soggy bottom but my second attempt worked perfectly by baking blind first. A suggestion for an alternative filling is apple, sultana and a sprinkle of cinnamon. This makes the streusel a perfect pudding all year round!

Bunting from scraps of fabric

I’ve been doing a bit of sewing this year and I have an idea of a little project for like-minded people out there… For every sewing project I’ve done this year, I’ve kept scraps of fabrics and yesterday I sewed them all together to make a couple of patchwork triangles Sewing these together and attaching them to a ribbon has formed the start of a chain of bunting. The idea is to do the same next year and the year after and so create an ever-increasing length of bunting that will also be a record of all my individual sewing projects. Hope you like it!

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