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.