I have a lot of health issues, particularly with regards to food, and, historically, I have almost always either lacked the spoons or the insurance to seek a doctor’s care. So I have spent my adult life just trying to figure out, on my own, what I am reacting to and how badly I need to avoid it. In God’s grace, he has seen fit to make none of my allergies/sensitivities life-threatening. As far as I know, up to this point. Right now, I finally do have insurance and I am grateful for the gift of being able to afford that. But, while I wait for a referral to an allergist, I am on a self-administered elimination diet because I have recently begun to suspect that I am Salicylate Intolerant. So I thought it might be fun to write about how I got to this point and what I find out when I do go to the doctor.
So without going too far back in history, I think it will be sufficient to say that somewhere between 10 and 15 years ago, I started having more frequent headaches and that’s also when I began noticing the reactions which I believe are symptoms of Oral Allergy Syndrome, or OAS(that is another story, for another blog post). By about 5 years ago, when I moved to my present home, I was to the point when it was a rare day when I didn’t have at least one headache (usually multiple headaches a day, of various “kinds”) and I was pretty sure that almost everything I ate would hurt me in some way. But there seemed to be so many things I was reacting to with so many symptoms, it was beyond emotionally and physically daunting to try to figure it out (I didn’t know it then, but this was my lack of spoons). In addition, my new husband’s work insurance would have cost me about half our mortgage in premiums. Not really financially feasible to go to the allergist at that time. So I was trudging along with daily headaches, fatigue, brain fog, standard stuff in the chronic illness world. Then, maybe eight months ago, I noticed that I got a very specific headache when I ate margarine. As luck would have it, a few weeks later, we switched brands due to a sale at the Grocery Outlet. ($0.34/lb! w00t!!) This brand did not give me a headache. I compared labels and the only ingredient different was palm kernel oil. Okay, avoid palm kernel oil. No problem.
Fast forward again to last month. I switched shampoo because I colored my hair. My husband and I are alone in the house one weekend, so we snacked. Excessively. =) Same weekend, my brother in law left an open container of gasoline in the garage which vents into our house. Basically, things aligned just right and my face swelled up enough that my husband could see it. There were no hives, just swelling, which I don’t usually have. And my mouth and lips were burning and my teeth hurt and I was a little wheezy. I thought it might be the gasoline, but, swelling, especially face swelling is one of those things that they always tell you to watch out for. Eli had it, too, but his went away after the gas was gone. When my swelling stayed around, I started to investigate. Reading labels of all the food I had been eating, what do I find? Palm Kernel Oil. So I go to my Google.
Apparently, it is almost impossible to be allergic, in the technical sense, to palm kernel oil. Generally speaking, allergic reactions are a histamine reaction. Anyway, everything I could find said that an allergic reaction to Palm Kernel Oil would be extremely unlikely. But I did find an article where a woman talked about reacting to palm kernel oil because she has salicylate intolerance. So I looked at the symptoms. Many of them were like mine. What do people react to? Many of the things I knew I react to, that aren’t usually included in the lists for OAS.
But, wait, what are salicylates, you ask? One of them you probably know pretty well. It looks like this:It’s salicylic acid or Aspirin. We developed it from salicylates found in the bark of willow trees and now we put it in a lot of health and beauty products as well as OTC medicines. It is related to ibuprofen and other NSAIDS as well. It is also a natural insecticide and, therefore found in a large number of plant things, especially fruits and vegetables. Not, however, in animals, grains or most legumes.
So I got a food list. I highlighted the things that were low in salicylates (that I could eat) and then marked the things I can’t eat anyway. The good news is after just a few days of eating this way, I felt much better. For the first time in years, I went days without headaches. I was less tired. The bad news was my list looked like this:
Also, my face was still a bit swollen even after a week on the diet. On a whim, in the shower, I read the label of my shampoo and, sure enough, it had salicylic acid in it. I had been using it for about two weeks. I had been smearing enough aspirin that my husband could smell it all over my head. No wonder my face was swollen. Sure enough, I went back to good ol’ cheap Suave and the swelling went away.
So it’s been about six weeks, I think. I feel pretty good until I decide that it’s probably all in my head and one granola bar (or whatever) won’t hurt me. How much coconut oil (or palm oil or corn syrup) could be in there? And then I’m on my back all afternoon with a dizzy headache. So however much it is, it’s enough.
It is a restrictive diet, but I still can eat meat, fish, rice, cheese, all sorts of sugar (as long as it’s not honey or corn syrup). Almost all the spices and herbs (except chives, parsley, salt and garlic) are out. I can still have soy sauce, which is good, because I’m Filipina. =) Coffee and all teas are high in salicylates, which is sad. I managed to time my caffeine withdrawals with having the flu, though, so it kind of got lost in the shuffle. I am almost used to hot lime sugar water as a morning drink. As far as treats go, I know that Pepsi Throwback (“real” sugar, no corn syrup) and Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream are completely safe.
Right now, I’m still getting over that flu. I still have a cough and a stuffy nose. In addition to that, I’m crashing from having to teach last night. Even given all that, I still feel better than I did, probably any day last year. It is awesome to not have a headache or dizziness or light-headedness or face pressure and to be fairly certain that what I eat is not going to give me any of those things.
Standard note: I am not a doctor and I don’t give out medical advice. Please don’t take my putting myself on an elimination diet as a recommendation that you do as well. Also, please don’t post comments about how I shouldn’t go on an elimination diet without a doctor’s supervision. I would have waited to talk to a doctor but knowing that that would be at least weeks, if not months, I couldn’t not take the opportunity to feel better. I still eat meat, fish and rice. I actually eat a really good diet. It’s nutritionally sound. Billions of Asians, throughout history, support it.
(Edited to change a sentence which said that aspirin is related to acetaminophen to say that aspirin is related to ibuprofen. Because that is what is true.)