November 13, 2009

The Path of Yeast Resistance

I thought long and hard before deciding to post this entry. You see, it's about something kind of embarrassing, in the same way that those Pepto Bismal commercials must be embarrassing for the actors that appear in them. In the end, I reasoned that if this entry helps even just one person, it will be worth whatever personal embarrassment it causes me.

Thanks to a friendly suggestion from my wife, this entry is not nearly as gross as it could have been. Even still, some readers may find parts... unsettling.

Realizing that there was a problem.
I love the bathroom. Really. It's a great place to escape from the kids, read a book, relax, and have some time alone. It's like my Fortress of Solitude. There comes a point however, when too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing.

Fawn would comment on the amount of time I spent in the bathroom. I would brush it off. I was, after all, actually using the toilet. It's not like I was just sitting there twiddling my thumbs. Over time, though, I began to use the toilet more and more. Sometimes, desperately so. Far too often, desperately so.

Fawn suggested I go see a doctor. At first I brushed off her suggestion. Eventually, I agreed that she was right. Then, I did nothing about it.

Then, I still didn't do anything about it.

Eventually, Fawn called to make an appointment for me.

Visiting the doctor.
How was I going to explain this to the doctor? How do you talk to someone about something like that? It's not like it flows easily out of casual conversation.
"Hi! How are you doing?"
"Fine, thanks. How are you?"
"Oh, I've been dealing with a lot of crap lately."
OK, maybe it does. He ushered me into his office and I sat down, looking around at his certificates and clinical apparatus. Easing down into the seat across from me, the doctor asked what brought me in and I told him. Just like that. Once I got over my initial shame of being a gassy guy, it was easy.

"You have IBS!" he declared, "Irritable Bowel Syndrome!"

Oh my! I panicked, is that a permanent condition? Could I die? Could it get so bad that I end up spending the rest of my life on the toilet only to develop a permanent toilet seat ring on my bottom that I take to my grave?

"We're going to do some bloodwork and we'll need a stool sample. Perhaps you have parasites."


It could also be allergies. Maybe there's something physically wrong with your intestines. We might have to do an endoscopy. We might have to go down through your mouth or up the other end." With this, smiled and poked his finger up into the air.


"It could be stress-related. Have you been experiencing any stress lately? Not more than usual?"

Not until now!

"In the meantime, get those bloodwork and stool sample tests done and try cutting some foods out of your diet. Try removing dairy or gluten."

I went and got the test done.

Removing my most beloved food.
Although I often tried, I could never figure out what set me off. Something I ate made me very, very gassy. Those mixed salads with all the purple and pointy-leaved greens? Grapes? Orange juice (especially if I'd had a glass of milk around the same time? Ice cream? Jelly snacks? Cauliflower? Noodles? Peanut butter?

Sometimes these things would seem to set me off and other times I'd have no reaction at all. Try as I might, I could find not find any connection.

I grieved, I took my doctors advice to stop drinking milk. I didn't think it would do anything; I've been eating and drinking dairy my whole life!

I reduced and then eventually eliminated my cheese intake, too. No more creamy pastas! No more gooey cheese sandwiches! No more delectable ice cream! No more cold, refreshing glasses of milk! No more warm, comforting mugs of hot milk!


It was hard. If you've never tried to quit dairy before, you won't realize how ubiquitous it is. It's everywhere! Restaurant menus are filled with cheese-containing dishes!

Deep down inside, I secretly hoped that things wouldn't improve because I cut back on dairy.

Things improved.

A glimmer of hope. A source of confusion.
I got the results of my tests.

The good news was that I didn't have parasites. I didn't have a number of other things, either. I did, however, have an allergy to something. The tests didn't show what, just that I have an allergy to something.

Oh, no! I thought, I've developed an allergy to dairy!

By this point, I wasn't eating any dairy that could be identified as dairy. Even still, something was setting me off. Eliminating dairy helped, but it didn't solve the problem.

Perhaps it was the mysterious allergy? My doctor referred me to a specialist.

The problem is right there, under your nose.
I sat down with the specialist, a Doctor of Internal Medicine and Hematology. I already knew him from our dealings with Jade. He helped us to identify her food allergies.

He started asking me questions.
"Did you often feel tired?"
"Yeah! The kids wake up all through the night."
"Do you get moody or irritable?"
"Yeah, get that way when I don't have enough sleep. But now that you mention it, sometimes I get really cranky without knowing why."
"Do you get headaches?"
I never used to, but I'm getting them more and more often.
"Do you have any joint pains? Arthritis?"
Last month the fingers in my right hand got a little stiff for some reason, but no, not arthritis.
I wasn't sure where he was going with some of the questions. At one point, he asked me a question about diarrhea. Sure, lots. But the last time I had true diarrhea was when I went to the Dominican Republic. No, I didn't get it in the DR. It started on the plane before I even got there. What did I eat before getting on the plane? Pizza, I think. No, it was pasta.

He continued asking me questions and then a memory popped into my brain. How could I have forgotten about it? There was another time when I'd had awful diarrhea: It was a miserable experience!

I told the doctor about it.

A significant story, almost forgotten.
When I lived in the NWT, I would regularly play volleyball at the school gym. One night, while diving for a ball, I skinned my knee.

A few days later, the glands at the top of my legs had swollen. It was incredibly painful. The sore on my knee had grown too and, what's more, it started to spread. Weirdest of all, new sores were popping up in a spiral around the original wound.

There were no doctors in town and the next one wouldn't be coming for over a week. The nurse suggested I drive to the closest hospital. By the time I arrived, new sores were appearing on my un-wounded knee.

At the hospital, I was referred to a drop-in clinic. I didn't like the doctor at the drop-in clinic one bit. She looked at my knee and then asked me if I used drugs. Not the kinds of drugs that you take to treat something, but those other drugs. The hard ones. I, who am reluctant to even take an aspirin or tylenol, told her I didn't. I explained to her how I got the initial wound playing volleyball. She kept asking me the same question about the drugs, like she was trying to elicit a confession from a liar.

Eventually she told me I had a staphylococcus infection. We've all got it on our skin, but sometimes it gets a little carried away. She prescribed some antibiotics. She took a swab and sent it off to a lab. I never heard anything about the results.

I should have known that something was wrong when the pharmacist looked at me with raised eyebrows and asked, "Are you sure?"

"It's an antibiotic, right?" I asked in return. Indeed it was, but that didn't stop the pharmacist from phoning the doctor to be sure that was what she had prescribed.

I really, really should have known something was wrong.

I started taking the antibiotics and had to quit after three days. My knees were doing better and my glands had returned to normal, but there was something very wrong with my stomach. I couldn't tolerate any food. I kept having to go to the bathroom. In spite of Fawn's loving reminders that the full course of antibiotics should be used, I stopped taking them.

Things went from bad to worse. Even though I hadn't eaten for two whole days, I was still going to the bathroom. It was a peanut-buttery goop and it just wouldn't stop. It went on for over a week. I felt awful.

Finally, the doctor came to town. I told him about what was happening and he chuckled. He actually chuckled.

"She shouldn't have prescribed that to you. It's too powerful. Maybe if you'd had anthrax, but not for a staph infection. The antibiotics have killed the good bacteria that lives in your stomach. You have a yeast infection. That stuff that's coming out of you is yeast. Lots and lots of yeast."

He reached up into a cupboard and pulled out a tiny dropper bottle.

"Normally I prescribe this to babies" he explained, grinning from ear-to-ear, "It's an anti-fungal drop. It'll kill some of that yeast. In the meantime, eat lots of yogurt to get back some of that good bacteria."

I took the drops and it helped almost instantly. I bought up all the yogurt and yogurt snacks in town.

Problem solved!

That's the Yeast of your Problems
The Doctor of Internal Medicine took me into his examination room and looked me over. He asked me to lie down. He tapped on my stomach. Like usual, it sounded hollow. I was always hungry.

"You're bloated!" he exclaimed, "You're bloated right now!" It was like he was exclaiming "Eureka!"

"That's not normal?" I asked. It sure felt normal to me. My stomach was always like that.

"No, you're bloated. Sit up."

I sat up and he told me to open my mouth. He gently stuck what looked like a Q-tip on a long BBQ skewer into the back of my mouth until it touched my throat. He told me to put my shirt back on and then he left the office with the swab.

"Come and see this!" he shouted from down the hall a few minutes later.

I walked into the room where his voice had come from. It was like a miniature laboratory. He was standing over a microscope.

"Take a look," he offered, pointing at the microscope.

I looked into the eye pieces and saw a collection of pink- and purple-stained microbes.

"See those long ones that look like sticks?" he asked, "That's yeast. There's far too much there. You have a yeast overgrowth."

"What do I do about it?" I asked.

"For now, cut back on sugars and starches."

Sugars and starches! That was the connection! Every time my stomach had been set off, I had been eating a lot of sugary and starchy foods.

The doctor explained that yeast are primitive and hardy. They like warm, moist environments. If something (antibiotics, for example) knock down their bacterial competitors or give the yeast a leg-up (like high quantities of their favourite sugary and starchy foods), they party and then multiply like crazy.

Why should anybody care about a stomach full of happy yeast?
Although we use yeast for a great many things, yeast don't serve much of a purpose in our intestines. It would appear that their sole responsibility is to decompose our bodies after we die. If they get out of control, they can start doing their job a little too soon.

They're not a problem when they're held in check, but when there are too many of them, they block the good bacteria from processing our food and getting absorbed by our intestines. As a result, our bodies don't get the micronutrients they need. It gets worse, though. The yeast produce toxins that can affect us in all sorts of awful ways.

That tiredness, cloudy-headedness, and short-temperedness I'd been feeling? Caused by an infusion of yeast toxins and a lack of micronutrients. They can be far more damaging than that, but I'll let you do your own research on the topic.

The battle for my belly.
I have taken the doctor's advice and then some.

I've made some significant dietary changes. Grains are out, which means no breads or pastas. Potatoes and other starchy foods have been restricted. I'm eating a lot more leafy vegetables than I ever did. I am eating more fruit, but am being careful about how much. I take great comfort in the mastication of meat.

It hasn't been easy. I have constant carbohydrate cravings. I've read that those will pass. Right now, the yeast is yelling at my body to give it a quick and easy sugar fix - but I'm not letting that happen no matter how powerful the cravings get and no matter how hungry I feel.

A victorious assault.
When the yeast started dying off, I felt it. I experienced some of the same cloudy-headed, head-achey symptoms that I had been feeling before. They call those "die-off symptoms" and they're caused by the toxins that are released by the dying yeast.

My trips to the bathroom have become much less urgent and much less frequent. What had become normal for me was not normal at all. Now I have to get used to this new normal which is really, well, normal. Completely normal.

Over the years, I thought that I was developing a little pot belly. My pants were getting uncomfortably tight. The doctor had pointed to my stomach and said that it would flatten out once the yeast had been dealt with. Just like that, when the yeast stopped producing their tonnes of gasses, my little pot belly disappeared. My pants all fit properly again.

One day, when the good bacteria in my stomach have had a chance to firmly re-establish themselves, I'll gently go back to eating grains and dairy (depending on what the allergy tests say). I'll even have dessert from time-to-time.

For now though, I'll continue to follow the Path of Yeast Resistance.


Opa said...

I think it was Allan Pease (famed next to "Why men don't listen and women can't read maps" for such insightful publications as Allan Pease on Amway) who described men as sex crazed farting machines.

Trouble is, fixing one problem often provokes a new one. Where are you going to get your reading done henceforth?

Megan said...

Having a diagnosis is always better than NOT having a diagnosis. I'm glad you got this figured out.

Scientific Chick said...

Kudos to your doc for not taking the path of yeast resistance, declaring you have IBS and sending you home with random drugs.

I wish we had doctors like that down here.

Good luck getting all better!

Nai-Nai said...

Wow! what a story! I felt like I was reading the Vinyl Cafe book which you and Fawn sent to me. I remember you were very sick that time. The best news is the doctor recognized it right away. I hope you recover soon and can enjoy the food you like to have.

Anonymous said...

So that's what my problem is...thanks!!! Great story by the way (except the pb goo), I too have cut out a lot of dairy and carbs and am feeling the better for it too. Hope that allergy tests go well and you can resume ice cream soonest!!

Captain Momma

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to hear that others have the same problem as me. Being gassy is terribly embarrasing and uncomfortable (my stomach is often causing me pain). With the urge of my boyfriend (he desperatly wanted this fixed), I finally got up the nerve to go to the Dr. about it (after several years) and they told me to come back if it continues. I never found out what it was, but I cut onions out of my diet and that seems to help. But maybe I will go see a doctor about it again (a different doctor) and see if it can be fixed.

Thanks for sharing your story and helping to give me the courage to try again.

Meandering Michael said...

I wish you the best, Anonymous. I really noticed a difference when I started cutting out sugars (including milk sugars) and starches.

Shockr said...

Good post. Got me thinking about what I eat everyday also!