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Recently a friend of mine started asking around if anyone had tried taking digestive enzymes for their IBS. The one she had come across was specifically for helping to digest gluten. I had no idea that this kind of product was available and started to have a look into it.

I knew that some people took Lactase for dairy intolerance but despite the fact that I don’t tolerate dairy products very well it has never been something I have really missed so I have not tried it (I can eat a bit of cheese, so I am happy). I also have heard of a product that you can get in the US to help digestion of beans, which I assume is also an enzyme product. The promise of help with gluten was a revelation! (The products do not seem to help much with Coeliac Disease, only gluten intolerance, though research is being done to develop enzyme treatments in future as far as I can gather – I have not done a lot of reading on this but just to be clear gluten intolerance is not at all the same as Coeliac Disease).

I found this website which has a lot of useful information on it, which I have not yet read much of, called Enzyme Stuff. I read on there that I should choose a product that has DPP-IV Activity (whatever that is!). The one I am trying has per capsule a 300mg blend of:

Dipeptidyl Peptidase IV (DPP-IV) SEB-Pro GR (trademark symbol) (Protease I, Protease II, Protease III, Protease IV, Protease V), Amylase I, Amylase II, Glucoamylase, Cellulase, HemiSEB (Hemicellulase), Alpha-Galactosidase, Xylanase), Lactase and Lipase.

The capsules are vegetarian which is nice.

It “supports the digestion of protein in gluten-containing cereal grains including wheat as well as casein-containing milk products and other high protein foods”.

As it has so many enzymes I am planning on testing it on a variety of foods that I struggle to digest, not just gluten and dairy products.

For the last 2-3 years I have not eaten or have rarely eaten (and with consequences!): Gluten containing grains, any other grains except rice and quinoa (which is technically a fruit they say), any fruit except peeled pears and avocados, any potato that is not freshly cooked and still hot, beans and pulses, certain tougher or fibrous or cruciferous vegetables, vegetarian protein products except tofu, eggs, dairy products except small amounts of cheese and chocolate (of course), salads… can’t think what else! I am vegetarian so I already do not eat meat and fish, so you can see how limited my diet is. I am lucky that nuts and seeds have been fine.

So far this is what I have done:

Firstly, I took a capsule every meal for nearly three days just to see what effect it would have on me while I continued to eat my usual “safe” diet. I did not want to be confused by any reaction to the tablets themselves, though this was unlikely as I chose these ones in particular as they don’t have any extra ingredients that might cause me trouble (some products actually contain gluten and other problematic things as well as the enzymes, which seems strange, though perhaps demonstrates product confidence!). Result: things were not perfect either before I started to take the enzymes or during those three days, but there was no real change.

On day 3 I had a tortilla wrap (soft white bread) with fillings that I would usually eat with rice and I knew were safe. Result: No major problem, I did have increased wind and activity especially the following evening and it stopped me sleeping as well as usual, especially as my bladder was more sensitive and there was a bit more discomfort than usual but not too painful. No constipation or diarrhea, nor did I feel ill in myself which is a common result for me of eating something strange.

On day 6 I ate an egg! This is a big deal for me as egg yolk has long been as issue for me. As the enzymes mention high protein meals, I thought it was worth a try. Result: again, some reaction but nothing unbearable. Much the same as above.

I waited a bit after that to check for constipation as eggs are bad for that, and also as had visitors I held off trying anything else in case of anti-social bodily behaviour, so –

Day 10 I went to a pub and had a cheese baguette with chips! Chips eaten out are a big problem for me as potato starches become indigestible (and cause trouble to me at least) when they have cooled, so anything like pub chips that are cooked in two stages are not good. The following day (gaining in confidence) I ate a cheese sandwich made from lovely granary bread with mayo and a little bit of red onion and lettuce. That was delicious! Result: That was three days ago and there has been no real issues for the increased risky foods all in one go, or for having them two days in a row!

It is early days and I need to do a lot more experimentation and also decide what changes to bowel habit I can live with and what is too much. There have been changes and I would not like them to be constant, or to be worse (if I ate normally it would potentially be much worse as most people eat gluten and other foods I am very sensitive to, at every meal). However I am really happy with how these first experiments have gone and especially that I do not feel much worse in myself. I am allowing for a period of readjustment to a change in diet as I have not eaten these foods for so long. I am still taking my anti-spasmodic tablets which I think are helping, but I know from trying a few different foods while just taking them that adding the enzymes has really made a difference as I was still having fairly marked reactions before I started to take them. I know it may seem like I am being over-cautious but I really have had very strong reactions to so many foods and have tried again and again to reintroduce foods back into my diet with no luck. This really has been so much better than I expected and I am looking forward to trying lots of different things and seeing where the limits lie. I doubt this will be a complete solution to my problems but I am really hopeful from these initial tests that it could be quite life-changing.

I suspect that I have a leaky gut and that the reason I often feel ill when my IBS flares up is that I am actually being poisoned as waste products “leak” back into my blood stream rather than being broken down as they should be. If enzyme supplements can help break these products down then this would be a big bonus for me. I have not felt this poisoned feeling at all! I might do another blog post on leaky gut issues as it is quite complex and I really should read more about it and see if there is anything else I can do to help myself improve/heal. I wonder if I should take a probiotic as well, I know it is recommended. I have taken them sporadically before. I also know that zinc is recommended and I do take a zinc supplement already.

I will read more about it all, and also perhaps try a different product next time to compare, as I have seen products listed for different issues and I need to research if any would be a better fit for my problems. If I can eat a more varied diet (and digest and get all the goodness out of what I eat) this can only be good for my health and also will allow me to go out to eat sometimes and even stay overnight somewhere without having to take my own food with me! This will mean a great deal to me and open up possibilities for occasional fun and sharing more things with my partner and friends. It will also help my partner if I can eat more convenience food occasionally as all my food has had to be cooked fresh (there are a few things I can eat as leftovers/reheated but not many). Also our menu at home, while tasty, has been very limited and I am sure she will enjoy a bit more variety as often there just is no time to make separate meals for each of us and my needs have dominated what we eat most of the time. Also if I eat less specialist foods our shopping bill might come down a bit. Well, it might help pay for the enzymes anyway.

So tomorrow is fresh pasta day! I can’t wait!

In the last few weeks I have noticed a gradual improvement in my stamina. I think there are a number of things that are potentially contributing to this improvement, which is great whatever the reason, though I would like to know what exactly is helping so that I can continue with it!

About six weeks ago I went to see the POTS specialist and had a list as long as my arm of current and pressing issues – she (rightly) could not deal with them all and it was not a successful appointment (for that and other reasons) and it upset me, but I could not pick and choose between all these issues as I was just overwhelmed by various issues which were all severe. These included: Sleep, Neuropathy and Trigeminal Neuralgia, Muscular Pain and Tension as well as other pain issues, POTS (this was low down the list so you can see how bad the other stuff was!), as well as medication issues.

She gave me a new medication to try for POTS (Diltiazem). I did not start it for the first few days as other outcomes from the appointment were that I should stop taking my sleeping tablet (eszopiclone) to see how I am without it, and also I had only just increased my dosage of Gabapentin (for Neuropathy) over the previous few days, so I did not want to confuse things by doing it all at once.

Also around this time I was having massages of my back, neck shoulders and head which were pretty intensive as the pain and tension there was really getting unbearable. My head felt so tight and painful and my scalp was really tender to touch in places (always is a bit, but was getting very bad and more widespread). My neck felt very painful and weak and was clicking in a very disturbing way low down my cervical spine. Shoulders and upper back, well, the usual. A couple of days after the third massage I felt the tension really lifted and I no longer was taking painkillers every single day. The clicking was also much less frequent – I think the muscles were not clamped so tight around the joints.  This was also the time that I started taking the Diltiazem, but I did not think it would do anything and apart from the pain/tension improvement I did not feel any different. A few days later I had my first acupuncture appointment.

It was another couple of weeks before I had the second appointment and did the Tai Chi (and “broke” my back). Then another week until the third, when I started to use the Alpha Stim (see previous post).

During the last few weeks I have noticed a gradual increase in what I can do in the day. I am certainly more active, particularly mentally. I am also sleeping much better and dreaming vividly all the time! I have taken the sleeping tablet again briefly when my mum was here and it confirmed what I thought. It does help me get to sleep but once it wears off in the early hours I feel more awake than I would have done without it. Very odd. As it is I am sleeping much more deeply than I have for a long time with no drugs at all. I am still getting up several times for the toilet but am just getting back into bed and back to sleep easily. I am also sleeping deeply most days and later in the day than I was. It is working for me despite being bad in theory to sleep late in the day (sleep hygiene blah blah). I think the higher dose of Gabapentin is helping to control my nerve related pain and discomfort which used to flare up every time I got out of bed (or in!). It is still there but milder and as long as the bedding is smooth and flat underneath me (a constant battle) it is usually ok. I think with me Gabapentin takes a few weeks to reach it’s maximum efficacy. When I first took it, although there was some improvement it was not for a few weeks that it really felt more consistent, and the same has happened with the higher dosage.

I think perhaps the added activity is also helping the sleep. I am being careful not to overdo it, though some days it is hard to stop pottering about with little things, as they all add up. I have at times got that “wired” feeling of having over-stimulated myself, but I am also recovering more quickly. I have had the odd bad day but overall it’s a very positive trend.

I even went out into town (being pushed in wheelchair). We went to three shops one evening and I did practically all my Christmas shopping. Then we went for an Indian meal before returning home! It was really great to have a meal out and I felt pretty good throughout.

I hate department stores (it was only them that opened late) but I did not get over-hot and being in the wheelchair made it much better for obvious reasons (like being able to go fifty times further!) but also in terms of navigation, which I am rubbish at in shops. It is so nice to allow someone much better at it than me to push me around: she knows where the lifts are, where the exits are, how to best get from one shop to another etc. So much more relaxing!

I also find the decision-making hard but as the shop was not too busy or noisy and I had a list of people to buy for, I just stayed calm and focussed and got through it in no time. Such a relief and great to avoid lots of deliveries coming to the door at random times when I am in bed in the day.

The most amazing thing – yes I am getting there, waffle waffle – was the payback… or should I say LACK OF PAYBACK!!! I rested the following days, but was still pottering around more than I felt I should following such a big trip out. Day three I really felt it would hit, but it didn’t really. This is unheard of in my world. I was only saying to someone more moderately affected than me a few days before that unlike her, I am rarely surprised by how ill I feel, as it is predictable: do something slightly more than usual, second day, bam – feel awful. I take a few more days to rest, then carry on with the usual routines. Even my IBS did not flare up too much after the meal out, which again, it usually does even if I am careful about what I eat.

So I was on cloud nine about that. It really made me feel that the improvements are solid, even if I have not felt quite so strong since then. I feel an upward trend again at last. I am kind of hoping that most of the improvement is down to the new POTS drug. It has been about a year since I felt any real improvement in function from Midodrine, the other drug I take for POTS, which has plateaued really, despite some dosage increase. I also tried Ivabradine which I was not sure about in terms of improvement as I had such severe neuropathy at the time I was in a lot of pain and not sleeping well at all, so I could not tell. I could not get a prescription for that in the end anyway.

If the acupuncture is helping too, then all to the good. If I can get a decent improvement in pain through that then that will help me hopefully to move and relax my muscles more and increase my function again. I like to think so anyway. I feel a little hope creeping in…

Quick update on what i have been up to since my cold…

At the Bank Holiday I felt recovered enough to go into town for a trip out with my partner, as it was her birthday approaching and we wanted to do something to mark the occasion. I felt a bit dodgy in the morning and we did not manage to leave the house until well after two o’clock, but we had a great time! We went to an art gallery (see my post on my energysparks blog about it), then to the new City Library as we had not been inside and everyone was talking about how great it was – and they were right. Then we had a quick drink in a bar and i made the spontaneous suggestion that we should stay in town for a meal (i have not eaten out for many months due to my strange dietary requirements so this was a risky idea not just on energy grounds) so we went for a chinese meal as well! We were out for four and a half hours, and although i did feel quite light-headed in the art gallery and had to frequently sit down, i felt good and even felt ok once we got home, which is almost unprecedented, particularly as i get a bit ill in taxis or with any travel. Of course i have paid for it a bit since (as i was not really over my cold either) and have had a few days of feeling less well, which is why it has taken over a week to blog about it. Still it was worth it and to be able to feel so good and spend such quality time with my partner was a treat in itself.

Since then i have also been a bit creative and made a card – see energysparks again!

ME/CFS Awareness

ME/CFS Awareness

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