As some of you know, I had a ferocious GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease/Disorder) problem a few years back. It first hit me in my late 20s. I'm a HUGE fan of spicy Mexican, Indian and Asian food as well as Italian food as well. So it was very distressing to be told by my doctor that I had to stop eating spicy food. I did more research finding books on the topic and looking on the net. My girlfriend (now wife) and my mom did everything they could to give me as bland a diet as possible. It was NOT fun. At the time I was also being plagued with killer sinus infections at least twice a year (usually March and June). AND I had a pretty bad problem with unexplained depression that came out of nowhere and had no good reason. (ie. I felt like I had just been dumped when in reality everything was just fine) So I went with the bland diet for about three months and then couldn't take it anymore. Most of the books and even my doctor sugegsted that I could try to reintroduce spicy foods at about six months, but I couldn't bear it and after three months tried just a little. It was pure heaven. And I didn't get the GERD symptoms. So I thought maybe I was different and my case wasn't that bad. For a while it seemd I was right. Then just after I turned 30, it came back, and with a vengence. (The depression and the sinus infections still stuck around) Back to the doctor...
This time my new doctor told me that I, once again, would have to return to the bland diet. But, he also prescribed Nexium (a protein pump inhibitor). I went to get the prescription and was told it was too expensive for my insurance to cover it. This was a lucky break even though I didn't realize it at the time. The pharmacy suggested a less expensive alternative that was also a little less effective. My doctor OKed the change and I went home with Omeprazole (can't remember the trade name). I looked the pills. Something wasn't right. Here I was, barely into my 30s and I was having to take a pill to eat food? Me? A semi-vegetarian who worked out, didn't smoke, didn't drink, and came from people with very good health on both sides of the family? I decided to do some more research about the pills and found that typically, once you start taking these sorts of pills, you generally have to KEEP taking them to lead a somewhat normal life. No thanks. Unless I'm going to die, I refuse to be a slave to drugs for a chronic problem. My research payed off this time. I was clued into what, in my case, turned out to be the major source of not only the GERD, but my sinus infections, my depression and even my unexpected weight gain once I hit 30 (more on this later).
The key to finding this root cause was actually my wife. We'd been back home for two weeks at this point, from a great vacation in Australia that lasted a month. In general my wife is one of those people who is just generally happy most of the time and rarely ever got depressed without a good reason. Sure, she can be a grouch, but that's just her lovable inner jackass griping about the world which is quite healthy.
I finally, told my wife about my findings and suggested that we try changing our diet to try and see if eliminating the food sources of yeast and combatting it with natural fungicides (raw garlic) and balancing agents (lactobacillus acidophilus) would change anything. She agreed mostly because she was conerned about my GERD. And we started that day. We had to cut out a lot of things we normally ate. No more white rice. No more non-whole wheat pasta. No more white flour. No more white processed sugar. No more corn syrup of any kind. A day into it, she voiced her frustrations with just how impossible this was going to be. I even told her that she didn't need to do it if it was too hard for her and felt very bad for her because she really enjoys good food. However, she said she still wanted to try it and we both persevered. I became the kitchen scientist and came up with new recipes using the approved list of food we could eat. I even discovered ways to make old treats in new ways. We started off VERY strict about the diet and stayed that way for quite some time. (We're still fairly strict with special events and holidays being excpetions now)
The new diet had some resemblance to the, then en vogue, Atkins diet minus the meat. We basically avoided simple carbs and increased fiber. And some of the discoveries I'd made which she really wound up loving made it easier to stay fairly strict. The first thing we both noticed was that our sense of taste became dramatically stronger. We could actually taste the difference in water depending on where it came from. The tap water had a bit of a sweet taste to it. Water in the restaurants tasted a little more nutty. Etc... And the flavor of fruits and vegetables was ten times more intense. If it was sweet before it was VERY sweet now. If it was sour before the tangy aspects of it came through stronger. That was the first very tangible and pleasant change.
We then noticed something else that was quite startling. The bulges in our bellies that we assumed was the rite of passage into our 30s, were quickly dissipating. Within a week of starting the diet all of our clothes became comfortable and loose around the waist. My wife was ecstatic that she would again fit into one of her olde pairs of pants very comfortably. (Neither one of us was really concerned about weight because we weren't overweight, just a little bigger around the middle). It's important to note that the change in our midriffs was NOT purely weight loss. It was loss of bloating caused by excessive yeast producing gasses in the belly. If you think about the number of men who have relatively thin bodies but big guts, I would suggest that they have massive yeast problems producing the bloated belly. They aren't fat as they and many other people would suspect.
Within two weeks we also both finally noticed dramatic weight loss. I believe this is due to the effect of ketosis. Ketosis is a state the body goes into when you are not getting what it thinks is enough carbs and it begins to burn your fat reserves for energy. Ketosis is not a good or a bad thing regardless of what many people think. It's simply a regulating factor that the body will finally stop performing once your diet is properly balanced with complex carbs vs. fat stores. The simple carbs throw your body's perception of the "right" amount of carbs out of whack. In two weeks, I lost ten pounds and so did my wife. Again, she was really excited because she was quickly approaching her college weight as she also approached 40. One of the neatest things about this phase is that the energy you get from your fat reserves actually feels very different from the energy you get from the carbs you intake. The closest thing I can describe is that it's like having a runner's high for days... if you've ever experience the runner's high.
There was also several other startling changes for both of us. The slight yellowing of our toe nails cleared up. For me, I lost this unusual growth I'd had in my armpits since my early teens that no doctor ever really could identify (and YES I DO bathe regularly). But the biggest change for both of us beyond the weight loss was the disappearance of our allergies. And for me, finally overcoming my sinus infections. At that point we wer both sold on the diet and had actually come to finding ways to really enjoy the new approaches to cooking. Our food actually became MORE interesting and more flavorful, rather than less. I started actually looking forward to my bag lunches at work instead of ignoring them. And we've been on this diet for nearly five years now with many positive effects. We even credit the easy and quick time we had in getting my wife pregnant (one month of "trying"), and her easy pregnancy (no morning sickness) and even easy C-section recovery (she was up out of bed in two days) to the diet as well.
So why am I writing this if all is going well? Because something changed... In 2004 we were forced to move and move quickly due to our house being bought by the school system for expansion. We lucked out in that we got a great street. The house itself was in fairly poor shape and I've been fixing it up slowly. But the biggest problem in the house is that it has a damp basement and that means mold issues. I haven't actually run the tests yet, but I believe that the mold problem is what caused the resurfacing of some of my allergy and sinus problems again. All the other effects of the diet still remain. Were both comfortably thin considering our ages (me:36) and I'm still able to eat spicy foods with no GERD issues and I'm not taking any medication, etc... But once we moved into this house, I started having some allergy issues. The next year they were a bit stronger and then I got my first sinus infection in two and a half years. And last year the sinus infections were back to their old level of intensity.
My wife has not been similarly affected other than her allergy symptoms have returned a little. My daughter also began exhibiting similar symptoms and we all seem to have the symptoms in sync with each other which leads me to suspect the environment in the house. Even more to the point is that if we all go to spend the day at someone else's house, the symptoms dissipate or even disappear. I suspect it's purely environmental. About two weeks ago I got hit with, yet another, sinus infection. It's my second one this year. So being desperate to find some kind of explanation for the sore throat/post nasal drip that is aggravated by my sinuses, I looked at Wikipedia. In their entry for post nasal drip, they made reference to something called Jala Neti which is also known as nasal irrigation in western medicine. I was curious.
I read a good deal about it (even downloading a freely distributable 45 page paper on it) and found that there have even been clinical studies to determine the efficacy of Neti on sinus issues. The studies have shown that western medicine accepts the practice as something that doctors can feel comfortable in recommending. I finally decided that my sore throat was so bad, that I would try anything. So I went to the local health food store and bought a Neti pot. It looks like a small teapot. The practice itself is strange to western minds, but according to my reading is as common as brushing teeth in some eastern cultures. I don't know exactly how reliable the net resources are for a lot of this which is why I decided to just try it out myself.
The process is actually very simple. You use the Neti pot to pour salt water (VERY IMPORTANT THAT IT BE WELL MEASURED SALT WATER) into one nostril and you let the water drain out of the other nostril. The water as it passes through creates a vacuum which sucks the mucus and irritants out of the nose and through the other nostril. Once you do that on one side, you gently blow your nose and repeat it for the other nostril. If any of you have ever experienced water in the nose at the swimming pool, you know it's not pleasant. If this is done right, it's NOT like that at all. The salt in the water is what prevents the water from feeling bad as it passes through your nose. It's also important that you use warm water that is at or slightly higher than body temperature. This also prevents the water from feeling bad as it passes through.
My first attempt, I didn't add enough salt due to the fact that I used the wrong measuring spoon. I'm not giving too many specifics here as the Wikipedia links in the Neti article provide more detail. Plus any Neti pot that you would buy, should contain instructions with the right measurement. I currently use a 1/4 tsp of kosher salt (don't use iodized salt or sea salt) per cup of water and I use a cup of water per notril. Because I didn't have the salt balance quite right the first time I had a mild "swimming pool" sensation. It was bearable so I proceeded. I was amazed that I could do it at all. It requires that you keep your head in a certain postion and breath only through your mouth.. I do it over the bathtub. I was also surprised on my first attempt at what actually came out of my nose when I tried it. But the most sutprising aspect was the very relaxed feeling I had afterwards. As I did it before bed, I was able to settle into sleep VERY easily.
My second attempt was the next morning when I woke up. I used a different measuring spoon that I decided to appropriate just for Neti and the results were amazing. The water passed almost like air. I barely felt anything as I did it. But the really amazing thing was that I was able to make it through the entire day without sinus medicine and never got a sinus headache. Ive been doing it for a week now, and I have to report that this is the first time in my life (even post diet) that I can actually breathe through my nose comfortably and not feel out of breath. It appears to have improved my sleep and my wife said that my snoring (which started just this past year or two. Probably after we moved) has stopped.
I also want to mention what happens if you DON'T add salt to the water. In a word, it's HIGHLY unpleasant. Swimming pool/water up the nose in a VERY intense way. I made this mistake yesterday whilst preparing for a long drive to a meeting for work. I was in a hurry to get ready and jump in the car. So on my second course for the other nostril, I inadvertantly forgot to add the salt to the water. I started the Jala Neti and... PAIN. Fortunately it only made it up the one side before the pain caused me to realize I'd forgotten the salt water. I stopped immediately and snorted the water out. I added the salt and restarted the procedure. I have to say it probably took a good half an hour to recover from the plain water in the nose. I don't know the chemistry behind it, but I suspect that the salt has something to do with softening the water so it can pass pleasantly. Always remember to add the salt.
According to many of the yogic beliefs, Jala Neti can bring you to elevated states of enlightenment and by clearing your nose for breathing allows your sinuses to "cool" your brain and keep you calm. I don't really buy into all of the claims, but I can say that it's definitely healping me with breathing in a HUGE way. For any of you sinus and allergy sufferers, I'd HIGHLY recommend trying it. Just make sure you read as much documentation and description as possible before trying it and even after that, read the documentation that comes with your Jala Neti pot.
Finally, as a side note, in your reading you may find a practice called Swamootra Neti. This is essentially the same as Jala Neti, only you replace the salt water with urine. While it might be on the path to enlightenment, even I can't claim to be curious or interested in that.