Gut Health and Healing
It was February of last year when I first realized the small, reoccurring breakouts along my jawline were unusual. My mom was visiting and happened to ask about the “rash on my cheek.” For a moment, I felt my body turn heavy, “rash?” I asked. Of course I had noticed it before, but I assumed this was just hormonal, heat rash or perhaps a reaction from my soap, face wash or detergent. Without hesitation, she responded clearly and convincingly that I was having an allergic reaction to something.
I was equally astounded as I was relieved. The bumps would show up every now and again, and my cheeks would feel incredible warm and swollen, but I had never considered an allergic reaction to be the reason. As her words settled into my thoughts, it began to make sense. I’ve never had terribly irritable skin, other than the occasional breakout around my cycle or the result of one too many slices of greasy pizza. I quickly realized that the breakouts were hives, the redness and heat was inflammation, and my body was trying to get my attention.
That was the beginning of a yearlong search in finding, learning and accepting the healthiest me (again).
If you’re questioning the again part, read here. If you know this story, feel free to skip ahead.
When I left for collage, I never would have guessed my body was so incredibly unhealthy. I was going to the gym every day, the scale was on my side, I was counting calories and tracking my macros, I cut out gluten and processed sugars, and I even had a hint of muscle definition. I was confident in my skin, I seemed happy, and I loved obsessing over nutrition and talking about fitness. To me, that was healthy.
As soon as I left for my first semester, my health went haywire. I gained nearly thirty pounds in six weeks, my mind flooded with anxious thoughts, migraines and ‘cluster headaches’ settled into routine, I lost my period and icing on the cake – I started growing chin hair. Yes, chin hair. It was that bad.
The worst part is I didn’t recognize these signs as being unhealthy or unusual. It wasn’t until my mom… yes – she seems to know my body better than I know my body - my mom suggested I see a doctor because this was not normal or healthy. She introduced me to my current functional medicine doctor and boy – I had a lot to learn. My liver was unable to properly detox the toxins in my body, my hormones were upside down, my kidneys were stressed to the max and my immune system was dwindling as a result of mono. There was nothing healthy about me.
This was four years ago. It was the one of the weirdest times in my life and I’m still not sure that I truly grasped the condition my body was in. I was eighteen at the time, and you know – at eighteen you’re still pretty invincible. I eventually lost the weight and more importantly - balanced my hormones, built up my immune system, developed a normal-ish cycle, worked/working through anxiety, graduated with a degree in nutrition and found the healthiest me. It was a blessing in disguise; I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without that moment in life, stretch marks on my butt and all. My experience taught me everything I now believe in and live by with health, wellness, the body and nutrition.
Being a bit more knowledgeable than my eighteen-year-old self, I knew that something had everything to do with the food I was putting into my body. It was as if my body and my intuition knew before I knew.
I spent the next few months cutting out all supplements (vitamins, probiotics, adaptogens, pre-workout, etc.), I replaced my soap, face wash, and make up with allergy friendly alternatives, and waited for some kind of pattern to appear or “ah ha!” moment to happen. Some days were really good - clear-ish skin or the “remnants “of a breakout, normal light pink cheeks, and minimal swelling. Most days were not so good - noticeable breakouts, terribly swollen and warm cheeks with hives and patches of dry and irritated skin. It would happen first thing in the morning, after a shower, sitting at dinner, or while walking around the grocery store. It seemed as if there was no real rhyme or reason for the reoccurrence. It just kept happening.
I started relying on antihistamines to calm down the rash and clear the inflammation. I knew it was just a Band-Aid to the bigger problem, but it was the only thing that seemed to help. I was frustrated, I was confused, and I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. It was out of my control and I felt helpless. I even began contemplating whether or not the chin hair was really that bad - I’m kind of kidding.
After about six months of carefully monitoring my diet, removing all supplements, and seeing little progress, I decided to meet with an allergist. I was sure that I had an allergy to wheat or perhaps a developing allergy to peanuts. After a handful of recommendations and plenty of research, I booked an appointment with a renowned allergist in the Youngstown area. I just remember feeling so elated by the thought of figuring out why this was happening. I’ll save you the story and skip to the good part – he found nothing. I wasn’t allergic to anything. It was simply Rosacea off set by “exercise and stress.” He advised I meet with a dermatologist and sent me on my way with a four hundred dollar rosacea cream.
All I remember thinking is this is not the answer. I wasn’t upset; rather, I felt empowered to figure out the connection between this rash and what was happening in my gut. I come from an Ayurveda, homeopathic, natural remedies first, kind of background - topical steroid cream for Rosacea not included. I kept going back to the cliché saying, “Your skin is your biggest organ.” I knew my skin, therefore my body, was trying to tell me something, I just had to slow down and listen.
I disregarded every recommendation to meet with another allergist or find a dermatologist, and I scheduled an appointment to meet with my functional medicine doctor. As I anxiously awaited my first appointment, Chad and I began watching, analyzing, and dissecting every single thing we put into our bodies. Although we ate pretty clean to begin with, we knew we needed to raise our standards. We started incorporating more organic produce; free range, hormone and antibiotic free animal products, and we tried to avoid processed and packaged foods as much as we could.
The more whole, earth grown, and organic foods we ate, the more obvious my problem became. This had everything to do with the food I was mistakenly accepting as healthy. From the pesticide residue on our produce to the polluted soil in which it was grown; the hormones, steroids and cruelty our animal endure to the lack of true nutrients we are fallaciously accepting; everything had to change.
After just one week of changing the quality of food in my diet, the rash began to subside. The good days became really good, and the not so good days were far and few. By the time my appointment rolled around, I almost felt foolish. But he sat with me, he listened, and he assured me that with time, proper diet and homeopathic supplements, my body would eventually heal.
Here’s why: when the body is inflamed, it can only do so much to release that heat – elimination, sweat, or a rash. Every time I put synthetic ingredients, chemicals or artificial substitutes into my body, my body had to choose one of the few things to do with it. After years of synthetic protein bars and supplements, low quality animal products, and chemical ridden produce - my body couldn’t handle it anymore. Perhaps my health four years ago was a forewarning.
He decided to run extensive blood work panels, test my heavy metal levels, and look at the possibility of an autoimmune disorder. I am currently in week 6 of an 8-week protocol for Candida, or Leaky Gut Syndrome, and a suppressed immune system, thank you mono. From my understanding, Candida is a yeast infection of the gut, in which nutrients are escaping from my digestive tract and making their way into my bloodstream. From my blood panel, I tested positive for antibodies, called immunoglobulins (IgG and IgA), in my bloodstream. Meaning, my body is releasing these antibodies to fight off what it perceives as invaders or a virus.
Insert my I knew it moment here. I don’t know if I can accurately describe the sense of relief that came over me in that moment. It was the ‘ah ha’ moment I’ve been longing for and the first step to healing my body.
I want to share this experience with you to bring awareness to the importance of gut health and how common it is to disregard root problems. Our gut flora, our microbiome, is one of the most accurate depictions of overall health. If we are experiencing an imbalance in the gut of any sort, we can physically experience it through rashes, acne, or hives. There isn’t a topical cream in the world that can fix what is happening in your gut. My rash isn’t completely gone and my gut isn’t completely healed. I’ve accepted the fact that it might take six months to a year for the breakouts to finally fade. But I haven’t quite accepted that it might take six months to a year of no coffee, pizza, or ice cream for the breakouts to clear. Day by day, right?
This is the beginning of a new journey. One in which I am feeling proud and awakened. We have changed how we approach grocery shopping, where we source our food, quality over the quantity, and we’re listening to our bodies on an entirety new scale. I am coming back to the world of holistic healing to learn, understand and adapt to a new way of living, eating, and loving my body.
I’m excited to share this new chapter with you all and with The Healthiest Me. I’ve sat down to write this post too many times, but I finally feel ready to share a glimpse of what’s going on in my life. I want to keep you updated as things progress, but as for now, this is it. My goal is to once again find the balance in it all. As I mentioned, I’m following a pretty strict regimen (one thing I’m not used to nor a fan of), but knowing it’s only temporary does help. I’ll be easing back into my version of healthy and happy sooner than later, and I can confidently say it will better than ever.
I want to sincerely thank each and every one of my friends and readers who reached out over the past few months. Having this community and hearing about similar experiences, helped me to navigate and find answers within it all. I hope to do the same for anyone reading this who may need a little guidance or direction as to where to look next. If something does feel, look or seem right, chances are you’re right. I encourage you to question, to dig, and to be stubborn. This is your body, this is your health, and you deserve a happy, balanced, and healthy body as much as the next gal.
As always, I’m here to answer any questions that you may have. I hope to lead from my experience, continue to share my practices and contribute in this space as much as I can.