These were my symptoms: lower back pain that worsened from being bad when not training for a run, to being bad by the end of the day even when I was training or working out in some way, 2 bouts of iritis, occasional stiffness in wrists and elbows in the morning, neck pain, glute and hamstring tightness.
These symptoms progressed over 12 years from the 1st onset of iritis. I was 28, in good shape and seemingly good health. Doctors said it was likely a fluke, and since the iritis was only in 1 eye and my first time with it, no further testing was warranted. Fast forward 4 years later and back pain that worsened during periods when I was not exercising as much. This was when I first questioned Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) and brought it up with my doctor. He didn’t think much of my hypothesis and sent me home with a sheet of back stretches.
Fast forward 3 more years and a 2nd bout of iritis. This was played down because I was pregnant with my 3rd child. Again, no further testing. My back pain and stiffness would come and go and although bothersome at times, did not slow me down until 2016. By June, it was difficult for me to sit for long periods of time. Long car rides were excruciating. I would wake up with a really stiff lower back and go to bed feeling like my body was physically exhausted, often needing my husband to massage my lower back. I had 2 half-marathons to run in the fall of 2016 and needed massage every week or two for back pain and stiffness and extreme tightness in my glutes and hamstrings. My massage therapist kept mentioning that the areas where my back pain was the worst were my sacroiliac joints. Unlike years before, I felt pretty good while running but had to shorten my stride to avoid back pain, and despite being in really good shape, I was exhausted and in pain by
the end of each day. The ball hockey games that I loved to play had me a complete mess when I woke up the following mornings. I got through my races and strangely almost felt a little better over the winter months when not exercising as much. I went on a family ski trip the following spring and again my back pain was bad by the evenings. And I knew there was no way I could play another summer season of ball hockey.
This prompted me to go in to see my (new) doctor and run the whole AS theory by her. She agreed that it didn’t hurt to run some blood work. I tested positive for the HLA-B27 gene, a gene highly associated with AS. While awaiting an MRI appointment I read as much as I could about AS and came across a book by Carol Sinclair. It talked about the pioneering research of Dr. Ebringer and how eliminating starch from the diet had helped so many suffering from AS to stop this degenerative disease in its tracks. After just 5 days of following a diet that completely eliminated starch from my diet, I woke up and bent over without stiffness for the first time in a very long time. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) my MRI was still 3 weeks away. My results came back negative. No inflammation…and therefore no confirmed diagnosis of AS. So good…because I don’t want to have it! So crummy….because I can’t say if eliminating starch also eliminated the inflammation in my back. But given all of my symptoms, my gut feeling was that it did.
Not everyone with an auto-immune condition needs to eliminate starch from their diet. This is quite specific to AS. But as a result I now also specialize in the auto-immune protocol (Amy Meyers) and Paleo diets. There are numerous well-known inflammatory foods that can be eliminated in order to support other auto-immune conditions.
Nutrition for the Athlete
Sport has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I simply don’t feel right if I haven’t moved and challenged my body in some way. My sports resume spans from playing competitive soccer as a teenager, to playing field hockey for Carleton University, to running half-marathons. I also dabble in sprint distance triathlon and enjoy swimming and biking on my trainer.
I thought cutting out starches would make it difficult to train for distance running since foods like oats, quinoa and bananas were a big part of my pre-race fueling routines. I now fuel myself primarily on healthy fats and carbohydrates that come from low- to no-starch fruits and vegetables. If I had to categorize the way I eat for performance, it would be Paleo with a little Ketogenic thrown in. I eat a lot of fruits (berries & apples mostly) and vegetables, a moderate amount of lean, properly sourced animal protein, and higher amounts of healthy fats such as avocadoes, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, nuts and nut butters.
Having fueled myself using a healthy carbohydrate approach (ie. whole grains, pseudograins, fruits and vegetables) and a Paleo approach (grain-free, starch-free, legume-free), I now specialize in consulting with clients about either method. I also believe in the importance of supporting the athletic body with antioxidants and other superfoods that promote cell health (ie. tackle free radicals), regulating the stress response produced by the adrenal glands in response to endurance and high performance sport, and building immunity which can also be taxed by high level sport.
Again, an area of interest for me for personal reasons. In 2013 I found a lump the size of a nickel in my left breast. Luckily, I had ‘good’ symptoms: there was pain, it was cyclical and the lump could be moved around. A mammogram revealed I had dense breast tissue and was inconclusive (mammograms need fattier tissue to reveal abnormalities), and I was shuffled to another room for an ultrasound. My story had a happy ending – the lump was a ridge of dense breast tissue that was acting up for reasons unknown to modern medicine. The only hypothesis I was given was that maybe my breast tissue was changing as I got older. I asked for a referral to the Ottawa Women’s Breast Health Centre for more information because it was so sore every month and the fact that I could actually see the lump if I raised my arm was unnerving. Again, there was nothing more I could do. However, it was only here where I was informed that dense breast tissue increases the risk of breast cancer.
This previously unknown (to me) fact, coupled with the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when my health and well-being had possibly crossed to the ominous side of ‘dis-ease’ sent me on a mission for more education in prevention. Were my hormones out of whack? Was I eating something that I shouldn’t be? Had I ever been exposed to anything toxic? Were my stress levels too high? How is my body changing as I approach and enter my 40’s?
There are definitely foods that feed and foods that prevent breast cancer and cancer in general. There are definitely lifestyle and environmental factors that influence breast health. Estrogen and the way your body metabolizes it plays a part, as does an immune system that is working optimally. Prevention is key.